What is an Easement in Real Estate?

In this article:

If you have plans to buy a property soon, you may notice that some of the homes you’re interested in come with easements. Because easements grant access to others to your property, they can seem like a bad thing at first glance. In some cases, they can be a nuisance, but overall, easements shouldn’t give you much cause for concern. 

There’s a lot of confusion about how easements work and if they can hurt your property value. Let’s examine what an easement is in real estate, and how to find out if an easement exists. 

What is an easement?

An easement gives someone, or an entity, the right to access your property for a specific purpose. 

While easements can seem invasive at first glance, they are designed to be helpful. 

For example, it’s fairly common for local utility companies to hold easements for local properties, so they can do work that may require access to private property, such as if they need to fix a power line.

In some cases, property owners may hold an easement to property they don’t own. This is more common if they need to enter someone else’s property to access their own home. 

The homeowner and their neighbors can benefit greatly because of easements, especially when they give access to utility companies who need to do vital work. 

Even though easements are generally harmless, it’s a good idea to do some research on any easements that come along with a property you want to buy so you know exactly what your rights as the homeowner are. There are guidelines that need to be met for someone to access your property in light of an easement. 

Generally, easements last forever, but you’ll want to confirm how long the easement is expected to last with a title search. Certain easements do give the property owner the right to terminate them, so do some research on any particular types of easements in place on the property to understand what your rights are or would be as the owner.

Buy your next home without rushing to sell first

Orchard takes care of selling your home once you’re all moved out.

What are the types of easements?

There are many different types of easements in real estate that you may come across as a property owner, but these are the most common. 

Utility easements

Your state or local lawmakers are the ones who create utility easements and they do this to ensure that utility employees can legally access any infrastructure they need to, even if that infrastructure is located on a piece of private property. It’s common to encounter utility easements when you buy a new home. 

Utility easements are beneficial to homeowners and help them gain access to running water, cable and sewer systems, and electricity, all of which require utility company management. You want utility easements to exist, as they make your life a whole lot easier if there is an issue with one of these utilities. 

However, there is one downside to utility easements: This type of easement can place limitations on what you do with your property. For example, a utility easement may prevent you from planting trees in certain areas of the yard if they have the potential to cause problems with power lines that cross the property. 

Private easements

A private easement gives control to the property owner. You’ll create a private easement and can either give or sell this easement to another individual or entity. For example, if your neighbor needs to access your land to install solar panels, you can create a private easement to give them the access necessary to do that. 

If you’re buying a pre-owned property, you need to confirm whether or not a private easement is in place. Any private easements should appear on the property title. 

Easements by necessity

Easements by necessity are designed to give individuals access to your property. This is often a neighborly easement to create. You tend to come across easements by necessity in more rural areas where your neighbors may only be able to access their property by crossing through your property. 

In this specific case, you wouldn’t be able to terminate the easement, because it would cause unnecessary burden to the neighbor who needs to access the main road. Easements by necessity are generally created in an effort to make the land in question more accessible. 

Easement appurtenant

An easement appurtenant is another type of easement that helps neighbors coexist and is most commonly found when two landowners each want to access an adjoining part of a property. Again, this is something that really comes in handy when one property is landlocked by another and it’s necessary to cross one neighbor’s land to access the other neighbor’s property. The dominant property, also known as the property the easement passes over, will be the one with the easement appurtenant attached to it. 

Prescriptive easement

A prescriptive easement gives the “right of way” to someone to access another person’s property without requesting their permission to do so repeatedly. Prescriptive easements are permanent and will transfer to the new owner of the property if it is ever sold. This type of easement is specified by state law.

Easement in gross

An easement in gross gives another person permission to actually use the land, not just pass through it. Once you sell the home, an easement in gross does not transfer on to the new owner, as it isn’t tied to the land. 

Does an easement decrease property value? 

Generally, no, easements shouldn’t decrease your property value. They may affect that value of the property if they severely restrict the use of it, however, so you’ll want to confirm the exact details of an easement on a property before you purchase it. 

To get an idea of whether or not your home value will be impacted, compare the recent sales prices of homes in the area and confirm how easement sales with non-easement sales differed in price. Your real estate agent should also be able to give you a pretty good idea if an easement will affect your property value. 

How can you tell if a property has an easement?

Before you make an offer on a home, you’ll want to get all of your ducks in a row. Being aware of what easements are in place on a property will help you make a more informed decision. 

A title search is often the fastest way to tell if a property is affected by an easement, although it’s not a guarantee that the easement was properly recorded and will show up in this search. This is especially common if an easement is in the process of being created or was simply never recorded. Most homes have some sort of easement on them (like utility easements), so if your title search comes up empty, that may not be an accurate reflection of the easements in place. A real estate attorney can help you confirm what easements exist on the property. 

When you do come across confirmation of an easement, make sure you take note of the expiration date of the easement, if there is one. That way, you’ll have a clear picture of how easements will affect you while you own the property. 

How worried should you be about easements?

Easements sound scary, and invasive, but you don’t need to be too concerned with them unless they restrict how you can utilize your own property. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each easement placed on the property. It’s important to remember that an easement benefits the person it is granted to, but the property owner doesn’t necessarily benefit. 

In some cases easements cause problems for the homeowner. While you’ll likely appreciate that your water company has access to your property in case of an emergency, you may not like that your neighbor passes through every day on their way to and from work. This is why it’s so important to do your research and to understand how an easement will impact your quality of life and privacy before you buy a home.

The stress-free way to buy and sell

With Orchard, secure your dream home before you list. Avoid home showings, double mortgages, and double moves.

Learn More