Selling Land

What does acreage “more or less” mean?

My understanding is that “more or less,” was originally conceived and used to reflect the inherent imprecision of early surveying instruments and techniques. A chain or metal tape, for instance, will sag a bit when stretched.

My sense of things, however, is that “more or less” has come to be used as a general shield for sellers who convey acreage short of what they’ve advertised and short of what the deed sets forth. Judges, I expect, will use some form of the reasonableness test to determine whether a short-acreage sale reasonably falls with more or less, or, alternatively, exceeds it.

I know of examples where relatively small acreages — under 50 acres — were short by ten acres or more, and the buyer was told he had no legal recourse because of “more or less” in the deed.

Would appreciate hearing incidents/examples from around the country.

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About the author

Curtis Seltzer

Curtis Seltzer is a land consultant, columnist and author of How To Be a DIRT-SMART Buyer of Country Property, available at Curtis-Seltzer.com where his columns are posted. He also does commentary for Virginia public radio. His new book, Land Matters: The “Country Real Estate” Columns, 2007-2009, which includes 14 commentaries on CD.

3 Comments

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  • Great question Curtis. It’s my understaning “more or less” was termed to convey a lack of perfect precision as you state. I think this is less of an issue today mainly because of technology like GPS, etc… I coach people to get a new survey on the property before buying. Especially if the current plat is more than 10 years old. Get the facts before buying!

  • Usually, it is in the buyer’s interest to have a survey performed. If there is a survey to be performed, I always reccomend that there be some method of adjusting the actual purchase price to reflect the amount of acreage conveyed. I have found this to be the best way to deal with this issue. It’s really hard to cure after you have a buyer, invested in a survey, and the survey comes back with a very different acreage. Take care of that on the front end, so that it is not a problem later.

    In my part of rural Alabama, many properties have never been identified more specifically than with rectangular survey…so variance from the estimate is actually more normal than non-variance.

    Many times I deal with buyer’s having a limited amount of purchase capital and they have a fear of the acreage amount going well over the expected amount. In those cases, we usually limit the upward movement of price at some agreed upon amount. A year ago, the seller would probably have demanded a bottom limit, but sellers do not hold the position they did a year ago.

    Sometimes it’s easier to negotiate a lump-sum price. In those cases, I usually reccomend to both parties that the acreage will vary, and you will need to be happy with the outcome. In this instance, the buyer usually makes thier offer contingent upon their approval of the survey. Sellers should be wary of this position though, as it provides an easy opportunity to re-open negotiations.

  • I agree with Robert and here’s some specifics from my market.

    In Georgia, we sell land in two ways: by the acre or by the tract. When land is sold by the acre, a per acre price is multiplied by the most accurate measure of the parcel’s size to arrive at the purchase price. If at some time after the sale it is determined that the tract is larger or smaller, the losing party has a fairly straightforward argument for placing a value on thier loss.

    When selling by the tract, the sales contract includes a purchase price for the entire parcel with no mention of the price per acre. If the size of the tract is in error and this fact is discovered after the sale, it is almost impossible for the losing party to receive compensation for the acreage difference.

    Be careful when writing a contract to purcase by the tract when the property was marketed for sale by the acre and in markets where land prices are quoted by the acre. In either of these scenarios, a sales contract that calls for a sale by the tract may not protect against future claims if the size of the property varies.

    You may also consider purchasing an acreage rider on your title policy if it does not cover errors in measurement on the survey.

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