Where to Get the Low-Down On Your Property

“Dale knows where the property line is, don’t you Dale?” said the one of the clients to Dale Cummins, our Chief Architect, during an inspection of the dig site for their future 3-story addition. Dale did know of course, and he quickly pointed out the tree-line that had been planted just for the purpose of making the property line clear. This was not the first time though that a client didn’t know where their property began and ended. 

Buying a home or a piece of property is a complicated process. Often times we get so caught up in dealing with the seller, the real estate agent,  the mortgage broker, and the our family members that we quickly lose track of basic details about the property itself. A lot of seemingly minor details like the property line may not be important while you’re trying to work a new mortgage payment into your budget, but it is definitely something to keep handy. 

What if you have another child? Your mom or dad are going to move in? Or you had a really uncomfortable Christmas last year and wish you had extra dining room space or a guest room? Another bedroom might be in your home’s future. If you plan on making any changes to your land or your home, you’re going to go through the design/build process. During that process literally hundreds of questions are going to come up about your property. We’re going to give you some resources you can use to help you answer a lot of those questions. 

1. Realestate Websites 

Real estate website like Trulia, Zillow, and Redfin can be great resources for insightful property info. They don’t just have maps and pricing. Redfin in particular actually gathers data from public records and presents it in an easy to read profile for each property. We use this site frequently to find out things like the APN (Assessor’s Parcel Number), the square footage of the buildings, what municipality jurisdiction it falls under and even get pictures if they’re available. 

Simply create an account and get access to general info on nearly every piece of property in the country! 

2. Local Municipality/City Hall

If you can’t find what you’re looking for through a real estate site try visiting your local municipality’s land use or service department. Since we’re a California based architecture firm, we’re more familiar with local municipalities in California, but most local municipalities are structured the same throughout the county and should have a department specifically for Building & Safety, Planning and Engineering. 

HINT: Try finding the information desk and asking where you can go to get a Building Permit if you’re lost. 

Government employees tend to be very knowledgeable and will work with you as best they can to help you find what you’re looking for. They can answer questions about what their Development Code dictates the easements and setback are for your property as well as tell you what other restrictions are in place that might prevent you from moving forward with your project. These are important things to find out before you begin the design phase of your project. 

3. Local Tax Assessor

Every Tax Assessor has different services in place when it comes to keeping the public informed about how their taxes are calculated, collect, and spent. Try visiting your local municipality’s website for a link to the Tax Assessor’s website if you have questions about property taxes or if you’re trying to track down a Parcel Map that shows your property. 

If your property is in the County of San Bernardino, you can get access to most of this information online via the Property Information Management System Internet Site. (Los Angeles and Orange County do not seem to have a portal like this just yet):

Use Redfin to find the APN of the property and then input that number into the Parcel Inquiry to generate a Property Info report. We’ve used this portal many time to find the Tract and Lot numbers for some of our client’s properties and even get a PDF of the Assessor’s Parcel Map (tab in shown in red) for the property.

Once you’ve found the Parcel Map, you can even get the exact dimension of the property and see the property lines (shown in blue). In the picture above, Lot 2 is 75’ x 104’, which is great to know before you begin doing any construction projects on the property since you can calculate in where the setback and easement lines are for your property. 

4. Local Surveyor

If you’re trying to track down maps, diagrams, or general geographic information about your property and the Tax assessor or City Land Use departments aren’t helping you out, try asking your local City Surveyor. The Tax Assessor relies on Parcel Map the Surveyor creates in order to create his/her Property Tax Roll. In most cases it’s best to just give the Surveyor’s office a call and ask your questions to the department directly since the Surveyor’s tend not to put too much time and effort into their websites. They’re busy folks after all.  


If you’ve gone to all of these resources and you STILL haven’t found the answer you’re looking for, then consult an architect. As long as you’re clear about what it is you’re looking to do on your property and what it is you’re looking for, I’m more than certain he/she will be able to help you. Most architects will either have the answers already or will do the bulk of the research if you select them as your designer. They can save a lot of time and energy. If you’re in California, give us a call. To find an architect outside of California, please visit: https://architectfinder.aia.org/ 


Thanks for reading!

- Alec