field in fall

Vermont and its real estate quirks

By Dibbler | Dibblers Tales | 14 May 2021

Today cant decide whether to be sunny or cloudy, the veggie patch has been dug over and weeded, I managed to get a pretty substantial portion of my firewood cut, and it seems like a good day to sit and write a little after lunch before I head back outside.

I had a meeting this morning with my neighbor over what I guess in legal terms would be considered a boundary dispute. There is a little bit of backstory here that I will try to lay out as clearly as I can.

In Vermont it isn't uncommon for land to change hands in unconventional ways... Property and real estate sale here is often accompanied by wishy washy records and boundary lines. This is partly due to the rural nature of most of the state. Farmers and landowners historically may have sold a parcel with no legal record or written their own contracts. For these reasons it is still pretty normal for neighbors to have agreements with each other about usage of fringe areas of their land, or mutually beneficial arrangements regarding access to ponds or streams for livestock. In some cases these types of agreements get recorded and when they do the deed of a sold property should have record of them.

So now that you know that real estate in Vermont can be a little weird and wonderful because of our rich agricultural history and rural nature we come to the issue at hand...

When we bought our property 4 years ago we acquired 9 acres of land along with our home. The land is clearly marked on tax and survey maps that we obviously checked out and are publicly accessible in the town office. We had our real estate attorney perform a title search and verify all of the information and everything came back clean with no liens or issues of any kind. We walked the boundaries of our property and I know where all of the markers are, how many feet of road and river frontage we have, etc etc etc.

However, where our land meets the land of our neighbor to the north (who will remain nameless) there is a stream... our marsh drains partly into it, and it forms the boundary line of our properties on the tax and survey maps. There are, or rather there were, markers along the boundary line at the time the last survey was done. Those markers are the only ones I have been unable to locate along the banks of that stream, but I have never been worried about it because the stream itself runs almost perfectly straight from the road all the way to the river itself.

Now, don't forget that we have lived here for 4 years already. I've interacted with this neighbor plenty of times, I've mowed parts of his field, he and his wife snowshoe on our trails. They give us jams and jellies, we give them salsa... We are not strangers.

A month or so ago we received a letter from said neighbor. The gist of which is that around 2005 he entered into a verbal agreement with one of the previous owners of our property AND MOVED THE STREAM WITH A BULLDOZER in order to prevent his basement from getting wet in heavy rain and snowmelt. The upshot of which is that the stream that I have been assuming is the boundary of our property is actually very much on my land and the actual boundary is about 30-40 feet the other side of it. In fact the actual boundary line is about 10 feet from his foundation. All in all the land that is now on the other side of that stream amounts to about 1/4 acre.

He has offered to purchase that land from us in order that he can continue to maintain it and protect his house. He offered us $500 for the land via text message a week or two ago and I chose not to respond while I did a little research on the situation and figured out what our best move was. Realistically it is not land we would otherwise make active use of. It is marshy wetland filled with reeds and scrubby stunted willow. It isn't part of our property that we walk regularly due to how wet it is. The reality is that it wont directly effect our enjoyment of our property, wont substantially effect its value, and isn't really that big of a deal. We want to continue to have a good relationship with him and his wife. However.... this isn't land we would otherwise be considering selling. $500 seems like next to nothing to give up a portion of our property but it is actually somewhat in keeping with Vermont land prices which can range from $2000-$10000 per acre depending on the location and whether it is developable or not.

The last thing to mention here is his questionable timing. We have lived in this house for 4 years and the letter appearing in our mailbox is the first we have heard of it. Our real estate attorney knew nothing about it, the sellers made no mention of it, but I now have a map that shows his plan to make this change to the boundaries dated from 2005 when he moved the stream. The problem with this is that here in Vermont if you have been actively maintaining property that is someone else's with the owners knowledge and making improvements for 15 years it is possible to take the owner to court and claim possession of that property. The timing of his letter to us 16 years after his initial agreement with that prior owner is concerning, especially when we have lived here for 4 years. It draws into question his intentions. If I say no, $500 is not enough to get us to part with it does he have a legal right to claim that portion of our land as his? Even our real estate attorney cannot say which way that would go due to the succession of ownership of our parcel in the years since his plans were drawn up and his continued maintenance of it over the years.

So that all leads us to this morning. I had arranged to meet with him at our boundary line to discuss the situation. Melvin and I wandered down to the field as usual, pausing to check on some of our newer plantings from last week. The peach and cherry trees seem to have established nicely along with 2 new blueberry bushes. The wood I cut and moved yesterday is ready to be hauled up to the house and stacked. The crab apple is getting ready to blossom finally. 😁


mel deadwood.jpg


A couple of pics to help break up this wall of text never hurt anyone 🤣

After our normal loop we wandered over to discuss the issue with the neighbor who was weeding his veggie patch and carting compost over to his pile. We chatted a little about his trip to NH to visit his kids. He hasn't seen them for nearly a year due to Covid so he's pretty happy about that. We move on to the important matter at hand. I don't want him to feel like we are saying no but he needs to understand that we feel like we have been placed in an awkward position. Without the stream having been moved and him basically using that land as his for the last 15 years there is no way we would be considering selling even 1/4 acre. We aren't going to be accepting $500 dollars for that chunk of land.

My wife wants me to tell him we want $5000 for it but I don't want him to dig his heels in and start a true boundary dispute or feud with an otherwise amiable neighbor. I tell him $3500 seems reasonable and he tells me that for that price he would expect to get an acre of land anywhere in Vermont. We go back and forth a little bit and he says he only said $500 to get us a place to start. I'm feeling better about it because talking to him directly I am not getting the impression that he is going to balk at a reasonable amount. He genuinely just wants to protect his house and no longer worry that some future owner might prevent him from doing so if we don't get this figured out.

I tell him it would be a real shame to sell a portion of our land- something we view as an investment for ourselves and our daughter- for less than a month of our mortgage payment. With that out in the open he offers $1500 and promises to pay all the survey fees and anything else related to the sale. That is honestly good enough for me so I tell him I'll have to discuss it again with Elizabeth and I'll let him know by the end of the weekend.

With that Mel and I continue on our merry way, stopping at the riverbank and head back up to the house for a late breakfast and a coffee. If anything I'm glad to have gotten it out of the way and even if we aren't going to get much for it at least it's not a piece of the land we will truly miss. Now I just have to convince Elizabeth that this is the way when she gets home from work later.

What are your thoughts? Would you have handled this differently? I fully understand his situation and why he wants to actually own that land instead of depending on the goodwill of his neighbors. Should I have held out for a higher price? I am hoping this way I can continue to have a good relationship with them and still get a bit extra to help us in these tough times. Let me know in the comments if you think I've messed up!


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Dibblers Tales
Dibblers Tales

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