Finding Property Pins with a Metal Detector

by James Caviness

Whether we are just buying a home or looking to map out the boundaries of our property for a construction project, it is important to know the limits of our land. We may love our neighbors, but we also may not want to see them all the time- putting up a fence or hedge to create some privacy is something most homeowners consider at one point, and marking out your own land the right way will help avoid any conflict.

What Are Property Pins?

Property pins are almost exclusively long rebar poles, about ¾” round, that is driven into the ground. The poles, or stakes, are located at the boundaries of the property, or in cases where the property is not square, they will be found at each of the corners. Locating these pins is generally not difficult as long as you know where to start and what to look for.

Where Do You Find Property Pins?

The best place to start is by checking our home inspection report or a map from the town that shows the approximate property boundaries. Some of these maps will even show the distance between corners or edges from the house or nearby streets to help narrow things down even more. In the United States, markers near the street must be 14.5’ from the curb. Generally, they are about 6-12 inches deep, depending on landscaping.

For more advanced projects, Geospatial Information Systems, or GIS, like ArcGIS or QGIS, can be used to translate the map from a plan to a physical location. An example of this would be if you needed to locate and catalog multiple locations and have a working model to work off. While most homeowners will not resort to GIS, using a map from a town hall to mark out real physical locations is a basic form of GIS!

How Do You Locate Property Lines and Boundaries?

When you buy a property, there's probably no part of the process that's more important than knowing with certainty where your property bounds and property lines are. You can start your investigation by checking with your local city hall for recorded documents. That knowledge can help you avoid costly boundary disputes in the future. For most properties, it's also crucial for erecting fences and planting trees and other plants, not to mention building additions or new structures.

You can locate your property lines and boundaries by hiring a surveyor to use a theodolite and other tools to find them. You can also locate corner markers at or near property lines and boundaries by locating your property pins with a metal detector. These iron rods or metal stake type markers identify the boundary line of your property.

A professional land surveyor depends on equipment to locate property lines, landmarks, and property corner stakes. Professional surveyors use the latest technology to get quick and accurate measurements. They'll be able to mark property lines with flags or other markers. They'll also include the information in a typed report that you can keep for future reference.

Alternatively, if your property is developed but has no visible fences or boundaries, you can locate the property by metal detecting to find survey or property pins.

The best metal detector for locating property pin markers works by emitting electromagnetic waves that detect irregularities in the earth's electromagnetic field caused by metal objects. Survey pins are typically made of iron or steel so that they will show up on the detector during a property line building inspection. Pins are typically located at your property's boundary lines, most commonly at the property's corners. During a professional survey conducted by an experienced and licensed surveyor, they will be easily located. The Schonstedt magnetic locators are commonly used by a professional surveyor in a local town engineering department.

Finding Property Pins

To discover your property pins, go to your front curb or lot line and measure back roughly 15 feet in the space you believe your steel pin marker should be. Start by using a metal detector for property pins to locate the metal pin, then dig until you've reached the marker. The marker should be about 6-10 inches below ground level. Newer survey markers or metal pins might have a colored top cap with digits printed on it. This makes it easy to locate your propertys boundaries.

Are Property Boundaries Documented?

The public works division of your county government maintains an official record of surveyed property lines. If there is a question about where the boundaries actually lay, this information can be obtained from your county's public works department and compared to any markers that you may have found.

Property boundaries and lines are documented on county maps called plats. A property owner will typically have to go through the legal process to identify the legal description of their property to prove the property line. They can alternatively pay an experienced licensed land surveyor to do that for them as part of the legal process.

Property pins are typically used in property line disputes. They can also be found for new construction or home addition projects where the exact property lines need to be marked out. A plat map, or "plats," shows you how your county divides a tract of land into lots. Land sizes, boundaries, flood zones, easements, and rights of way are recorded in the plan. Understanding where the survey stakes are will help you understand your property and identify the location of utility lines and where another buried metal object such as an oil tank might be located. A magnetic locator with high sensitivity to iron and carbon steel will aid in your search.

Professional land surveyors can locate and mark property lines, but there is a good chance that those lines have previously been marked and recorded. Plat maps are available for review in your county property records office. They can be viewed for free, although some offices charge a small fee.

Property surveys will include a boundary monument, which is a permanent market set by the land surveyor and will detail the boundary lines of your property and sidewalk locations if you request a pedestrian survey. The surveyor will examine the property and look at courthouse records. Maps, legal descriptions of real estate, deeds, and information on property rights dating back to the original grant are all possible sources.

Google Earth is an alternative to viewing your property boundaries. Google Earth is a free computer program that allows users to view:

  • Satellite images
  • Maps and
  • 3D buildings of places around the world on their computers.

Because it uses satellite imagery, Google Earth can detect even small features such as property boundaries.

Public records are also available in most counties that may describe the property lines and boundaries of any given parcel of land. This information can be accessed through your local courthouse or county clerk's office, which is usually located in the county government building.

Property Boundary Disputes

When one homeowner's property is encroaching on another's, it can become a serious problem for everyone involved. Not only is an encroachment of property boundaries expensive to fix, but it can also become highly emotional and lead to conflict between the parties involved. Some individuals do not even realize they are encroaching on their neighbor's land until an attorney has brought it to their attention during a dispute.

Choosing the Right Metal Detector

Most property markers will not be difficult to find with a metal detector. Generally, they are not that deep, and a large iron target is usually hard to miss for most decent metal detectors. The challenge comes when trying to locate property markers outside of any maintained land or markers that may have sunken down due to environmental conditions. Some of us may have a property that extends several acres into essentially unmaintained wilderness. Walking a straight line over rock walls, around trees, and over streams can become difficult, so relying on the map can be tough. A magnetic locator may be wise to use since it will have a significantly greater range than a standard metal detector. Magnetic locators will also ignore any nearby non-ferrous targets and really help you narrow your search to the property markers. Many of these magnetic locators are designed for tough conditions and can even hold up to light rain, making them excellent options for surveying rough terrain.

How to Use a Metal Detector to Find Property Stakes

Using the proper metal detector, you will start at one corner shown on the map and walk the proposed distance to the next corner or marker. You will sweep the detector in front of you as you walk until you locate the next property marker. In some cases, leaving a line of flags or paint on the ground can help you more easily visualize the boundary. If you plan to do some construction or plant some trees along your border, it might be beneficial to put down wooden stakes with tape marking off the edge of the property. With the edges and corners marked off, you now know the extent of your domain.

© 2020 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised July 30, 2022