Unless you’re a lawyer or a paralegal, wading through legal jargon can be a nightmare. With so many latinate terms that sound like they’re straight out of a fantasy novel — “appurtenant” would fit equally well next to “wingardium leviosa” — most legal texts are difficult to understand.
Joking aside, everyone knows that the law is no laughing matter. Although few know the ins and outs of real estate law, these legislations can have a huge impact on your home selling plans.
Dominant and servient property are two legal designations that homeowners and future home sellers need to be aware of when putting their property up for sale. Although they don’t complicate the home selling process by much, the potential roadblocks that can pop up when selling a dominant or servient property or a home with an easement deserve every home seller’s attention.
What Are Dominant and Servient Properties?
To understand what a dominant or servient property is, you first need to know what an easement is. An easement is a right to use someone else's land for a specific purpose. Simple enough.
Having an easement means that even if you don’t own a piece of property, you have the right to enter it, cross through it, or use it in any way you deem fit. For example: if you’re a farmer with an easement on a large plot of land, you don’t own it, but you can use it to plant more crops.
Dominant and servient are terms that describe the conditions of an easement. A dominant, or appurtenant, property has an easement that benefits it, i.e. it affords the owner the ability to plant corn in someone else’s field. A servient property, on the other hand, has an easement that negatively affects it — someone else is able to plant corn on the servient property owner’s land.
Dominant property owners can do anything they want with the land they have an easement for so long as they don’t cause undue trouble for the servient property. Servient property owners, on the other hand, can do whatever they’d like with their property so long as they don’t do anything that would prevent the dominant property owner from using it.
So, what’s the difference between owning land and holding an easement? For one, easement holders don’t have control over the property. While property owners can kick anyone off their property for any reason, easement holders can only remove those who are specifically interfering with their ability to use the easement.
Easements can also be short-term agreements. For example, if a contractor is doing work on a property, they could get an easement that allows them to enter the property whenever they like. Once the work is finished, the easement goes away.
Selling a House with an Easement
Although selling a house with an easement doesn’t change too much overall, there are a few points that home sellers need to look out for.
In most cases, easements are not transferable. They’re generally created for the enjoyment of the original holder, so handing them over to someone else doesn’t make much sense when viewed through the lens of the easement’s original intention.
That said, when easements are transferred, they tend to change with the property, i.e. if someone buys a dominant house, they will still have the easement for the servient property. However, dominant homeowners do have the ability to specifically state that an easement they hold will not transfer to the next property owner upon sale.
Sellers are required by law to disclose any easements to potential buyers. The reason for this is pretty clear: imagine you just bought a new home, only to realize that someone else has rights to plant a mango tree in your front yard. Definitely not something you want to find out after you’ve closed on your new million-dollar home.
Understanding real estate terms can be difficult, and that’s why it’s so important to have an experienced professional on your side. When working with a real estate agent, you’ll be able to run any real estate related questions you have by them and get expert guidance whenever you need it.
If you’re selling a dominant or servient property, Clever can help. All Clever Partner Agents are top-rated local real estate agents with years of experience buying and selling homes. They’ll be able to walk you through the process and ensure you have the most streamlined home selling process possible.
What’s more: all Clever Partner Agents charge only charge a flat fee of $3,000 for homes under $350,000. For homes that sell for more than that, our Partner Agents only charge 1% — that’s 2% savings over traditional listing fees.
If you want to save money on your home sale and make sure all the legal ends are tied up, get in touch with us and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our top-notch real estate agents.