A plat map (sometimes simply called a “plat”) is a legal document showing the division of a piece of land into specific lots.
Reviewing a property’s plat map as well as the more detailed plot map can help determine exactly what property is being bought or sold. A plat map is also a crucial reference to understand the legal rights of the property owner. These rights include what can be built and any easements that would grant others the right to cross your property.
In older neighborhoods, plat maps can also serve as a window into a neighborhood’s history. For example, the handwritten plat map below shows one neighborhood in Denver, Colorado as it was initially designated 150 years ago, five years before Colorado became a state.
Where can I find my plat map?
When you buy a home, the title company is responsible for conducting a title search to research the property’s history to ensure that you are getting what you’re paying for. During this process, the title company will check the public record for details on your property, including the plat map. If you’d like to see a copy, your title company can help!
Plat maps are public information and can typically be found on the website of your county or city clerk, recorder, or assessor. For example, Denver plat maps can be found by searching an address here. Surrounding counties like Arapahoe, Adams, and Jefferson County all have their own archives, and every local county government is slightly different.
How to read a plat map
The legal description uniquely identifies a property using only words. Unlike street addresses, legal descriptions do not change over time, and they must be unique.
The legal description of an entire plat will be listed on the plat map, along with block and lot numbers that describe each parcel of land within the plat. Using the Ford’s Addition example above, the plat’s legal description is “Part of East 1/2 of NW 1/4 & West 1/2 NE 1/4 Sec 26 T.3.S.R.68.W” and the blocks and lots are labelled with their unique identifiers within that plat.
An easement is a legal right to cross your property. Your neighborhood’s plat map should show any easements that exist and this is key information to know before making a purchase. Particularly if your property abuts public lands or may contain natural resources, you will want to fully understand who has rights to build on, build through, or extract resources from your property.
Some plat maps will show flood zones where flooding is most likely to occur. If this information isn’t found on your plat map, check the county’s website for a separate flood zone map. Understanding your community’s floodplain can help you assess the risk that your property will flood, and it can also impact the cost of insurance as lenders may require flood insurance in order to underwrite mortgages on some properties.
What are the limitations of plat maps?
Plot vs plat
By definition, plat maps are general. They show an entire area as it was originally designated. Although it will show legal descriptions, block and lot numbers, and general lot dimensions, there will be some detail missing.
A plot map is more detailed than a plat map and will show all of the details of an individual lot. In addition to showing the overall lot size, it will show specific property lines and a detailed map of lot dimensions.
Parcel numbers and assessor information
Although they may show the same area, plat maps are typically separate from assessor’s maps. Where a plat map shows the land as it was originally designated, the assessor’s map is updated by the county assessor for tax purposes.
Zoning refers to regulations defining how land in particular zones can be used and what can be built on it. Plat maps typically will not include zoning information, but your county assessor should have a publicly-available zoning map on their website.
When to get a survey
In a typical residential resale, you may not need your own survey in order to confirm the boundaries of your property. However, when building a new structure, when making changes close to the property line, or in case of a legal dispute, it may be necessary to get a new survey done.
Your real estate agent or title company should be able to refer you to a local surveyor or advise you on how to proceed if you have any questions about a survey. Here at Trelora, we’ve helped thousands of buyers and sellers through the journey of homeownership and we are happy to help you protect your investment.