Topic 10.2: Metes and Bounds

Learning Objective

The point of beginning (POB)

After successfully completing this topic, you will be able to
• describe how to call a legal description using the metes and bounds method, and
• describe the importance of the POB.

History and Description

Metes and bounds legal descriptions have been in use since the beginning of recorded history. The term metes refers to distance (think “meters”) and bounds refers to directions. It is often used for irregularly shaped parcels and expensive land because of its accuracy.

Surveyor’s Compass

A circle has 360 degrees, expressed as 360°. But the maximum number of degrees in a legal description is 90°. The line that runs north and south is called the primary reference line, because it is the first (primary) call in a legal description. The first call is either “north” or “South,” depending whether the line runs north or south of the 90-degree line. The north and south are 0°, and east and west are 90°. If the surveyor is facing north and the line direction is halfway between 0° and 90° the line bounds call would be North 45° East, and is shortened to “N 45° E.”

How to “call” a Metes and Bounds Legal Description:

• The first “call” in a legal description is always “North” or “South,” depending on whether the surveyor is looking north of the 90° line or south of it.
• The next part of the call is the number of degrees away from due north or due south. Due north or due south is 0° . Due east or west is 90°.
• The final part of the call is the degrees direction toward the east or toward the west.

Example: What’s the opposite of S 45o E?

Answer: N 45° W.

Surveyors use a GPS unit that ties into a GPS antenna. The stake location is accurate to within 1/100th of an inch making a second surveyor unnecessary.

Metes and bounds descriptions are usually the longest and most often are attached to a contract.

Point of Beginning (POB)

The exact point of beginning location is critical to the survey. If it is not established correctly the entire survey is wrong. The point of beginning is the start of a property’s legal description. So, a legal description must inform the surveyor how to get to that point. An example might say “Start at the survey marker at the SW corner of Section 18, Township 6 South, Range 22 East, thence go N 80 o east a distance of 152 feet to the point of beginning…” 

Each line is “called” until last boundary line closes the description.

Monuments Method

The earliest legal descriptions used natural monuments such as rivers, trees or roads to establish boundaries, and some are still in use. This is an informal type of metes and bounds survey. That’s why so many countries and states have a river as their boundary. Think of a metes and bounds survey as the childhood game of a treasure hunt. “From the front door, go 50 steps to the big oak tree. Then turn right and go to the edge of the fence. Turn right and go to the fourth fence post. There you will find the treasure.”

This method has many shortcomings including that the shoreline of the lake may shift, the old dock pilings may rot into the water, and the state road right-of-way might be altered. The monuments method is no longer used. Current practices use concrete or steel monuments placed professionally by surveyors and government agencies.

“An old oak tree” used in a monuments method of description, will render the description useless when it dies.
Example of monuments method: From the survey stake at the corner of Section 32, Township 2 North, Range 30 West, go directly south a distance of 483 feet to the shore of Lake Kimball. Thence follow the shoreline west a distance of 485 feet to the old dock pilings. Thence north a distance of 483 feet to the right of way of State Road 434, thence east to the point of beginning, containing 5.38 acres, more or less.