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What is a Land Survey?

Land Survey

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.

 

Know Your Boundaries

 

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.”

 

What is  Land Survey

 

Improvements and Encroachment

 

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.”

 

 

Easements

 

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.”

 

What is a Land Survey 2

 

Mortgages

 

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.”

 

How to Perform a Good Land Survey

 

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.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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Photo Credit: wistechcolleges, Glenn Brown | flickr, Staff Sgt. Clay Lannister | Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 


Comments:

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~Homepage

We have been looking into buying our first house within the next year, but haven't really thought much about having the land surveyed. Some friends and family, in addition to you, have told us we should not buy any home without getting a survey done. Most of the time we didn't see the importance, but I think it makes sense now after reading your article. I will pass this on to my wife too. Thanks for the post.

~Douglas Brown

I have always wanted to build a shed on our property to store all my junk. I had no idea that you should get a land survey before you build anything. I wouldn't want to accidentally build on our neighbor's land. Thanks for the information.

~Gregory Willard

You mentioned that land surveys provide crucial information for home buyers, landscapers, property owners, and developers. Are all pieces of land required to have this type of survey done before they can be sold? My cousin has always wanted a custom built home and has been trying to find the right parcel of land. Finding a piece of land that has been surveyed could be a very good option.

~Derek Mcdoogle

Hello Derek and thanks for checking out our blog. To answer your question, "no" all pieces of land are not required to have a survey before they can be sold but if the buyer requests a survey one can be performed prior to closing the purchase transaction. Thanks for stopping by!

~Renee

I had never thought about using a land survey to help you determine boundaries for a renovation project. Right now, I'm in the middle of planning a new patio for my backyard, and the last thing I want to do is start encroaching on my neighbor's property. I'll be sure to find one in the next day or two.

~Maggie Allen

Awesome. Glad to help and good luck on your patio project!

~Renee

I like what you said about how the easiest way to be sure any land survey is done correctly is to contact a professionally accredited surveyor. I've heard, too, that some surveyors will be able to make suggestions to you about how you should use certain parts of the land and what areas you should avoid. That could be very useful information! I'll have to remember these tips for the next time I'm ever in need of a land survey on a property!

~Troy Blackburn

I like that you point out that land surveyors are useful when building a new fence or shed in your yard and need to know where the property lines are. It might be a good idea to tell your neighbors what you are planning on doing and that you are hiring someone to make sure that you stay within your property lines. That way they won't feel weird when some person is there taking measurements of their yard.

~Scott

I really had no idea that there were so many reasons to get a land survey done on your property. I can definitely see why it is recommended though, especially if you're planning to build anything. After all, you do want to know exactly where your property line is if you're going to start a construction project.

~Simon Brooks

It's good to know that a land survey will go through and clarify boundaries and property lines. It's important that you know exactly what you own well in advance so you can have that in mind when you are planning to expand on your land. I think that the sooner you know this information, the better. That way, you can start brainstorming new ideas for how to make the best use of your land.

~Bernard Clyde

I like your tip to have landowners be aware of their boundaries with a survey so that they can defend them if a neighbor is encroaching on them. It's probably wise to have one of these surveys done as early as possible so that you can prevent any issues from occurring before they go too far. Plus, it will help you have more peace of mind concerning your land.

~Bernard Clyde

It's interesting to learn about land surveys. I had no idea that they were required in order to get title insurance and a mortgage. My wife and I are actually looking at a property to buy right now, and we haven't even thought about getting a land survey!

~Ridley Fitzgerald

I like how you talked about how land surveying could draw the line between property disputes. My neighbor swears that his property starts in my backyard, but I'm certain that it doesn't. I'll have to hire someone so that we can settle this little land dispute once and for all.

~Sam Solo

My husband and I recently bought a new home and we are thinking of hiring a land surveyor, so I am glad that I found this article. It is interesting that you say to make sure the surveyor that you hire uses records like deeds and maps to be able to measure the property correctly. Knowing the boundaries of our land will give me peace of mind that we know where our property ends and our neighbors' begins so that we can build a fence around our property in the right place.

~Rosie Beckett

Happy the article was helpful to you and congrats on the new home!

~Renee

Thanks for helping me understand the role of this process. As you mentioned, this will help you understand the boundaries of your property and even your neighbor's property. With that in mind, I will be hiring one before I buy a land where we will be having our dream house constructed in the future.

~Millie Hue

It's good to know what a land survey actually does. I like how you said that it helps you know your estate's boundaries. Knowing that would make building a home on a property a lot easier, I would guess.

~Silas Knight

Looking for a professionally accredited surveyor is a great idea. This is a wonderful way to make sure that you are getting the perfect building survey that you require. My uncle would benefit from this tip since he was talking about getting construction like this done.

~Camille Devaux

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