Definition and uses / Methods

Definition and uses

There are many common ways of describing properties: address (100 Main Street), name (Buckingham Palace), and general description (“the south forty acres”). Such informal descriptions are not acceptable for use in public recordation or, generally speaking, in a court of law because they lack both permanence and sufficient information for a surveyor to locate the property.

Even if a legal document or public record refers to an address, the reference is always supported by an accepted legal description.

A legal description of real property is one which accurately locates and identifies the boundaries of the subject parcel to a degree acceptable by courts of law in the state where the property is located.

The general criterion for a legal description is that it alone provides sufficient data for a surveyor to locate the parcel. A legal description identifies the property as unique and distinct from all other properties.

Legal description provides accuracy and consistency over time. Systems of legal description, in theory, facilitate transfers of ownership and prevent boundary disputes and problems with chain of title.

A legal description is required for:

  • public recording
  • creating a valid deed of conveyance or lease
  • completing mortgage documents
  • executing and recording other legal documents

In addition, a legal description provides a basis for court rulings on encroachments and easements.


The three accepted methods of legally describing parcels of real estate are:

  • metes and bounds
  • rectangular survey system, or government survey method
  • recorded plat method, or lot and block method

Since the metes and bounds method preceded the inception of the rectangular survey system, the older East Coast states generally employ metes and bounds descriptions. States in the Midwest and West predominantly use the rectangular survey system. Some states, such as Florida, combine methods.


A metes and bounds description identifies the boundaries of a parcel of real estate using reference points, distances, and angles. The description always identifies an enclosed area by starting at an origination point, called point of beginning, or POB, and returning to the POB at the end of the description. A metes and bounds description must return to the POB in order to be valid.

The term “metes” refers to distance and direction, and the term “bounds” refers to fixed reference points, or monuments and landmarks, which may be natural and artificial. Natural landmarks include trees, rocks, rivers, and lakes. Artificial landmarks are typically surveyor stakes.

Florida use metes and bounds description to describe properties within the rectangular survey system.

A metes and bounds description begins with an identification of the city, county, and state where the property is located. Next, it identifies the POB and describes the distance and direction from the POB to the first monument, and then to subsequent monuments that define the property’s enclosed perimeter.

A parcel of land located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, having the following description: commencing at the intersection of the south line of Route 199 and the middle of Flint Creek, thence southeasterly along the center thread of Flint Creek 410 feet, more or less, to the willow tree landmark, thence north 65 degrees west 500 feet, more or less to the east line of Dowell Road, thence north 2 degrees east 200 feet, more or less, along the east line of Dowell Road to the south line of Route 199, thence north 90 degrees east 325 feet, more or less, along the south line of Route 199 to the point of beginning.