TL;DR. Most rural vacant land properties do not have an address.
How Does the MLS Handle Property Addresses?
The National Association of Realtors' (NAR) “Hand Book on Multiple Listing Policy” requires a property address or a parcel identification number for each MLS listing.
Despite the lack of specificity in the NAR Rule Book, one would assume that the “property address” must mean the United States Postal Service (USPS) property address.
Top MLS Rules to Remember
Indeed, the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR), in its “Top MLS Rules to Remember,” clarifies that a realtor must “Make sure to use the address and city as defined by the US Postal Service” (Emphasis added).
HAR instructs its agents to use the USPS’s “Look Up a Zip Code” tool in order to determine the property city for a listing. There you can search by zip code or address to get the standardized address, including the property city and zip code.
USPS Zip Codes Cities Are Based on the Main Post Office
The USPS assigns a city to a ZIP code based on the main post office located within that ZIP code.
Properties within a ZIP code should use the USPS’s standardized or “recommended” city for a property’s mailing address regardless of where the property is geographically located within the ZIP code’s boundaries.
ZIP Code Boundaries Do Not Match City Limits
The boundaries of a given ZIP code have nothing to do with city limits, and ZIP codes can indeed cross city, county, and state lines.
First introduced by the USPS in 1963, Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) codes were designed to improve the speed and efficiency of mail delivery and NOT to designate geographic locations per se.
Thus, the city listed in a property’s USPS mailing address is not necessarily the geographic city where the property is actually, physically located.
This can be particularly confusing in rural ZIP codes that cover a larger area with multiple incorporated and unincorporated cities.
ZIP Codes Can Cross County Lines
For example, southwestern Rusk County, Texas – between Reklaw, TX and Mount Enterprise, TX – is located in ZIP code 75760.
The USPS-designated city for ZIP code 75760 is Cushing, TX which is located in Nacogdoches County, TX and not Rusk County.
ZIP Codes Can Cross State Lines
In the case of ZIP Code 73949, Cushman, Oklahoma is the USPS-recommended city name.
But, ZIP code 73949 also includes portions of northeastern Sherman County located in Texas.
USPS ZIP Code City Names to Avoid
Indeed, in some instances, the USPS recommends “city names to avoid” for a particular ZIP code. For example, 75205 is a centrally-located ZIP code in Dallas, Texas. 75205 includes properties that are geographically located in Dallas, Highland Park, and University Park.
75205 is one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in Texas, and Highland Park and University Park, in particular, are renowned for their school district, low crime, and high property values.
But to the undoubted dismay of its residents, the USPS recommends you avoid using ‘Highland Park, TX” and “University Park, TX” for the annual family holiday card!
That’s no doubt in part due to their also being cities in Texas called High, Highlands, Highland Village, Village, and Park. Highland Village is located within the DFW metroplex, and there’s an area in northeast Dallas referred to as Lake Highlands.
But there’s a material difference in property values for homes located in Highland Park (75205) versus Dallas (75205).
Ironically, given HAR’s rules, the North Texas Real Estate Information Services (NTREIS), the MLS that covers metropolitan DFW, does geographically distinguish between Highland Park and University Park, despite being “city names to avoid” by USPS standards.
But even the NTREIS has homes that are geographically located in the “Park Cities” (Highland Park and University Park) that use the USPS-standard Dallas addresses for the listing.
Whereas some listings indeed use the non-standard, Highland Park and University Park city name.
But what if a property doesn’t have a USPS address?
Most Rural Vacant Land Tracts Do Not Have a USPS Address
YES! Most rural properties DO NOT have USPS mailing addresses.
This confuses most people who are accustomed to typing a USPS street address into a Google search bar or navigation app on their phone.
And the vast majority of realtors focus on selling single-family residences, which have USPS addresses; it confuses them too.
It is all but guaranteed that a rural property that does not have a home will also not have a USPS address. Psst… it’s actually the local emergency response authority that assigns property addresses in the first place, and not the USPS!
So, now what?
Then Use the Parcel Identification Number
NAR instructs that “if the address doesn’t exist, a parcel identification number can be used.”
Most rural properties will have a parcel identification number, also referred to as an “assessor’s parcel number,” or APN.
The APN is a county-specific, unique number that’s used for assessing and collecting property taxes. BUT… it also has nothing to do with geography per se.
APNs can cover multiple parcels, including non-contiguous properties, and not all APNs have associated geospatial data, such as a geospatial polygon or latitude and longitude.
APNs can be incorrectly mapped or not mapped at all too.
And the polygons frequently have material errors and inaccuracies. The assessor’s geospatial information system (GIS) website is not a replacement for a property survey.
Some assessors have partial legal descriptions associated with the APN, but those legal descriptions are typically broad, such as providing the abstract and survey, and they are almost always insufficient to legally describe the property.
Finally, in the absence of a property address or parcel number, NAR stipulates that a listing “must include a legal description of the property sufficient to describe its location.”
Good luck with that!
Legal Descriptions Are Difficult to Understand
With the exception of those parts of the United States that use the grid-based Public Land Survey System – Texas does not – most legal descriptions are incredibly arcane and often require supporting maps, data, and documents in order to physically locate a property.
Most people, including most realtors, cannot read, interpret, and understand a type-written, metes and bounds legal description in the first place.
These descriptions often cite previous deeds and other nearby or parent properties as well as supporting surveys and abstracts. You won’t find a street address in a legal description.
And a USPS address is not a legal description!
It’s really only title lawyers, professional surveyors, title abstractors, and title underwriters that can make sense of a written legal description.
In a world of Google, apps, and smartphones, 99% of prospective buyers ask us for an address.
Implicitly… a USPS address that is!
Which gets us right back to the initial problem!