The terms tract of land, lot, and plat all describe certain areas, but they’re not synonymous terms by any means.
How does a tract of land differ from a lot?
What is a plat map and how should you use it when you’re purchasing land?
Keep reading to learn more about the differences between these three terms and what you must know before you begin investing.
1. A tract of land is an identifiable portion of land
Generally, a tract of land is an identifiable portion of land that is easy to portray and discuss with borders that are relatively straightforward to determine.
A tract of land has usually been surveyed or has borders that are defined within a deed or other legal instrument.
It is important to know that a tract of land often contains multiple lots, but the term can also be used to describe a single lot (especially when you are dealing with lots of significant size).
2. A land lot is a legally classified piece of land
A lot is a piece of land that was delineated by a public entity for the purpose of sale or taxation.
It is usually small enough for an individual or entity to procure and develop and is often sized for a single house.
When lots are initially divided out of a piece of land, they are registered in local government offices in order to record and protect the lot’s title deeds and ownership.
The lot also becomes the basis for taxation.
So, when you open a county’s GIS map (or even Google Maps) and see a bunch of clearly demarked properties, you are generally looking at the legal lots registered with the county.
Sometimes, when developers buy a lot of substantial size, they will create a subdivision by dividing the original lot into new, smaller lots.
While it is common to make lots rectangular in shape, they can also be other shapes as well.
Trust us, you’ll run across some strange lot shapes if you buy enough property!
This is because the only critical requirement is that a lot have well-defined boundaries to negate any confusion.
It is important to keep in mind that, while lots must have well-defined boundaries, the public entity responsible for registering legal lots does not verify or guarantee the size of the lots within its jurisdiction.
Although, you can get an approximate parcel size using Google Maps.
3. A lot line is a legal boundary around your piece of land
You may be more familiar with the term “property line” than “lot line.”
A lot line describes the shape and size of the lot of land.
This way, when the buyer purchases a lot, they know exactly what property they’re buying.
Land surveyors will set the lot line using surveyor equipment.
If you’re ever visiting a property and you notice metal stakes in the corner of the yard, then this is an indicator that the land surveyor has marked where the lot lines are.
Lot lines are important when you’re making changes to the property.
For example, if you are putting up a fence or extending your house, you have to make sure you remain within your lot lines.
You may also run into issues when renovating as some zoning regulations require buildings to be set back a certain distance from the lot line.
For more basic information on zoning and other important things to know before buying land, check out our video below.
4. A plat is a map of a specific area
A plat is a map of an area of land that has been divided into individual building lots and which also has streets delineated.
It is usually on the scale of a neighborhood or county township, but there can also be plats of individual lots.
Think of a plat map as a blueprint for a whole neighborhood.
It will usually contain information about each of the lots within the plat (including measurements and lot number) as well as information on key infrastructure (such utility easement locations).
5. You can tell if your subdivision has been platted if there are lot numbers
Not all property is platted.
So, if the deed to your property utilizes subdivision lot numbers to describe your land, then this is your first clue to the fact that it’s been platted.
However, deeds sometimes use a different system of geographical references to describe the size and shape of the property.
This is also called “metes and bounds.”
If you notice this, then you’ll know that the property hasn’t been platted.
Reading a plat map may seem complicated initially because there are a lot of numbers on the map.
The street number for each lot will be listed along with a parcel number in the middle of each property.
The parcel number is assigned by the county assessor’s office.
You’ll likely find this in large, bold, underlined type.
The original developer may have also assigned a builder’s lot number.
You may also see the dimensions of the property along the property lines.
Don’t let all these numbers confuse you!
It’s important to study the plat map carefully to understand any details that impact the property.
For example, easements that exist or a right of way that your city has established for a future roadway.
You should also keep in mind that plat maps aren’t always perfect.
More often than not, dimensions are approximated, and you’ll need to have your land surveyed to establish strict boundaries.
A typical residential lot survey costs in the realm of $300 to $1000.
If your property has any difficult terrain (creeks, steep hillside, etc.), then you can expect the cost to increase.
6. Plat maps can help you with your due diligence
Plat maps are important pieces of paperwork that you may receive when you’re purchasing land.
It shows how a large tract of land is divided into lots in your county.
It’s been drawn to scale by licensed supervisors and records a variety of information.
If you have any due diligence questions about the following, then the plat map is where you can look for this information.
The land’s size
Rights of way
Orientation (North, South, East, West)
7. An acre of land is different from both the tract, lot, and plat
You’re probably familiar with the term “acre.”
Most of the time, people use this term to describe the quantity of land that they’ve purchased.
Such as, “Oh, it’s about 100 acres.”
So, an acre is a measure of land.
One acre of land is equal to 4,840 square yards.
And there are 640 acres in a square mile of land.
An acre is not a common measurement used in other countries or regions (like Europe).
They prefer to use the measurement hectare, which is equal to approximately 2.47 acres.
The key distinction is that tracts of land, lots, and plats are not classified by area in the same way that acres are.
8. It is a good idea to perform a land survey after you buy a tract of land or lot
This land survey helps to determine the boundaries and perimeter of the land.
A survey is also typically the only way to determine the exact size of the property.
Remember, the public entity that delineates legal lots is not responsible for verifying the exact dimensions and area of a lot.
This is why it is usually a good idea to get a survey done before purchasing land that you want to build on.
9. A lot or tract of land can be publicly or privately owned
Lots can be owned by public entities, like the government, or private entities, like individuals or companies.
They can also be purchased and sold.
While a lot should have only one ownership record in effect (or one title), a tract can contain multiple lots and so have multiple titles.
This means that a tract cannot always be sold as a single piece (unless it only contains one legal lot or the same entity holds title to all lots in the tract).
Lots and tracts can also be purchased by developers and then developed into residential or commercial real estate as long as they are consistent with local zoning laws and regulations.
10. A tract of land has no specific legal meaning
While a tract of land is identifiable and known, it isn’t legally classified like a lot is.
You can use the phrase “tract of land” just like you can use the phrase “parcel of land.”
It designates the fact that land is contiguous, has established boundaries and has known size…nothing more.
11. A lot must be contiguous
A lot doesn’t imply a certain measurement of land (like an acre would).
Rather, it refers to a piece of land of any size that can be sold in an individual contract.
One of the requirements to be a lot is that it must be contiguous.
If it isn’t then it isn’t a lot.
Two separate pieces of land would be considered two lots.
All clear now on the differences between tracts, lots, and plats of land?
While the distinctions can be tricky at first, this is just your beginning into the foray of land investing.
For more information on buying, selling, or investing in vacant land, check out our other resources below.
We’re here to help throughout the entire land buying and selling process!
If you are looking to buy affordable land, you can check out our Listings page.
If you are interested in land investing, you can check out our article on How to Get Started in Land Investing.
And if you are looking to sell land, visit our page on how to Sell Your Land.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.
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