Top 10 Reasons to Have Your Property Surveyed
You think you know everything there is to know about the legal description of your property. You're the guru of all homeowners. You think you know the ins and outs of everything real estate-related. If you had to, you could dig up that old plat and calculate precisely where your property begins and ends. And you know exactly who has a right to come onto your property and why. You might even know about the American Land Title Association (ALTA) survey or other different types of property surveys or topographic surveys more generally. Perhaps you're even a real estate agent.
If so, you're one step ahead of most property owners. Most people seek out the expertise of a professional land surveyor. You might need to settle common property description issues before they become problems. In addition to a professional boundary survey, many homeowners or homebuyers seek other specific certifications such as:
- An environmental certification
- A zoning opinion letter
- A floodplain classification from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Here are 10 common reasons property owners hire someone for land surveying.
1. Boundary Lines or Property Lines
One of the most common reasons a landowner seeks the help of a licensed surveyor is the location of property boundary lines and other lines. These legal boundaries of occupancy or possession are critical pieces of information to have before you do any of the following:
- Build a fence
- Add a sunroom
- Pave your driveway
All too often, the survey shows that you and your neighbors were operating under the wrong assumption. It's often the case that what you believe goes directly against what the findings of the assessor's office show. You both might have the placement of the boundary line between your and your neighbor's property wrong.
Before erecting that fence, ensure it goes on your property, not your neighbor's. The boundary line certification will also tell you whether the legal description of your property is accurate.
This information is essential for many things, including disclosures to mortgage lenders and mortgage surveys. It's also vital that this information accurately reflects the size of your parcel of land, as it is recorded in your property deed. It is critical information for property surveyors, as well.
2. Gores, Overlaps, and Gaps
These issues are part of the boundary line certification. Most surveys include a statement that (unless the surveys say otherwise) there are no discrepancies between the property boundaries of your property and the adjoining property. This is especially pertinent if your property is next to:
3. Rights-of-Way, Easements, and Abandoned Roads
A survey will show all the conditions imposed by law reflected in your property's title report and other agreements. For example, if your property blocks your neighbor's access to the road, an old agreement (called an "easement") may give your neighbor the right to walk across your yard to the street. This information should be in the public record. It should show in property records.
4. Ponds, Rivers, Creeks, Streams, Wells, and Lakes
The typical survey reports visible or surface waters only. Other professional inspections better cover underground waters and wetlands.
5. Joint Driveways, Party Walls, Rights-of-Support, Encroachments, Overhangs, or Projections
Unknown to you or your next-door neighbor, you may have an obligation by law to support your neighbor's driveway by maintaining your own. This could lead to boundary disputes, so you will want legal documents to back yourself up.
6. Existing Improvements
The surveyor will usually certify that the buildings and other improvements, alterations, and repairs to your property at the time of the survey do not violate laws or other restrictions. Common restrictions on residential property:
- Building lines
Of course, the surveyor will also tell you if your latest improvement violates a local ordinance or other law. This will put you on notice that a change is in order.
7. Water, Electric, Gas, Telephone, and Telegraph Pipes, Drains, Wires, Cables, Vaults, Manhole Covers, Catch basins, Lines, and Poles
Poles and above-ground wires are clear, but the surveyor can also report on underground cables and drains. Your utility companies and municipality can give them this information. Call 811 to learn about underground utility lines.
This information is essential for two reasons: A utility company may have the right to use part of your property to maintain utility lines and may have a say in how tall you let your trees grow.
Knowing the exact location of underground utilities is critical before any excavation or construction begins.
It is unlikely that there is an old family burial ground in your backyard. But it has happened. The survey will show the exact location of any old cemeteries on your plot.
9. Access, Ingress, and Egress
Your survey should state whether there is physical vehicular ingress and egress to an open public street. It may also specify the adequacy of access for a particular purpose, such as delivery trucks, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, and driveways for tenants.
10. Zoning Classification
You may know whether your property is residential or light industrial. But, you may be surprised to discover that your zoning classification specifically restricts your property use. This part of the survey simply reports your zoning jurisdiction and classification.
Once you have your completed and certified survey, you should consult an attorney about whether you are using your property in conformance with zoning ordinances. They can also offer other advice about the legal ramifications of your property survey.
Curious About Why You Should Have Your Property Surveyed? Talk to a Lawyer
Sometimes, a dispute between neighbors is just the result of a misunderstanding. Confusion over where one property ends and the other begins is why having your property surveyed is a good idea. Adjacent properties can be tricky even when things seem clear.
You can select the type of survey, pay the survey cost, and have clarity about your plot of land. The average prices of these surveys can be high. But it's always possible to find less costly ones. If you have questions about getting your new home surveyed or have a dispute with your neighbor that you need help resolving, it's a good idea to speak with an experienced real estate attorney near you.
Any first-time homebuyer should speak with an attorney or a homeadvisor before buying a new property or any piece of land. An attorney can also help with your real estate transaction, title company, or title insurance issues that may come up. If your land taxes change, you and your attorney should talk to a tax assessor.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.