A land survey may be just what you need if you’re thinking about buying a new property with the intent to build on it.
Land surveys provide crucial information for home buyers, landscapers, property owners, and developers. These surveys are assessments you should consider before buying a piece of land. Surveys can help you understand exactly what you own, and where you may build, improve, or alter your lot. We’ve outlined several reasons why land surveys are crucial, how you should conduct one, and some stories that prove why land surveys can be so important.
A land survey assessment is officially defined by Eric King, ASLA of King Landscaping in Atlanta, as one “that shows property lines, the home itself and any hardscape areas like a driveway or sidewalk.” He adds that prospective land owners should “never buy a home without getting a survey.”
John Valachovic, Director of upstate NY-based Kaaterskill Associates, has been a surveyor for over 25 years, and has personally surveyed part of the Appalachian Trail. John assures that new owners need to know exactly how much property they are buying. “It reaffirms the owner’s claim to the amount of acreage they own and how the property is improved.”
Despite the fact that landowners often have to obtain permits to build on their property or risk fines, one’s neighbors may not bother with the lengthy process themselves. Landholders should therefore be aware of their estate’s boundaries and enforce them because otherwise they may lose a portion of their property. John tells a cautionary tale involving a boundary dispute between two landowners. While he was working on a survey, a neighbor came up and mentioned that his woodshed was likely over the property line. It later turned out that half the man’s barn had been constructed on the wrong parcel. Needless to say, the pair ended up in court over the issue.
“The entire problem could have been avoided if the neighbor had requested a survey when he bought the property or before he built a new structure.” John goes on to say, “our client never would have known how much property he was buying without a survey. There is a law of adverse possession which says if a person is using property for seven years and the owner never claims the property or requests the person stop, the property can go to the one who has been using it. Although property legally changing hands due to this law is a long and difficult process, it is possible to lose land if a person is unaware of their own property lines.”
Paul Cones, President of legal resource site CourthouseDirect.com puts it bluntly, “Obtaining a land survey when purchasing land or a home is important if you want to protect your investment.”
When you’re planning to construct something on your property, Albert K. Marmero, Esq. at Long, Marmero & Associates, LLP, strongly recommends a land survey. “If the land or home buyer plans to erect any improvements (shed, fence, etc.) they will need to make sure they remain within their boundaries and they will likely need to provide a survey to the municipality when seeking a construction permit,” states Albert.
The same can be said from a “defensive” standpoint. “I have seen many cases where a neighbor’s fence, shed, etc slightly encroaches into another property. Without a survey, you will not know this and you will have no ability to seek removal of the encroachment.”
Paul Cones of CourthouseDirect.com asserts that conducting a land survey is an excellent way to protect one’s landholdings. The process helps “show where all structures are located on the property to make sure they do not encroach beyond property lines or into building lines…The surveyor will also look for any physical features that would indicate a pipeline or other potential encumbrances.”
Novice property buyers may ask themselves, what is an easement? A property easement is defined as a non-possessory right of one party to use or enter another party’s property. Another reason land surveys are crucial is that they determine where underground easements are. Easements often have restrictions on use that are important for landowners to know and understand.
Eric King of King Landscaping points out, “This might be a sewer easement, a storm water easement or an access easement. Knowing that an easement exists influences my landscape design.” If someone were to build a patio unknowingly on top of an easement, municipal employees subsequently have a right to tear up that same patio if it gets in their way, despite the fact that the homeowner has spent his or her money to have it built and will no doubt be distressed by the prospect.
Albert Marmero of Long Marmero and Associates agrees. “A cable company may have an easement to run lines through a small portion of your yard and you may be restricted from placing any permanent structures over that easement. Without a survey, you may never know this and you may violate the terms of an easement and be forced to remove a structure.”
“I am involved in a case right now where a property owner without a survey did not know the municipality had an easement on a portion of her property to extend sewer lines to adjacent properties. Now one of the adjacent properties is being developed but the property owner has placed a shed in the easement area. Now, the only way sewer lines can be extended is if the shed is removed. We are now negotiating with all parties as to a solution, but its clear the shed will have to be removed.”
When purchasing a new home or property, buyers may often seek financing. Albert Marmero says this is another reason to consider a land survey. “Generally when seeking a mortgage you will also need to acquire title insurance, and a survey is usually required by both the lender and the title insurer.”
Naturally, the easiest way to be sure any land survey is done correctly is to contact a professionally accredited surveyor. John Valachovic of Kaaterskill Associates says that prospective land owners should make certain that “the surveyor uses the filed records such as deeds and maps in conjunction with field measurements of the actual property” rather than using a municipality’s GIS mapping services or Google Earth to obtain information. Prospective landowners should also consider the reputation of those in their employ and how detailed the maps they have requested will need to be.
Eric King of King Landscaping further advises prospective landowners to “get a typical boundary survey that shows building setback lines on all four sides of the property. Also [get a] break down of all of the impervious surface elements that obstruct water from flowing directly into the ground.” This likely includes driveways, patios, air conditioning units, and the house.
“If you’re planning to do future work, ask the surveying company to show any trees and their caliber size on the plan. I typically have them show any tree six inches or greater in diameter. You also can request an optional topographical survey that shows contour lines and any elevation change across the property. You’ll only need that if you’re planning to do any changes in grading or retaining walls that you’ll need to show changes to the contour plans.”
He adds that, “surveys can cost from $350 to $1,000. [But] landscaping firms also can subcontract the work and add the cost into the total project cost, saving you time and effort.” Just like John, Eric strongly recommends looking up an established surveyor with good online customer reviews.
When purchasing a property, make sure to consider a land survey, especially before you build on the land. Feel free to reach out in the comments below.