Before buying rural land in Alabama, there are several types of maps you should acquire to help you evaluate property to determine its suitability for your needs.
1. Plat Map- Alabama utilizes the Public Land Survey System which divides the state and various counties into townships, ranges, and sections. The plat map further identifies the various landowners of the properties in these geographical divisions. Each township is usually 36 square miles, with a section representing one square mile. Each section is made up of 640 acres. Therefore, the 80 acre tract in the aerial map below is 1/2 mile long and 1/4 mile wide.
Plat books are generally county specific, and are available at your local USDA or NRCS office.
2. Aerial Map- Once you know where the property is located, and you can identify the shape on a plat map, then you can draw the boundary lines on a satellite image. (I use mapcard.com to draw this type of may.) An aerial map can help you identify internal roads, adjoining property owners lands, timber stands, proximity to public roads, fields, water, and so forth.
3. Topographical Map- Often called a "topo" map, these drawings show the countours of the earth's surface. Many topo maps use the same PLSS system as a plat book, and there are lines drawn at various intervals (10, 20, 50 or 100 feet) to show elevation changes over an area.
Topo maps can be used to identify flood-prone areas, lake sites, homesites, roadbeds, and good hunting locations. These maps usually identify public roads, watercourses, and existing structures as well. Topographical maps are essential for determining suitability for construction on a property.
4. Survey Map- Having a current survey on a prospective property is a tremendous help during the due dilligence phase. This is the best way to verify exact acreage of the parcel you are considering. The survey map will show the property corners, pertinent landmarks, existing structures, roads, utilities, and other useful information.
In addition, the survey will bear the legal description as written by a registered surveyor, and is usually going to be extremely accurate. The description on the survey is generally what will be recorded into the deed at the time of transfer of the property.
Surveys are usually the most expensive types of maps to acquire, but are by far the most accurate method of ensuring acreages and boundaries.
Other important maps to consider include: timber stand maps, flood plain maps, soil surveys, and county tax assessor maps. All of these maps offer specific information about your subject property, and should be considered before making a purchase. Obviously google maps is a helpful program for gathering all kinds of information about the surrounding area and for obtaining driving directions. I am partial to using an Alabama Gazetteer for finding places that are off the beaten path, and for choosing lesser-known roads to get you there.
This list of maps is not comprehensive, but will give you a good start on evaluating a prospective property. If you are in the market for a hunting tract, farmland, timber investment or recreational property in west Alabama, please contact me today.