Topic 10.1: Purposes of Surveys and Legal Descriptions >

Learning Objectives

After successfully completing this topic, you will be able to
• describe the purpose of legal descriptions,
• list the uses of a survey, and
• list the three types of legal descriptions.


A legal description is a method of describing the exact location of real estate. The property address is often used to identify property for directions to a house, and is also used in listing agreements. But that’s not enough for legal documents. A real estate contract, deed, or mortgage must have the legal description of the property. A contract for the sale and purchase of real estate is not valid if a surveyor cannot locate the boundaries of the property from the legal description in the contract.


A property survey is crucial to our system of private property ownership for many reasons, because it

  • locates boundaries to ensure buildings and fences are constructed on the correct property,
  • develops a legal description of the property,
  • identifies encroachments on the property (fence across the property line, etc.), and
  • calculates the area of land to be conveyed.

Because contracts for the transfer of real estate require an accurate legal description, real estate licensees must be extremely careful when preparing the contract. While a legal description showing a lot and block number is relatively simple to insert into the contract, a lengthy metes and bounds description should be taken directly from the property deed and attached to the contract.

Three Types of Legal Descriptions

There are three types of legal descriptions
• metes and bounds,
• government survey, and
• lot and block.