Legal Description

Legal description surveys are standard services provided by Southwest Survey and are provided when new descriptions are needed due to a land division or property line adjustment. These surveys are important when preparing a deed and are the only legally official way to describe property.

These surveys provide an exact description of a property for all legal purposes. Descriptions such as street addresses and fences are not legally official descriptions and cannot be used to accurately describe a property.

Legal Description

Processes of Legal Description

There are several approved methods of description that allow such a precise detailing of a property’s description:  
  • Fractional designation is a method of description that was first established in the US in 1785. Fractional designation is a rectangular system that uses baselines and meridians to determine size and location.


  • The metes-and-bounds method is measured in two distinct ways: 
    • The first way uses natural or artificial boundaries to describe a property. These can include rivers, creeks, or roads. 
    • The second way is to define a property based on the surrounding properties. 
  • The reference trait is a complete description of the property based on official references, and can include title and deed records. A legal description will reference back to these documents and include their description of the property. 


  • Blanket property descriptions are typically general and almost always accompanied by more specific descriptions. 
    • If a property has a more common, proper name, the name designation description can be included in the legal description. 
      • Examples of these include popular landmarks or famous locations. 
  • Lastly, a subdivision lot description, also called lot and block, focuses on describing a large area of land in regard to specific plats or deeds. When developing subdivision properties, it is crucial to include a courses-and-distance description as well.  
Additional sources: Better Business Bureau


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Courses-and-Distance Method

This final survey method is a complicated but comprehensive way to describe a property. While the name is often interchanged with the metes-and-bounds method, the courses-and-distance method is more complicated. This method is also the oldest descriptive method and revolves around defining a property and setting a course from a designated point of beginning. A point of beginning is determined by any nearby monuments. Sometimes a property may have more than one point of beginning due to differences from a survey and a deed. There is no issue with this – presuming that both points of beginning are accurate.
Once a point of beginning has been discerned, a course along the property is set, with several different ways to describe it. Calls are used to dictate exact cardinal directions and precise distance. For example, if the legal description states that a property line runs 200 feet North, that would be a call description. Bearings are similar to calls, however, they include the directions of Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Lastly, angle descriptions utilize standard math angle degrees to accurately describe the course of a property. 

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