Land Survey vs. Plot Plan: What's The Difference?

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By Clever Real Estate Updated April 11, 2024


Do you know the difference between a land survey and a plot plan? In the simplest terms, a land survey provides a far more detailed and accurate depiction of a piece of property.

A plot plan will give you the basics such as the general location of the lot lines and the location of structures within those lot lines. You will be able to see the physical dimensions of the property of what it looks like on paper.

A plot plan should not be relied upon for doing any kind of permanent work to the property. When making significant improvements a property survey should be conducted.

Let's look more closely at the difference between a plot plan and a land survey.

What Are Land Surveys?

A land survey is a document that shows the precise boundaries of a property. It will also identify any structures or other improvements located on the land.

There are multiple ways to survey land, based on the shape and size of the property as well as the legal description. A licensed land surveyor carries out surveys to determine ownership and boundaries.

A licensed land surveyor will use surveying equipment as part of their work, including locating monuments.

If you need to find your property lines, a land survey can be a big help. It is one of the most common uses of a property survey.

When comparing a land survey vs. a plot plan, you'll immediately notice the differences. A licensed land surveyor will showcase of the essential aspects that are part of the land being surveyed.

Examples of data that are part of the property survey include natural items such as trees, walls, bushes, flowerbeds, driveways, creeks and ponds. Items that will be included on a survey are buildings fences and power or utility boxes.

Land surveys will also show any additional man made improvements such as buildings, utilities, and fencing.

Property surveys will also show if these improvements encroach onto neighboring lots or if items from neighboring properties encroach over and onto the subject property.

The easements and setback lines will also be included in the survey.

What is a Plot Plan?

A plot plan is simplistic version of a land survey and much less accurate. A plot plan should not be used to install a permanent structure such as a pool, garage, or fence. You can easily install such improvements in the wrong place creating encroachments on the neighbor’s property.

Plot plans are intended to confirm that structures such as a home or garage are within the boundaries of a property. Many lenders will require that a plot plan be done by a land surveyor prior to the closing. These plot plans are often referred to as mortgage plot plans by those in the real estate industry.

The mortgage plot plan will be ordered by the buyer's lender and will be paid for by the buyer as part of their closing costs.

A mortgage plot plan is less expensive than a survey. It should only be used as a rough outline of the property boundary and where the permanent structures sit in relation to the boundary lines.

Sometimes but not always you can find a plot plan or survey in the city/town building department property file. In Massachusetts, surveys are often filed as plans in Land Court, if the property is registered land. Other states also file surveys as well.

Discovering Encroachments and Title Insurance

When buying a property and getting a mortgage, the lender will require the purchase of lender's title insurance. It will be another expense paid as part of the closing costs.

Home buyers are also able to get their own title insurance policy. It's known as owner's title insurance. While not mandatory, owner's title insurance is highly recommended.

When you have an owner's title insurance policy it offers coverage for matters related to a land survey. If you discover there is an encroachment, you can file a claim with the title insurance company. If the encroachment existed on the effective date of your policy, they will assist in resolving the issue.

Title insurance protects the property's ownership against any lawsuits or other issues that could arise in the future. Owners should get a survey if they are doing anything that could change their title, like adding an addition, putting in a swimming pool, erecting a fence, or making a driveway larger.

Locate Your Plot Plan When Selling a Home

When you plan to sell your home, it is likely the real estate agent will ask for a copy of your plot plan. One of the most common questions a prospective home buyer will ask is where are the property lines.

A real estate agent should never answer that question, as it is a sure fire way to increase your odds of getting sued. Instead, it is always best to provide the plot plan with the home's market materials.

When your real estate agent asks for a copy of your plot plan look where your closing papers are kept. It is likely you'll find your plot plan in the closing documents. Plot plans are usually provided on 8x11 paper.

Final Thoughts

When someone asks whether a plot plan is the same as a land survey, you will not that they are not. Never rely on a plot plan when making expensive additions to your property. Doing so, could be a significant financial mistake you'll likely regret. Instead, make the investment in a property survey which will be far more accurate.

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