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How to Get Permission to Metal Detect Private Property

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Matt is a professional painter who enjoys fishing and metal detecting on the weekend for old coins and rings.

A 1902 silver Barber dime I found metal detecting a private property permission.

A 1902 silver Barber dime I found metal detecting a private property permission.

Getting Permission for Metal Detecting

Although I have found rare coins and relics in public parks with my metal detector, private land around old homes has produced some of my best finds metal detecting. Finding old coins in public places alone is challenging unless you're willing to do a lot of research in advance. Parks are often hunted out, or the soil regraded, and even with a good metal detector you dig up more trash and modern coins than you would on private land.

After metal detecting private property and public places extensively, I know from experience that you're far more likely to find interesting things in the yard of an old house than a park that's been metal detected a million times.

More People Metal Detect Parks Than Door Knock

Most people choose the convenience of parks over seeking permission from a property owner because they don't have the courage to knock on a door, but they're missing out. The oldest coin I've ever found came from the backyard of an 1800's home. I've found silver coins, rings, and relics, all on private property. Many yards have never even been metal detected before.

Asking for Permission to Metal Detect

No doubt, asking permission to metal detect someone's yard is intimidating if you've never done it before, but the interaction gets easier with each house, especially after the very first permission. I've had days where more people say yes than no and the opposite another day. Some property owners will reject you no matter what you say, but don't let it ruin your confidence, it's normal.

Successfully getting permission to metal detect private property requires some social skills and practice. The way you present yourself is critical. I've outlined some do's and don'ts to help you land an exciting permission that could be loaded with amazing finds.

Confidence is Critical

Nervousness is almost unavoidable the first time, but be friendly and confident while keeping the conversation quick and to the point. I always take off my sunglasses and back away from the door after ringing the bell. Don't stand close to the door. Tell the homeowner who you are and what you're doing. Some homeowners will ask for a card. I give people the card for my local business, but it is definitely wise to print out your own cards for the hobby and hand those out when you confront people.

Choose Your Words Wisely

What you tell the homeowner is important, but you also don't want to sound like a scripted door to door salesman. Simply introduce yourself, tell the property owner you metal detect old homes as a weekend hobby. Don't tell them you look for treasure. Ask them if it would be okay to metal detect their front yard for a couple hours. That's the simple approach that works for me.

Words you should avoid include:

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  • Dig
  • Treasure
  • Holes
  • Silver coins
  • Shovel
  • Rings

Most of the coins I find with my metal detector aren't worth much more than their face value, but the homeowner doesn't know that. Telling them you look for rare coins and treasure will make them think their yard's filled with high-priced valuables when we know that typically isn't the case.

People will ask how you recover objects, but don't tell them you dig holes, or even use a shovel. Instead, tell them you "cut a small plug" with a hand-held trowel that doesn't leave holes in the ground. I recommend using a hand-held digging tool, like the Lesche digger, instead of t-handle shovel, at least for the first time at a new permission. I leave one side of the dirt plug attached so it goes back into the ground exactly how it came out.

Always Ask in Person

I can tell you from experience that the best way to get permission is to ask the homeowner in person. I've tried doing it remotely via email and text messaging, but it doesn't work most of the time. People want to meet you and get a feel for you before they allow you onto their property.

I've also found that confronting the homeowner when they're outside works a lot better than even knocking on the door. I park in the street and ask them from the sidewalk without having to walk onto the property. I actually prefer that method over door knocking all together.

Seek Permission at Homes for Sale

I find it a lot easier to get the green light to metal detect a house for sale because the owner is no longer emotionally attached to the property. They've probably already bought another house and will be moving away soon. I like this method too because the real estate listing includes the build date of the house and sometimes additional information on the history of the property.

Do Property Owners Want to Keep Your Finds?

Imagine finding a rare silver coin in someone's yard that you want to keep for your collection, but the property owner wants it. After all, it's their property. Does that happen? Surprisingly, I've metal detected dozens of homes without encountering a single homeowner wanting to keep my finds or even inspect what I found in their yard at the end. With the exception of one guy who followed me around their yard, most people I've met stay inside the house and don't care about the hobby.

I always show the owner my finds if they ask and I thank them for letting me onto the property before I leave. In many cases, the owner will allow me to return another time when I ask. I've metal detected some homes two or more times and even landed some additional projects for my painting business along the way.

Working out a contract with the owner before metal detecting their land is something you have to decide for yourself. I haven't personally done that. There is always the chance the homeowner will want to keep your finds, but that is the risk you take any time you're metal detecting private property. It is a good idea to at least have a plan in advance for how you'd want to split your finds with the property owner if it were to come to that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Matt G.

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