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Why do I need a survey?

The largest investment most people make is their home or land. Each landowner should have a survey completed of their property to insure they are buying and getting what they perceive. A landowner should also know where property boundaries are located in order to protect their property from encroachments and trespassing. Too many times people opt out of purchasing a survey only later to find themselves with legal issues. 

A property survey confirms the boundaries of a parcel of land, clarifying the actual acreage of the property. It will also determine the location of any structures and whether these structures are all located within allowable building areas.  Each town/county has ordinances which place restrictions, referred to as setbacks, on all land parcels. Setbacks regulate the minimum distance from a property line that a structure can be located.  A survey will also locate an easement, such as a utility easement, which would limit your ability to build or landscape in these areas.  Right of ways are noted, which means someone else has the ability to use a portion of your property such as DOT or a neighbor needing access to their property. A surveyor will also look for encroachments upon your property from neighbors, as well as verifying that your structures are not across the property line encroaching onto other parcels. 

The majority of what is shown on the survey is the result of the surveyor’s inspection and physical measurement of the property and improvements. As a result, a buyer of property needs a title examination and a survey in order to be accurately informed of what is actually being purchased. Ordinarily, a survey is not “mandatory” for the issuance of a title policy. Even so, the lack of a current survey will result in an exception appearing in the owners’ policy for losses arising from matters that a current survey would reveal.

What is a survey?

The definition of a survey is “to determine and delineate the form, extent, and position of (as a tract of land) by taking linear and angular measurements and by applying the principles of geometry and trigonometry.” (from Mirriam-Webster Dictionary)

What does a survey tell you?

  • The property boundaries
  • Whether the house, driveway, decks, fences and sheds are on the property or on your neighbor’s
  • Whether your property has any easements such as sewer or drainage easements
  • Whether any of the property, including the house, sits in a federally designated flood plain
  • Shows setback requirements for deck or structure from each property line in some instances

What things can change on a survey?

  • Revised flood plain areas
  • New guidelines initiate by neighborhood, city or county
  • Additions or changes to a home, deck, driveway, fence

Why do buyers get a survey when they buy a home?

  • To cover survey issues on the buyer’s title insurance
  • To verify if there are any encroachments
  • Determine which trees/landscape belong to buyer or neighbor

Do you need a survey if the seller already has one?

Usually, the answer is yes. Sometimes the buyer feels confident there are no changes, and they are willing to accept the seller’s survey.  The closing attorney will usually recommend the buyer get an updated survey. On new construction the builder/seller will occasionally provide the survey since they had to do a preliminary survey prior to construction. 

How much does a survey cost?

The cost of a survey depends on how much time it takes the surveyor to complete the work involved.  The size of the lot will affect the cost. If there are ponds or creeks on the property, this will take more field survey time.  Also, the time it takes to research in order to locate easements, flood plains, etc.

The bottom line is a homebuyer needs to understand what they are buying. This understanding comes with knowing how much property they have, the boundary lines, and anything that might affect the usability of the property. A survey is one part of the due diligence process for the buyer to acquire information about the home, townhome or parcel of land they plan to purchase.

Please discuss with a licensed surveyor your needs to determine the best type of survey for you. Surveys vary with the amount of information they provide and need to be customized for your specific project.