The first term that is included in most, if not all, Purchase Agreements is the description of the property that is being sold. A term like this seems pretty ordinary and self-explanatory, and to a certain extent, it is. A good Purchase Agreement, however, will list the address of the property, the legal description of the property, and often even the tax identification number of the property. Once these additional types of descriptions begin to appear within the Purchase Agreement a common term can begin to look like the treasure map. The information that follows should give you a little better idea of what you are looking at when you see things like a legal description or metes and bounds description within the section of your Purchase Agreement that calls for the property description.
Most property has been measured out and surveyed at some point in time. In fact, the art of surveying can be traced all the way back to ancient Chinese and Egyptian cultures. By the time the United States came about, surveying was anything but a new concept. So, as the railroads and settlers pushed west, they brought with them private and government surveyors to plat out the new territories. These surveyors spent years creating surveys of our great nation. These surveys often initially broke things down into territories, then states, counties, cities, divisions, blocks, and finally lots. Everything was evaluated, measured out, and written down. Fast forward to today and it is safe to say that every piece of property in the United States has a legal description.
A modern legal description for the average property will look something like this:
Lot 1, Block 2, East West Division 3 according to the plat thereof on file and of record in the office of the County Recorder in and for Big County.
So, as you can see, a legal description generally follows the model: Lot, Block, Plat, County. This format is smallest to biggest. Thus, if you were looking at a survey map of the state and were trying to find a specific piece of property based upon its legal description, it may help to work backwards from the County, down to the Plat, down to the Block, and finally down to the specific Lot.
Sometimes legal descriptions are a little less modern and look a little different. The oldest form of legal description is known as the metes and bounds description, which is sort of like a set of directions that can be walked, and if followed, the directions form the outline of a piece of property. A metes and bounds description will include measurements of distance, directions, and descriptions of various monuments. When individuals have their properties surveyed in order to find out exactly what is contained within their property, a surveyor would start out standing at a certain monument, usually a surveyor’s stake in modern times. Sometimes, however, and this is especially true for historical times, a tree, rock, or some other landmark was used as a monument. The surveyor would then face a certain compass direction and walk the various distances to the other monuments in order to establish the boundary of the property. When the surveyor reaches the point at which they started, the metes and bounds description is complete. A metes and bounds description may look something like this:
Commencing at the South East corner of Section 32, thence North along the section line 42 feet; thence West 20 feet; thence South 42 feet; thence East 20 feet to the place of beginning.
The most important thing about a metes and bounds description is that it closes off. If the starting point is not the same as your ending point, or if there are any holes or gaps in the description, then you may have big problems.
These are the types of things that you should expect to see and include in a Purchase Agreement when supplying a term for the description of the property to be sold. Now you can begin to see why something so basic as the property address can turn into an incoherent string of words or take on the appearance of a treasure map. Ultimately, gaining a fair understanding of what is written down in order to describe the property within the Purchase Agreement is important. Fortunately, it is a little easier than it may at first appear.
Common Terms in a Purchase Agreements