Q: My grandfather built a lake home that our family has vacationed at since the 1960s. The neighbor to our right was a good friend for many years. When my grandfather put an addition on the home in the 1980s, it encroached on a right-of-way piece of land that the neighbor owned by about 1.5 feet. Years later, the neighbor is selling his property and is offering the strip of land to us. My father does not think that it will cause a problem down the line, but I am having visions of a nightmare neighbor who might demand we alter our home. Could you provide any guidance as to what rights this new owner will have and whether or not purchasing this piece of land may be in our best interest?
A: You have good reason to be concerned -- and if the price is right, you should buy the land. Then you never have to worry about it again.
Let's put things into perspective. Your father built an addition onto the family home and a portion of this addition is sitting on your neighbor's property. While you may be able to find many legal arguments that allow you to claim that the home should remain where it is without being forced to remove the encroachment, you are being offered a solution to the problem.
If you buy the strip of land, you might resolve this issue once and for all. You could also obtain an easement on the land that would give you the right to keep the home's addition where it is forever.
But a portion of your home will still be sitting on your neighbor's land. This problem could come back to haunt you. In the future, when you sell your home, you may find that you can't sell it due to the encroachment problem. It may be that the buyer of your home can't obtain financing on the home due to the issue.
You may have trouble buying homeowner's insurance since a portion of the home sits on your land and on your neighbor's land. Here's another possible humdinger: In some municipalities, your encroachment could prevent you from obtaining another building permit to make renovations or improvements to the home.
If you can solve these future issues by purchasing a small strip of land, you should seriously consider moving forward on that offer. I hope the price of that sliver of land is inconsequential to both of you, but in the long term it should resolve many issues for you.
As a final note, make sure you consult with a real estate attorney in your area who has familiarity with zoning and building issues. In some cases, the sliver of land you need to buy may need to be a bit wider than just the land on which the home sits. Some municipalities require setbacks between a home and the edge of the property. You want to make sure you satisfy any legal requirements that you might have by acquiring the land.
Your call to your local municipality may assist you in determining the dimensions of the sliver of land and the requirements that you might need to fulfill to purchase the land. You don't want to compound the problem of having the home sit on your neighbor's land with another problem by having the wrong dimensions on the land you buy.
Do your research and then buy the land.
Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Ilyce R. Glink's latest book is "Buy, Close, Move In!" Distributed by Tribune Media Services.
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