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What is a Legal Description of a Property?

Posted by Sarah Steen on October 17, 2023
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Learning about the definition of a legal property description isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. We completely get it! But did you know that an erroneous legal description could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in some circumstances?

The difference between a legal address and a property address is a crucial distinction that often plays a pivotal role in real estate transactions. The legal address and property address might sound like terms that are interchangeable. However, these terms hold distinct meanings and serve unique purposes in the world of property ownership and transactions. Understanding these nuances is important for buyers, sellers, investors and homeowners.

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The Difference Between Legal Address and Property Address

The legal address and property address are two distinct identifiers associated with a property.

  • The property address is the familiar address that everyone refers to when locating a property. This is the address you put on letters and provide to friends for directions.
  • The legal address, also known as the official or tax address, is the address used by government agencies and tax authorities to identify the property for tax assessment purposes.

When is a property address utilized?

The property address is used for everyday purposes such as mailing, navigation, and communication. We’ve seen the post office change a property address on 3 separate properties in the past decade. This can become a headache for the homeowner.

When is a legal address utilized?

The legal address will never change and is vital for official documentation, tax assessment, and record-keeping. This distinction is essential for accurately identifying a property in legal documents, ensuring proper taxation, and maintaining accurate public records.

Who uses the property address?

The property address is used by residents, businesses, delivery services, and virtually anyone who interacts with the property.

Who uses the legal address?

The legal address will be used by government agencies, tax authorities, legal entities, title companies or by anyone involved with legal activity like sales, insurance, surveyors and other transfers of the property.

Related Reading: 
Steps to Buy a House
How to Appeal Your Home’s Property Tax Value

Examples of Legal Property Descriptions 

Legal descriptions will vary for different kinds of properties.

  • Townhomes and single-family homes that are located in a Planned Urban Development area or other platted area usually have pretty simple legal descriptions:
    For example: Gold Hill Mesa, Filing 8, Lot 10, Colorado Springs, El Paso County.
  • Condominium descriptions are more extensive because they have to include the area, the house and the actual unit(s). At times there might be an additional legal description for a separate garage. When this happens, it is imperative that both descriptions are included in any ownership changes. In a recent transaction we worked on, the condo was in a trust but the garage was not included because it simply overlooked.
  • Land will frequently have a Metes and Bounds Description which is usually a description of markers on the land like big rocks, trees, iron bar, etc. Reviewing those descriptions, can be a bit intimidating:
    Beginning at a point from which the north quarter corner of Section 4, T. 1 N (township 1 north), R. 70 W (range 70 west) of the 6th PM (the sixth principal meridian, a north–south reference line) in ABC County, Colorado, bears N 45° W 1,320 feet, at which point of beginning an iron stake has been placed; thence south 600 feet to a point also marked by an iron stake; thence N 45° W 700 feet to a large oak tree; thence northeasterly to the point of beginning

Related Reading:
Condo versus Townhome
Should I buy a townhome?
Questions to Ask When Buying Land

Why is it important to verify the legal and property addresses before closing?

Verifying the accuracy of both the legal and property addresses is crucial, especially as the closing date of a real estate transaction approaches. Mistakes in legal descriptions are relatively uncommon, but mixing up the lots has happened before. This is usually the result of a perfect storm of errors but it happens.

This could start out with the For Sale sign not being in the proper spot of a piece of land, like a recent transaction we heard about where the actual listing was the acreage next to the For Sale sign. All tests and due diligence were done for the wrong property. Fortunately, the buyer’s agent noticed that the legal description and the mailing address did not match. That was a close call but it was thankfully caught before closing. If the buyer started to invest more money into building a home on the wrong property it would have been devastating for all parties.

Mistakes or discrepancies in either address can lead to complications in legal documents, property assessments, and tax liabilities.

What you can do to verify legal and property addresses:

Regardless of whether you are in the process of purchasing or you already own property, here’s what you can do to ensure accuracy. We especially recommend this process to anyone who owns land with or without a structure on it.

  • Verify Legal Address: Ensure that the legal address accurately matches the property’s location and is consistent with the records held by the local government. You can do this by comparing the assessor information with your deed.
  • Verify Property Address: This is the address where the property is physically located. This should match the legal address to avoid confusion. You can order an O&E (Owners and Encumbrance Report) from your local title company for about $5 and compare your mailing address with the listed legal description.
  • Review Public Records: Regularly review public records related to your property. This could include deeds, titles, tax assessments, and zoning records. If you notice any discrepancies, take immediate steps to rectify them.
  • Review Closing Documents: If you recently purchased the property, review the closing documents to ensure that the legal and property addresses are accurately recorded.
  • Contact Local Authorities: If you identify any inconsistencies, contact the appropriate local authorities such as the county assessor’s office or land records office. Provide them with accurate information and any supporting documentation needed to correct the records. Ultimately, it might be necessary to get a survey or go to further lengths to fix the situation. This process could take some time so be sure to address this as soon as possible.
  • Update Documentation: If you move, sell, or make changes to the property, ensure that the legal address is updated on all relevant legal documents. This includes deeds, titles, contracts, and any agreements involving the property. That way you are always informed of any changes or property tax information.
  • Consult Professionals: If you’re unsure about the process or legal requirements, consider consulting professionals such as REALTORS, surveyors, or title companies. They can guide you through the steps to ensure accuracy in public records.

The distinction between legal and property addresses is a fundamental aspect of real estate transactions. A clear understanding of these terms and their implications can prevent future complications, legal disputes, and tax issues. As a prospective buyer, seller, or investor, ensuring the accuracy of both addresses is a critical step in navigating the complex landscape of real estate transactions. Questions? Comment below or email us at susanna@co-regroup.com.

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