Map scale

What is a flat card? A survey that can tell you a lot about your property

When you buy a house, you will inevitably receive what will seem like a mountain of documents regarding your new digs. One of the documents your title company office might include is a flat map, and it’s full of information about your neighborhood and county. This is called a flat map.

A flat map, also known as a “flat,” shows you how a parcel of land is divided into lots in your county. It is drawn to scale and records the size of the lot, boundary locations, nearby streets, flood zones, and any easements or rights of way.

A flat map is required if land is to be subdivided into lots for building houses or if the land is to be turned into a place of public access, such as a park. This map is also usually included in the documents you receive when you buy a house.

“Flat maps are drawn by a civil engineer when creating a development and approved by the county planning department,” explains Casey Flemingauthor of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Mortgage Possible”.

“They are used in real estate transactions for title searches and insurance. Title records are searched to ensure that the seller has the right to convey the property described and that the buyer is buying exactly what they think they are buying.”

What is a dish or a plot

These words may sound and sound alike, but they cannot be used interchangeably. A dish is a map of an area, usually at the scale of a neighborhood or township, and a parcel is land used for a single purpose (such as a park or a house).

Essentially, a flat map records all of the parcels that make up a neighborhood.

Not all goods are plated

If your deed uses subdivision lot numbers to describe your land, it has been plated. But if your deed uses geographic references – also called “meters and boundaries” – to describe the size and shape of your property, then it hasn’t been plated.

How to read a dish card

One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are a lot of numbers on the card. The street number for each lot is listed, and in the middle of each property is a “parcel number” which is assigned by the county assessor’s office and usually appears in large bold underlined type.


Another number is the “builder’s lot number” assigned to the property by the original developer. Along the property lines, numbers indicate the dimensions of the land.

Why You’ll Want to Read a Dish Card

Flat maps indicate the east, west, north and south orientation of the area. This information is useful if, for example, you want to build a house with the kitchen facing east for morning light, or if you want wide southern exposure for a solar power generator.

It is important to study the flat carefully to look for any easements that exist on the property. If part of your land is legally designated as an easement, people might have the right to use it depending on what type of easement it is.

A typical scenario might involve a right of way that your city has established for a future road.

This type of easement may influence whether or not the property is purchased. You probably wouldn’t want to wake up one morning to the sound of a bulldozer legally cutting down your garden!

Flat maps are particularly useful to help visualize irregularly shaped land, how close it is to neighbors, and how you can use the land.

Survey your land

The dishes are not necessarily perfect. In fact, they often indicate that the dimensions of the land on the map are “approximate”.

For strict establishment of your boundary lines, you will need to have a survey completed by licensed professionals. A typical residential lot survey costs between $300 and $1,000; difficult terrain, with streams or steep slopes, will increase the cost.

“The reason you get a survey is that a lot of improvements may have taken place on some of these dishes,” says Jason Berger, co-founder of Atlas Real Estate Group. “You would want an investigation to make sure the plot and the (new) house are on the flat where you want them to be and, more importantly, where they are legal.”

It’s a good idea for potential buyers to check the dimensions of the lot and make sure they match the size of the lot given by the real estate agent.

If the numbers are wrong, you may have a bargaining chip that you can use if you make an offer.

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