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How does an easement affect your property?

One of the biggest problems you can run into when you're buying a piece of property is finding out that it has an easement or two on it. If that easement isn't something you're aware of before you commit to the purchase, it could ruin your plans for the place.

An easement gives someone the legal right to use another person's property in a specific way. For example, one type of easement is called a "right-of-way." If you buy a property that gives your neighbor the right-of-way to cut across the back of your property on his or her way to the public beach nearby, that's an easement.

Because easements are legal entitlements, you can't simply revoke them or change their terms. For example, even if you'd prefer to fence off your entire property, the easement held by your neighbor would stop you. If you went ahead and built the fence, your neighbor could sue for its removal.

Another common easement that home buyers encounter concerns those held by utility companies. For example, the gas company may hold an easement through your yard to perform maintenance on a gas line somewhere on the other side.

Should you forget about a property with an easement? It depends largely on what the easement is and how much you feel it will inconvenience you or damage the property's resale value. For example, if you want to put a large pool in the backyard, the gas company's easement could block you.

On the other hand, if there's a small easement that allows your neighbor to walk on a few feet of your property at the very end, you may just decide to put the fence you want a few feet back.

The possibility of a forgotten or hidden easement is one of the reasons that it pays to make certain that a full title search is performed before purchase. Even then, issues can still crop up if an easement was established but never properly recorded. If you do encounter an easement, make certain that you understand all of the legal obligations it entails -- before you decide to purchase.

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