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Should You Get a Property Survey? (Yes, You Should)

November 13 2018
by Leisl Bailey

Man conducting a property survey

If you have ever been in a property dispute you will understand the importance of a property survey. Even if you have not, being aware of the legal boundaries of your land is extremely important.

This is because it determines the burden of care you have should an accident occur on “your” land as well as where you’re allowed to build new structures.

Here is everything that you need to know about property surveys.

What is a property survey?

A property survey is a precise measurement of a property’s boundaries. A survey can also determine the exact location of roads, buildings, and other features. Builders and home assessors can use these features to determine property restrictions.

Property restrictions are things like what you can build on a property, where you can build on a property, and how big of structure you can build on a property.

You call the people who discover this information land surveyors or property surveyors. It is likely that you have seen them out and about before. This is because they work on both residential and commercial properties.

You will know when you see a surveyor. This is because they are carrying around a brightly colored tripod with a metal device on top while wearing a high visibility vest.

What do you use a property survey for?

If you’re interested in building an addition onto your house or maybe even building a new guest house or shed in your backyard, then it is absolutely essential that you understand the exact legal boundary of your land.

You will also need to be aware of any easements. For example, a right of way easement allows owners of nearby land to go through your land via a driveway or road to access their home. Because of their right of way, you will not be allowed to construct anything that could impede their access.

It’s the same with any local service companies like an electric, water, or sewer company. They also have the right to access a portion of your property to make repairs or to check the status of things.

A professional survey of property lines points out these things.

Here are a few other important things that a boundary survey reports:

Cemeteries

This is more common in homes in New England, due to the Colonial settlements.

However, in the unlikely event that there is an old family burial ground in your backyard, a land survey will show the exact burial locations in your property description so you can avoid a Stephen King scenario.

Gores, Overlaps, and Gaps

Most surveys will include a certificate that states that there is no overlap between your property and properties next door. This is really important to know about if your home is continuous with any alleys, roads, highways, or streets.

Zoning Classification

Although some major cities (like Houston, Texas, for example) don’t have any zoning laws, most neighborhoods in the United States do. Because of this, it’s important to know the zoning laws that apply to your property.

Before you do you a survey, it is likely that you already know if your property is zoned for either residential or light industrial use. However, you might be surprised to learn that there are even more specific zoning restrictions that can exist.

Ponds, Rivers, Creeks, Streams, Wells, and Lakes

The typical land survey reports on only visible or surface waters. If you think there might be any underground waters or wetlands on your land, you will need to hire a more specific inspector.

Mortgage Survey vs. Boundary Survey

When you’re trying to purchase a home, the institution financing your mortgage might request that you complete a mortgage survey. A mortgage survey is different than other types of property surveys. This is because insurance companies and lenders request them, not homeowners.

Their purpose is pretty easy to understand. Your lender uses the results of a mortgage survey to verify the attributes of your land. They do this because they want to make sure that the land they are lending you money to purchase is the same land that is being described in the legal documents.

The lender wants to make sure that the land will work as collateral for the amount of money that they plan to lend you. They want to make sure it is worth at least as much as you plan to borrow from them.

So, yes, typically you need a property survey before you can get a mortgage. And of course, you need title insurance as well. Most insurers will need to see the results of the survey before confirming their coverage.

How to Get a Property Survey

Here’s what you need to know about completing a property survey:

How much does a property survey cost?

The costs of a property survey can vary greatly. This is because the actual costs depend on things like the size of the land, the roughness of the terrain (e.g. flat versus hilly and rocky), and the research and travel time of the surveyor himself.

For example, surveying a small, flat plot of land in New York City is going to cost significantly less than surveying an entire cattle ranch out in west Texas.

However, according to a survey by home improvement site improvement, you can expect to pay about $456 with a range of $367 and nearly $490 for a land survey.

How do I get property survey records?

Contact your local governments if you want to read over the results of previous surveys to a particular piece of land. Many city or county governments typically keep the results of land surveys in their records. Your best bet would be to contact the local city or county records or property office.

However, when you contact them, the more information you have about the land the better. To locate it in their records, you might need specific information about it like the street address, a boundary description, or a plat number.

Who pays for the land survey: buyer or seller?

It depends. While the property surveying costs are usually included in closing costs, the person who pays them is highly dependent on why the survey needed to be done in the first place.

If the buyer’s lender needs to have a survey in hand to release the mortgage funds, then the buyer needs to pay the fee. However, if there is a lien on a seller’s home due to an easement issue, then it is up to the seller to get it resolved so that they are in the clear to sell their home.

The main thing to remember is this: always negotiate terms like this well in advance so it doesn’t come to a head on closing day.

Can you do your own property survey?

The answer is no, you cannot survey your own property. This is because property survey results are a legal document. They report on easements and land boundaries. These are not just things that you can take a look at and decide for yourself.

For example, in a land dispute with a neighbor or power company, a court of law is not going to accept just your word for it. You can’t say, “Well, I took a look at the land myself and this is where the boundary lies.” You need a professional surveyor to get the job done so that the results are official.

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Survey or no survey, the team at Clever is here to help you sell your home, all for just one flat fee. Call us today at 1-833-2-CLEVER or fill out our online form to start.