Odd shaped lots in older subdivisions are sometimes recorded as having the same amount of land as the smaller, normal rectangular shaped parcels nearby. I’ve seen this many times – an area with houses on 6,000 SF lots have a few “pie shaped lots” at the end of the cul-de-sac and they are bigger, but for unknown reason are said to have the same 6000 SF lots, even if it’s understating the amount of land.
If you are selling your home, you want credit for the whole lot size. And if you’re buying one, you’ll want to be on the lookout for undervalued properties which have not marketed the true amount of land in the sale.
Plat maps, lot shapes and area
Plat maps can be a little hard to understand without some deciphering, but one thing that is clear is the length of the sides of the parcel. If you look along the edge of any lot, you’ll see a number up against it – that represents the distance in feet of that side of the property.
With simple rectangular or square lots, it’s easy for consumers to do the math and see if the lot size represented is correct. But what happens if the parcel has a more complicated shape? Today we’ll look at this – and a possible solution to double check the figures provided by the MLS, the sellers, the county, or any other source. With irregularly shaped lots, the parcel’s area is very often misrepresented in the records.
With a perfect square or rectangle, the math is easy! Have a look at parcel # 12, circled in red. It has 2 sides with 100′ and 2 sides with 70′ so you simply multiply 100 x 70 to get the lot size of 7000 SF.
If all geometry were only so simple.
Now compare 12 with the other circled parcels:
- 14 isn’t too bad – 4 sides and almost a triangle (so for estimating, fairly easy)
- 7 is a flashback to high school geometry with 5 sides and only one right angle
- 5 boasts 6 sides and is above my pay grade
Odd shaped lots and figuring the true area: software to the rescue
There are pricey real estate programs that can calculate the area of a parcel, but I haven’t had access to them for over 10 years, as most brokerages phased out their subscriptions to it. Recently, though, I was involved in a transaction in which the parcel my client was buying happened to be irregular, and it seemed to be listed as having a much smaller lot size than it really did. What to do?
As with all things, I went to Google and did a query for software that could calculate the area of a lot. And I was in luck – not only did it exist, but it is free. The name is Google Maps Area Calculator Tool and you can find it here:
This is easy to work – you go to the page, input an address, zoom into where you can see what looks like the boundary lines clearly (fences, sidewalks as guides) and click from corner to corner.
Google then provides both the area and the perimeter measurement. A nice bonus, it’s in both meters and feet.
After that’s done, how would you know if it is correct or not?
We again turn to the plat map and add up the measurements of all the sides of the parcel. For the # 12 lot we discussed at first, that’s simple – 100 + 70 + 100 + 70 = a perimeter of 340′. If the Google mapping effort is accurate, the perimeter it produced should be the same, or at least very close. When the perimeters match up, you have pretty good validation that you are at least close.
Where you can obtain a plat map
For home owners, sellers and buyers, you may be wondering where you can get this plat map. It is part of the county records for Santa Clara County, and you can see the plat map of any property in this county here:
When selling or buying real estate in Silicon Valley, it’s important to stay on your toes and not assume that the county records are always correct. If you read this blog, you know that I have often written about the county, city and town permit files often being incomplete, and sometimes missing entirely. Homes and land are very expensive here, and the county offices may not always have accurate information, so ideally consumers keep their own, complete records, and check the facts stated about the property they are buying or selling for accuracy.
How to fix incorrect property records in Santa Clara County?
Monte Sereno Building Permit Nightmare (Live in Los Gatos blog)