A handheld GPS is an extremely useful tool to have on board when you buy land.
In many cases rural land, does not have a street address.
You will be given GPS coordinates and the legal description will consist of Section, Township and Range identifiers.
For example: Section 15, T34N, R37E
These section, township, range identifiers come from historical Public Land Survey System developed in 1785 and are still very important when transferring title across when you buy and sell a property.
Make sure when you buy land that the same section, township, range identifiers you think you are buying are the same that are written on the deed.
It is the legal description that transfers on a sale not the APN.
Is A Smart Phone Good Enough To Accurately Locate My Land?
Do I really need a handheld GPS or can I just use the maps on my smart phone and the GPS coordinates?
You will be given the GPS coordinates of each corner of the parcel. It might look like this:
41.087423, -118.145371 NW
41.087416, -118.140569 NE
41.083718, -118.145317 SW
41.083729, -118.140515 SE
The seller might also give you a link to center of the property. That would look something like this: https://goo.gl/maps/on6d77wkb2L5nim87
As long as you have reception in that area, your smart phone should be fine most of the time.
However you do not want to be stuck if you lose reception. For example when you have a mountain blocking your signal!
A handheld GPS will be far more accurate
If you are just going to view a property to check out what it is like, you do not need to be 100% accurate with whether the boundary lies a yard to the left or right.
You just need to know within reason where the land is.
However if you are considering building work, or fencing off the property, it is more important to be very accurate. You may even decide to invest in a land survey if knowig the exact boundaries is very important for your project.
It is wise to have a professional surveyor to stake out your land to ensure you are actually building on your property and not encroaching on someone else’s land if you are building in a suburban area or if there are any boundary disputes.
But for most rural land buyers a handheld GPS will be accurate enough and is far more accurate than a smart phone map.
If you have a large property, hundreds or thousands of acres, a GPS can be a useful tool to check out all the aspects of your property and make sure you get back safe and sound.
If you have not used GPS before, this video will give you the basics.
A handheld GPS is also useful if you are a hunter. When night closes in and you have been tracking game, it is easy to be so focused on your target, that you forgot which route you took. Hunters also use it for scouting and getting their bearings in unfamiliar territories.
Good handheld GPS models come in between $300-600, typically. You will find models cheaper than this and far more expensive. Just assess your needs, how often you will use it and your budget.
How To Locate Your Land Using Google Maps Without A Handheld GPS
If you are unsure about how to use coordinates to find your land this should help. First bring up your maps, then enter the coordinates in the search bar. This will bring up the location of the property.
See first arrow.
From there you can get the maps to tell you how far it is from your current location, or from the nearest big city.
Hit the "Directions" button- see 2nd arrow.
In this example, we will type in Lovelock.
You can now see a couple of suggested routes to get there and how long it will take to drive.
As you get closer to your destination, you can zoom in and see the details of the property location. As you can see for this example, the property is not on a street address. You will be relying on google maps for accuracy which may be accurate or not so much.
It looks like the property is on an unnamed road. In this case, it might be useful to have a handheld GPS to ensure you are looking at the right property.
Here are the best GPS apps for your phone
There are a number of apps you can download as GPS apps which may be more accurate than google maps. These include Waze, Here, MapQuest, ScoutGPS. You can read more about them and check out the reviews here.
If you spend a lot of time in rural areas or buy a lot of rural land, a handheld GPS is a very worthwhile tool.