What is Accretion Real Estate?

Anbarasan Appavu

In real estate law, accretion refers to an increase in land area caused by the accumulation of soil along the shoreline of a lake, stream, or ocean. While accretion is a gift from Mother Nature to landowners, land can also shrink due to erosion and avulsion. Consider the following accretion real estate definition to explore this concept.

Definition of Accretion Real Estate

An increase in land area caused by natural growth or deposits from a lake, stream, or the ocean.

What is Accretion Real Estate?

What is Accretion Real Estate

Properties bordering bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and streams, as well as the ocean, are susceptible to line shifts caused by erosion or deposition of soil and sand. Over time, water behaves almost like a living thing due to its movement and effect on the land. Considering that the Grand Canyon was sculpted by the force of moving water over thousands of years, this is a potent force.

For the majority of landowners, accretion in real estate operates on a somewhat smaller scale, gradually increasing or decreasing the actual amount of land mass owned. There are three ways that moving water can affect the topography of a property: accretion, avulsion, and reliction. The manner in which such changes affect the ownership and value of a property varies by state, but there are generally accepted guidelines.


Accretion is the gradual increase of land mass caused by the movement of a nearby body of water that deposits silt or soil.

Example of Accretion Real Estate

 John's farm borders a large lake that is popular with tourists and locals during the summer months. John's grandfather owned the land prior to John inheriting it, and he remembers spending time as a child at the lake that the large house overlooked.

John recalls that the shoreline was much fairly close to the house and immediate yard. In this example of accretion in real estate, the lake has gradually deposited silt and soil onto the shore with each crashing wave.

In this example of accretion, John is considered the owner of the increased land surface that has accumulated over the past half century or so, but there is a limit. If the accretion land mass overlaps an existing right-of-way, the landowner has no greater claim to the area than before the accretion.


Avulsion is an abrupt, obtrusive alteration of the land caused by water. During a storm, a river may swell, causing the water to flow higher than usual over its banks. This can erode large chunks of unstable soil and transport them downstream.

Example of Avulsion:

Neal and John acquired a small parcel of land adjacent to a moderately sized tributary of a large river. The pair had caught the gold-panning bug and intended to pan on their own sliver of beach. They constructed a small one-room cabin for weekend use and had moderate success extracting small pieces of gold from the stream.

A large storm brought deluge after deluge one day, which weakened the stream's banks, and a large portion of Neal and John's land joined the rushing water. In general, the laws governing avulsion of property stipulate that the actual soil fragments remain the original owner's property.

In this instance, if the men had discovered gold in the area where the large chunk of land washed away, they might have wanted to investigate where it landed (assuming it remained at least partially intact).

While the law may support their continued ownership of the soil, it may be difficult for them to prove that the soil found on someone else's stream bank was originally theirs, and it would be costly to collect and transport it back to their property.


Reliction is in a sense the opposite of accretion, as the land area gradually expands as the waterline recedes or moves further away. Reliction can also refer to a change in property lines caused by a river or stream altering its course over time. In general, property acquired through reliction belongs to the original owner.

Example of Reliction:

For generations, Charlie's family has owned a home that borders a small river. Over the course of several decades, water has shifted soil, carrying some of it with it and leaving some behind. This has gradually redirected the river, altering the property lines on both sides.

Over the years, the sandy riverbank where the family held family picnics and gatherings has grown wider, as has the family's property line. Since the land gained by reliction belongs to the owner of the property adjacent to the water, a new survey of the property could increase its value.

Accretion Real Estate Example - Topsail Island

Topsail Island is a 26-mile-long barrier island located off the coast of North Carolina. Topsail Island is a sanctuary for sea turtles, as well as its beautiful beaches draw in large numbers of visitors. At a surprising rate of about 100 feet per year, accretion has been adding 100 feet of land to the southern end of the island, creating an intriguing phenomenon.

Accretion has the capacity to add substantial acreage. In this instance of accretion, the southern tip of Topsail Island gained up to 300 acres of new land over the course of twenty years. In fact, according to historical records, the inlet adjacent to the island has moved approximately 6 miles since 1738, when it was first recorded.


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