County discusses master map to simplify deed searches

Charlie Downey, of Washington County P&Z, looks through old land deeds at the county courthouse in Weiser.
Philip A. Janquart
Washington County has been kicking around an idea for a long time – create a master map that shows all original land parcels, how many splits remain for each, and all current dwellings.
 Unless you work for a title company, planning and zoning, or have attempted to sell or buy a chunk of property within the county, you would have no idea how difficult, and sometimes confusing, researching land deeds can be.
 A lot of the confusion, however, could be avoided and the process streamlined with a map that shows all of the above information, making the process easy and accessible to all.
 County commissioners, during a regular meeting held Monday, July 24, discussed the possibilities after the idea was broached by Washington County Prosecuting Attorney, Delton Walker, and Planning and Zoning Administrator, Bonnie Brent.
 “Right now, there is no system, no tracking; it’s just so piece-meal,” Walker told commissioners. “A map would simplify it for everybody involved, from the real estate agent to the title company to planning and zoning.”
 Sounds simple, but not so fast.
 The problem, Walker said, is how to compile that vast amount of information, which, as it turns out, would be a monumental undertaking that would take years.
 To understand the issue, consider the following:
 Suppose a property owner wants to sell a piece of land to a couple that plans to build a house on the property. The process starts with a visit to county planning and zoning where the landowner is informed that they must do a deed search to nail down how many splits they have on said property.
 Property owners in Washington County are allowed four splits per original parcel pursuant to the Local Land Use Planning Act passed by Idaho’s Legislature in April 1979.
 Landowners can only sell if they have splits.
 Commissioner Lyndon Haines explained: “Any original parcel [up] to that date, once you start splitting, you’re using up your owner splits on your original parcel. Up to that date, the original parcels are essentially frozen in that moment, so if you split before that, they were split; if they were not, that’s what they were and then each one of those original parcels got their four splits from that date moving forward; and once you’ve used them, you’ve used them.”
 Some landowners are not sure how many splits they have, or maybe they believe they have a certain number but, in some cases, they don’t. In addition, available splits are allotted on a first come, first serve basis and there is no mechanism for preserving splits (building rights/permits). 
 If you buy property with a split available, you must be ready to develop and build on that property with no delay, according to former P&Z Administrator Rob Dickerson.
 “Until you begin building, co-owners of the other parcels of the original parcel have access to all available splits,” he said. “If you have property with no splits left, you can apply for a subdivision, usually a one-home subdivision. This requires notification of neighbors, hearings, and subdivision and plat approval by the county.”
 Enter the land deed search, and knowing what you have is everything. 
 The county once conducted its own searches, but in worse case scenarios, the process can take days for a single search, taking an employee away from other duties.
 These days, property owners will want to hire a title company to conduct the search for them because the work is guaranteed. It involves, in many cases, researching property records that can date back over 100 years. It can be a long, painful process.
 Once the title company completes the search, they send the results to planning and zoning, which forwards that information to the property owner.
 “The title company sends us …the deed or deeds … and we will take those and map them out, from the legal description, and determine what that original parcel looked like, what parcels were included in it, how many times it’s been split since the original parcel date and how many dwellings are on it to determine what’s left,” Brent explained.
 Haines and County Clerk Donna Atwood once spent three hours in the county’s records vault to retrieve information on a small piece of property that was used as a driveway.
 “There is a computer program; you can search the deed by address and that helps narrow it down, but you are still talking about going through books, depending on how old it is, and you have to be careful because they are fragile, so it’s very labor intensive,” he told the Signal American. “And then you have to be able to read a legal description and that’s a whole other deal.”
 There have been cases where the information provided by the title company was not accurate or complete, according to Brent who said such a scenario creates more work and additional time. 
 She added that she checks title companies’ work, but does not have time to do every one of them. In theory, she shouldn’t have to because that’s what the title company is paid to do.
 Walker said county residents would get answers about their deeds in a timelier manner and the map would then be updated to reflect the change.
 “I’m just planting a seed because this has been an issue for many years,” he told commissioners. “It’s ripe for error.”
 The idea would be to hire an individual or perhaps a title company to get the job done, which would be accomplished by splitting the county into segments, perhaps one completed every year. 
 There are no plans to move forward at this time, but commissioners say it is worth discussing further and that the idea would be a win-win situation.
 “I think it would help everybody,” Haines said. “It would help the people who own the property; it would help people who are prospective buyers; it would help the title companies because they would have done the work already; it would help planning and zoning because when somebody comes in, they can look at a map and say, ‘Yep, this is how many splits you have,’ or ‘no.’ I think it would help across the board.”


Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718

Connect with Us