For many Americans, the ownership of property is a source of pride and a rite of passage, offering financial, emotional, and practical benefits. However, have you ever thought about what owning real estate truly entails? It’s clear that you don’t own the air above your property and that you can’t take the land with you when you move. So, what, exactly, do you own?  To answer this question, consider the analogy of a “bundle of sticks,” with each “stick” representing a right to do something with or on the property. Rather than focusing on the physical ownership of land, this concept illustrates the individual rights of property owners related directly to that land. The “bundle of sticks,” held together by a string (your deed), can be separated, held by other parties, and reassembled. Even if you own your home outright, you won’t have your full bundle due to easements, encumbrances, and other factors.

As an owner of real property, the “sticks” you hold determines what you can and cannot do with the property.  Below are 5 general rights of ownership:

  • Stick One: The Right of Possession – This simply refers to your right to own and occupy the property. When you buy a home, the title of the property is transferred to you, giving you the right of possession.
  • Stick Two: The Right of Control – This is your right to use or control the use of your property, including making renovations, renting it out, or having relatives move in with you. Local laws and HOA regulations can limit this right. For example, you may not be able to build a 40-foot statue of yourself in your backyard!
  • Stick Three: The Right of Enjoyment – This gives you the right to lawfully enjoy your property as you wish. That means you can host a party at your home, as long as you follow local noise ordinances. It also means you can take legal action if a noisy factory opens near your house.
  • Stick Four: The Right of Disposition – This gives you the right to sell your property, will it, or transfer ownership to someone else.
  • Stick Five: The Right of Exclusion – This allows you to specify who may set foot on your property. If you’re renting out your property to tenants, you have the right to exclude anyone not permitted by the lease from entering.

The “bundle of sticks” analogy can be extended past the general rights above to as specific a right as you can think of.  The right to paint your garage door pink.  The right to have a bon fire in the backyard. The right to let your grass grow 4 feet tall.  By extending the analogy to specific rights it is easy to see that no one ever has all the “sticks”!  Federal and State laws, taxing authorities, local ordinances and zoning codes all take “sticks” from property owners.  When you grant a Mortgage to a Lender as collateral for a loan, you are giving the Lender some of your “sticks” which you won’t get back until the loan is paid off.  The Lease you sign on your investment property transfers some “sticks” to your renter.

One common scenario that can affect your bundle is the discovery of an easement during your title search. An easement is a type of property right that allows another person, business, or entity to use a specific part of your property for a specific use. If you own a house in a subdivision, there’s probably a six-foot easement to allow for public utilities at the front of your property. The electric company has a “stick” that allows them access to that part of your property to maintain their power lines. That also means you no longer have the “stick” that allows you to keep the electric company out!  You still have “sticks” to that 6 feet, just not as many as other parts of your property.

An easement can also grant ingress (entry) and egress (exit) rights. For example, your neighbor may have an ingress and egress easement affecting 15 feet of your property.  This gives him “sticks” allowing him to cross that part of your property to get to his property.  This doesn’t mean that he can host his son’s graduation party on that 15-foot section, but his party guests may use that easement since your neighbor holds that “stick.”

Vanguard Can Help You Know Your Property Rights

As you can see, it’s important to understand exactly what you own as a homeowner. Part of what a Title Company does is track the transfer of “sticks” from owner to owner to make sure you know what you’re getting when you buy real property.  At Vanguard Title Co., we recognize that owning a home isn’t as simple as holding the title to a property. You need to know what “sticks’ you’ll be getting and who else holds “sticks”. We’ve successfully closed thousands of real estate transactions throughout Michigan and Florida since 1987, and we can help you understand what rights you have and what rights others have to your property. That way, you’ll always know what “sticks” are in your bundle.

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