What are property pins?

Property pins (also called property markers or survey stakes) are iron rods that are hammered in the ground by the original surveyors of your land. They mark each corner of your property.

A corner is not just a right-angle. It’s any change in direction of your property lines. Some pieces of land are simple rectangular shapes, with four corners. But large or oddly-shaped parcels can have 12 or more corners.

Where do you look for them?

While there are no universal standards in the United States, many communities require that property markers be placed about 14.5’ (4.42 m) from the curb.

At the time they were placed in the ground, the top of the marker was at or just below the surface. Final grading and landscaping, however, buries the survey pins deeper into the soil.

By the time you’ll need to look for them, property markers are typically 6 to 10” (15 to 25 cm) underground. In some areas, however, they may be up to 2′ (0.61 m) below the surface.

Search Your County’s GIS

Your county’s online geographic information system (GIS) can help you to get a general idea of the location of your property markers. These systems contain many different kinds of maps. Let’s take a look at one.

In this example, we’re looking at a property in Cascade, CO, in the El Paso County GIS. Expect your county’s GIS to differ from this one. 

  1. Click on the Property Search tab, and enter the address number and street name of your property.Here, click on the Property Record button to acces
  2. Here, click on the Property Record button to access more information about the property.
  3. Scroll down to near the end of the page, until you see the Map Sheet section. Click on the link to View Map Sheet 1.
  4. A PDF map opens in a new tab. 
This is a plat map, which shows the location of your property within your section of your township of your county.
  5. Let’s take a closer look at the parcel we’ve highlighted in red.
 As you can see, not all the distances have measur
  1. As you can see, not all the distances have measurements listed. So you’ll need to reference the map’s scale, and ballpark the distance between pins.

Following the plat map will get you within two to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 m) of the markers.

Next, you’ll need to choose the right metal detector.

How to Legally Determine Property Lines

Hire a Licensed Land Surveyor

To get an accurate determination of property lines that will stand up to legal scrutiny, you’ll need to hire a professional surveyor. (Note that most states require licensure of land surveyors; check your state’s requirements.)

While a professional survey may cost a a few to several hundred dollars—or more, depending on property location, size, shape, and terrain—it’s money well spent since property disputes cost a lot more in time, potential hefty legal fees, and neighborly goodwill.

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Visit the Local Zoning Department

The zoning department is the municipal office that records plats: the maps, drawn to scale, that show land division. Unless your home was built more than a hundred years ago, you can probably obtain a copy of your block and lot plat for a minimal fee. This will give you the exact dimensions of your lot—in other words, the property you legally own—in relation to other lot lines on your block.

RELATED: Setback Requirements: 7 Things All Homeowners Should Know

How to Find Your Property Markers with a Metal Detector

Things You’ll Need:

  1. Before you start, call 811. If you’re in Canada, find your province’s utility locating phone number here. They’ll mark known gas, water, electric, or fiber lines on your property. You’ll need to plan two to three days in advance to get this done.
  2. Reference the approximate measurements on your survey plat map.
  3. Use a tape measure to determine the distance from the street to the point at which the map indicates your nearest corner marker is located.
  4. Turn your magnetic locator on, and extend the pull loop. The default sensitivity is perfect for our needs.
  5. While walking in the general vicinity of your marker, sweep the locator side to side (like a broom). Watch (and listen) for an increase in signal strength that indicates you’re getting close.
  6. When the signal strength peaks, you should be right on top of it. Use a marking flag or other object (like a stone) to mark the position of the pin.
  7. With your shovel, dig a small hole until you reach the pin. Alternatively, you can use a soil probe to feel for the pin below the surface.
  8. Next, measure the distance from the marker you’ve just found to the next one on the map.
  9. Repeat steps 3 to 8 until you’ve found all your property markers.

Metal Detectors and Land Surveyors

Professional Land Surveyors

Professional Land Surveyors

Professional Land Surveyors

Professional land surveyors perform all kinds of varied tasks, and many of these involve property boundaries and being able to locate various components of properties for landowners, whether it is gas lines, electric lines, or any other utility.

There are also metal detectors that are built specifically with the land surveyor in mind and these are referred to as magnetic locators. These are designed to easily find ferrous metals. However, one of the most important features is the ability to discriminate against all kinds of metals except for the exact one you are looking for, in most cases steel. These metal detectors also have to be able to detect deep, especially when you want to search for property boundary markers and gas or electrical lines. Surveyors always have access to the plot plans for each property and will be able to use the marked utility lines and property boundaries to get close to where they need to be. Gas lines and electrical lines are easy to determine, as they are long and you will be able to find it several feet forward and several feet backward. Metal detectors are one of the greatest pieces of equipment that surveyors can use, as they save both time and effort for almost every surveying activity.

Consider the Metes and Bounds Survey

If your deed features a metes and bounds survey—a survey that describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next—you’ll have all the information you need to find property lines. Unfortunately, this type of legal description is notoriously difficult to comprehend unless you’re a surveyor.

The metes and bounds survey cites a starting point, located at one of corners of your property. From there, the survey will give you detailed directions and distances to help you locate the rest of the corners and boundary lines of your property. It’s similar to a connect-the-dots game, except you do it on foot, not on paper. You’ll need a long measuring tape as well as a good-quality directional compass so you can move systematically from point to point.

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But egad! You’ll find that a metes and bounds survey reads like a Shakespearean play. A typical survey may tell you to “commence” from the point of beginning (POB), “running thence westerly 100 feet, thence southerly at an interior angle of 55 degrees to a point,” and so on until it brings you back to the original starting point.

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Metal Detectors and House Sewers

House Sewers

House Sewers

Your home’s sewage system is one of the most important components you need to be aware of. When something goes wrong with anything involving your sewers, it is vitally important for you, the homeowner to figure out what is wrong and figure it out as soon as you can, as this can prevent expensive repairs. One of the best ways to find the various components of your home’s sewage system is to use a metal detector. If you live in town or a developed area, you will more than likely have a sewer main which runs underneath the road in front of your house.

There is a lateral pipe that connects your home to this sewage main. If you live in the country or in some other scenarios, you will have a septic system that is connected to your house by the lateral pipe. There is also a cleanout that allows for access to your lateral pipe, and many times a piece of rebar is put near it in case it gets buried, allowing your metal detector to pick it up. Metal detectors can help you locate these various components if there is ever an issue and you will be able to see what is going on. If it is something simple that you can fix, that is great, but if it isn’t you might have to call in professionals. Either way, you will be able to save time and money by having located the components for the company.

Why Finding Survey Markers Can Be Challenging

Although surveyors usually set property pins so that the top is at the ground surface, they can be hard to find. Over time, property pins may accidentally be buried or removed. It’s common for such mishaps to occur during utility work, landscaping, property grading, or construction projects. 

How To Find Your Property Stake:

It is much more common for the stakes to be several inches underground. Not so deep that they match up with the frost line, but deep enough that some digging is necessary. In that case, your best bet is to buy or rent a metal detector (inexpensive ones cost less than $50). When you’ve found your target, dig down to make sure that it’s really a stake and not just a lost quarter.

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After you have found the iron property stake, replace the dirt and hammer in a small piece of wood as a visible marker.

Note: If locating your property lines precisely—in a legal dispute, for example—we strongly recommend that you hire a professional surveyor.

The Drip Cap

  • If you have plans to build a wall or fence around your property, you must know exactly where your property ends and your neighbor’s property begins so that you can build the construction on your own property.
  • When you purchased your property, a land survey should have been performed to determine the boundaries of the property.
  • If you find a survey pin, stick a flag in the ground to mark it so you can easily find it again.

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