Subject Property Actual Location
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Appraisers, this article was prompted by my ‘coming in contact with’ several appraisal reports where different regional appraisers report the physical location of the subject property “in” a particular City associated with the postal ZIP Code for that City. Actually, the property was not “in” the City at all. It was in the County.
Since I observed this inaccuracy among appraisers who work in different geographic areas, but are using the same reporting verbiage, I thought information about this might be of value.
Starting with the ZIP Code: those are merely lines on a map the US Post Office established, used to plan mail routes, and distribute mail more efficiently. ZIP Code boundaries do not always follow City Limit or County (Parish) boundaries, and in some cases the boundaries are a long way from the City name associated with the ZIP Code. See Map 1. This shows 5 ZIP Codes in a region. The ‘City’ for 98273 and 98274 has two ZIP Codes associated. Note how wide the area coverage boundaries are for those two ZIP Codes. It’s not shown here, but 98284 extends north into the adjoining County!
City Limit Boundaries: These are established legislatively by the local City or Town jurisdictions, per state law. They also are drawn on a map, such as Map 2. The ‘City’ in this case is the pink area, surrounded by the boundary lines. The yellow area is the surrounding County. Note that the ZIP Code for this area is within the city and also extends into the County. The imaginary subject property’s location is at the red star.
How should that location be reported? This is where your geographic competency comes into play.
Areas outside the legislatively established City or Town boundaries are in “” areas in the particular County (or Parish). Unincorporated areas are administered by the local County (or Parish). NOTE: the term might be different in your area; find out!
So in the case of the subject property below, the report verbiage would be something like: “The subject property is located in unincorporated XYZ County, north of ABC city.” You could further say it’s in a Suburban or Rural location, depending on distance from urban services, and availability of other typical amenities.
Depending on your state laws, some Cities and Towns may have “Urban Growth Areas” (or a different term) adjacent to their boundary, within the County. These are areas where the ‘State’ has authorized the City to grow or expand into per applicable laws – at some date in the future. They are also shown on the boundary map. Zoning becomes a bit tricky in those locations, so you need to carefully research what is allowed at the TIME OF ASSIGNMENT, not what might happen in the future.
Highest and Best Use is what applies ‘today’, not ‘tomorrow.’
Most of the info you need to find about boundaries is available using the internet, except in the most rural, remote places in the US. For those, you might actually have to visit the local County or City/Town and buy a real printed map! I have a box full of those for my area (before the internet became the source) in case anyone wants to make a donation to my cause and acquire them!
The point of this article is to encourage appraisers to be careful and accurate in how you report the subject property’s physical location within the region, area, City, County. Don’t say that the subject property is ‘within’ a particular City or Town due to the postal ZIP Code that applies to the street address unless that is accurate. The actual location may be miles away from there.