Leave Nothing to Chance

Just as tricky as locating existing easements is negotiating a new one with a neighbor. It's critical that the deed drawn up be extremely precise about the terms of the easement, a bit of advice that experts say homeowners frequently ignore. A shared driveway, for instance, should clearly specify its dimensions, who maintains it, and to what degree and how it can be used. This is to avoid irritation in the future if the nice neighbor who signed the original easement agreement sells the house to someone less concerned about parking below your kitchen window. "If the easement is specific enough and obviously being abused, the homeowner may be able to sue the neighbor," says real estate attorney James V. Magee Jr., who practices in Ohio and Kentucky.

As with buying a house or having trouble with an easement, the best course for anyone negotiating or donating an easement is to hire an appropriate expert to manage easement issues. That was Anthony Corapi's approach when he sold an access easement to his neighbor for $10,000 in 1993. Next door to his home at the end of a cul-de-sac in Knoxville, Tennessee, was the very deep backyard of a house that fronted on a neighboring street. The owner wanted to get to the back of his property by cutting across a corner of Corapi's front yard. Access to this portion of his property didn't seem unreasonable to Corapi, but he worried that his neighbor, or someone who owned the home later on, might build a new house on the back of the lot. "They said they just wanted an easier way to do yard work, but I didn't want to come home one day and see a foundation being poured," he says.

Corapi paid an appraiser $500 to estimate what the easement was worth to his neighbor, as well as the loss of value to his own property. The appraiser also provided the lawyer with the language to use in writing the easement, which included specifying the size of the access and its purpose. Because Corapi handled this so conscientiously, when he put his house up for sale months later, the easement wasn't an issue. "I felt I'd been a good neighbor, but I'd also protected my investment and the value of the property for future owners," says Corapi. "And the $10,000 wasn't bad either."
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