WHAT IS A PROPERTY SURVEY AND WHY WOULD I NEED ONE?

What Is A Property Survey?

A property survey confirms a property’s boundary lines and legal description. It also determines other restrictions or easements included in the property. While you can technically get your property surveyed at any time, confirming the boundaries of your land is an important part of the home buying process.

Depending on your mortgage company and where you live, a property line survey may or may not be needed to get a mortgage or otherwise legally required. However, getting a property survey done lets you know in no uncertain terms what land you’re responsible for and where you can build, while empowering you and your mortgage lender or title company to set the most accurate terms of your agreements.

There are different types of property surveys, but they all determine important characteristics and features of the land based on what the property owner needs. Here are a few examples:

Property Lines

This one may sound obvious, but the legal boundaries of your property, a precise understanding of your property lines can either make or break your homeowning experience. By eliminating any confusion or gray areas, you can build or expand your home with confidence and avoid encroachments– property disagreements with your neighbors.

In real estate terms, an encroachment happens when a neighbor builds something that invades another neighbor’s property. This type of conflict can easily turn into a legal issue, as there is a lot on the line (no pun intended) when it comes to land ownership and building rights.

For example, it’s important to consider what could happen as a result of a new structure on your property, like injury or damage you could be liable for in the eyes of the law, higher insurance premiums, and lower resale value down the line. It’s not unheard of for potential buyers to offer less money for a property with poorly defined property lines, or to even pass on purchasing altogether.

Easements

A property survey will reveal any easements on the property you want to purchase. An easement is a situation in which you may have to share access to some part of your property. For example, a utility company could have the right to install electrical wires on your land, or you may be required to share a private road or beach with your neighbors. There are many different types of easements and they don’t always result in negative situations or experiences; however, you can avoid being caught by surprise by conducting a thorough property survey as a part of your home buying process.

Elevation

Elevation matters! Topographical surveys are surveys that go deeper into the contours, elevation, and features of the property. This type of survey will include your property’s exact elevation, building type, and flood map location in order to determine the proper flood insurance premium rates.

This information is important to know for architects and building contractors and can impact the design and cost of any new structure you decide to build. Paying for a topographical survey and a flood certificate now could end up saving you hundreds of dollars per year.

Hazard Areas

The fieldwork a property surveyor does on the property results in a better understanding of the land you want to live or build on – including potential problems and hazard areas. This is especially important if you plan to build new structures on your land. A thorough survey from an accredited professional can help you avoid costly mistakes, like trying to build your new home only to find out your lot has a water table near the surface, or incurring future damages from land erosion, landslides or earth collapse.

How To Get A Property Survey

Now that you understand the benefits of property surveys, you’re probably wondering how you can get the most precise idea of your property’s legal boundaries. There are several ways to go about getting a property survey.

Hire A Land Surveyor

Luckily for grazing deer and hungry rabbits, not every plot of land is clearly defined and enclosed by a white picket fence. As land shifts over time, some initial property line markers may no longer exist. If you have any questions about property lines, the safest thing to do is hire a land surveyor.

A professional land surveyor is an expert in defining property lines. They use their skills, education, and specialized field equipment to create legally binding property surveys. They can even serve as expert witnesses in court cases about land disputes (Remember when we talked about encroachments earlier?)

During the property survey, a land surveyor will compare historical records and data with any existing markers to accurately define your property lines – and their findings are legally binding. This process takes time, effort, and boots-on-the-ground legwork, so hiring a well-respected and well-reviewed land surveyor before purchasing land or beginning any new home expansions is your best bet to avoid any legal issues in the future. Call around for quotes before you decide, and be wary of any too-good-to-be-true low estimates.

Check The Property Deed

Several different types of deeds are used in real estate. A property deed is a written legal document that transfers ownership of a property from the grantor to the grantee. (Not to be confused with a title, which is the actual document that states who legally owns the property.) This type of deed will have several pieces of important information about the property: accurate owner names, exact address, tax map number, legal description, restrictions, and other information like conditions of the transfer and reservations of rights by a prior owner. While some deeds only reference a lot or block number, many include detailed measurements in the form of – yep, you guessed it – a property survey done by a land surveyor.

Search Property Survey Records

While there is no national archive of real estate records, many states require property surveys to be filed with the local government. You can search for property surveys by visiting the courthouse, property, or assessor’s office where your new land is located. You will need to manually check transfers, requirements, and restrictions on the property. This avenue can be time-consuming, but it’s a free to low-cost way to empower yourself with the knowledge and history of your new property’s legal boundaries.

Find A Property Survey Online

Can’t make it to the courthouse? No worries, many local governments keep property records online. To search for your piece of land, you’ll need specific details about the property you want to look up. Gather as much information as you can, like the street address, boundary descriptions, and date of the last survey, and search the official county or assessor’s website where the property is located.

The more information you have, the easier it will be for you to find the survey you need. Not all records will be digitized, but the results of your search may help you narrow down the exact office where your survey is located. You can then call the office and ask if they can mail you a copy of the survey.

Geographical Information System (GIS) maps and property search sites are a better option if you have limited information on your property. However, these sites often charge a fee or require a subscription.

Contact The Previous Surveyor

Land surveyors keep copies of the property surveys they complete. (Legally, the survey belongs to them.) If you know the name and contact information of the previous land surveyor, try reaching out. It’s very likely that, for a fee, they can send you a copy. Land surveys usually last 5 to 10 years after they are completed, so if the previous survey was done a long time ago, it’s probably a good idea to get a new one done even if you locate the official document.

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November 2021
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