Here in the mountains, much of the development happened willy-nilly, over-time, and across multiple divisions among heirs. This has created some interesting lot sizes and dimensions, often without direct access to a publicly maintained road. Even in the center of town, you’ll find easements going through one property to access another behind it. There are several ways to find out more about this. The first tool I use is Buncombe County GIS. Of course if you are not in Buncombe County, simply google the name of your county, NC, and GIS. This provides not only an aerial image of where the lot boundaries are (within a few feet – this does not qualify as an adequate survey!) but also easy access to a “Property Card” with sales and tax valuation history of the lot, as well as direct links to the most recent deed and plat on the Register of deeds website.
The deed should make reference to any existing recorded easement for a Right-Of-Way to an adjacent property, and on what deed book and page that property is. In addition, you can continue down the rabbit hole on the Register of Deeds website, by clicking on the left most circle “Online Document Search” and selecting the Book/Page tab to enter the referenced Deeds and Plats you find on your way. This rabbit hole is like a sink hole, and it’s easy to get lost, but it’s a wealth of information.
Also, it is always wise to contact a trusty lawyer to provide expert advice on a particular matter. Here are Keller Williams, many of our agents like to use Goosmann, Rose, Colvard and Cramer, due to their professionalism, diligence, and responsiveness. A qualified individual there might answer an agent’s question generally for free, but they of course do charge for specific legal advice since that requires research and documentation on their part. I recently asked Greg Goosmann for advice on a Right-of-Way, and whether it could be used by a potential adjacent development in the works. I went through the steps mentioned above as well. I found the plat for the adjacent property through the Buncombe Co GIS website (through the Property Card), and saw that even it referenced that Right-of-Way as a private use.
Greg also confirmed that generally private Rights-of-Way are still intended to serve the property it was initially tied to, based on the amount of use understood at that time, and any change in use (such as additional use by a new development) would need to be cleared by property encumbered by the Right-of-Way. This is extremely important information for a potential buyer of the property encumbered by the Right-of-Way easement, to know the future potential use of that Right-of-Way, and have some determination towards this use. The above websites will help you start to learn about these encumbrances on a property, but it is always best to consult legal advice.
The next level on Rights-of-Way are privately maintained and shared roads. By this I mean the dreaded Road Maintenance Agreement, which is dreaded less for the cost of establishing the agreement (which can range between $300 and $1500) than for getting all the neighbors to agree on splitting the cost and paying an annual fee for upkeep. But that is for another post, on another day.
Happy Searching Down the Rabbit Hole!