How Do Land Surveys Work?
Are you interested in getting your property surveyed? When you are buying or selling a home, you might be advised to have a land survey carried out. But what is it, and why is the survey of property necessary?
Upon entering a real estate transaction, the most common form of a property survey is a mortgage plot plan.
When getting mortgage financing, one of the lender requirements you’re using will have is to get the property surveyed. The purpose is to ensure that the home and any other improvements such as a pool, tennis court, garage, a shed, or other structures are within the property’s four corners.
The surveyor will also try to determine if the home meets the city or town’s approved zoning laws.
They will also check that the house meets the front and sideline setbacks from the street and neighbors. Property surveying is a business with constant demand. They are a vital part of most real estate transactions.
Let’s take a look at what happens during property surveying and why you might need one, either as a homeowner or home buyer.
Do you Need a Property Survey?
Land surveys are used to define the boundaries of a plot of land correctly. This will make sure you know where your property begins and ends. It can help in neighbor disputes where there is disagreement over boundaries, ending difficult arguments.
If you are buying a home, it will clearly show what you are actually purchasing. It defines what is part of the property and what isn’t, without the need to rely on the seller’s word. Almost always, lenders or title companies will require a land survey to complete the purchase.
The lender will be the one that hires the surveyor. The cost of such a land survey is born by the buyers and is part of a buyer’s closing costs when purchasing a home. One of the interesting parts of land surveys conducted by banks is that they will almost always show up at the property unannounced. Unlike a home appraisal, where an appointment is made, with a survey, more often than not, a property surveyor will just show up.
Sometimes the property surveyor will be polite enough to knock on the door and let the owners know what they are doing. In my thirty-four years in the business, however, it is more likely they won’t.
Over the years, I have gotten numerous phone calls from home sellers asking me why someone is at their property. It is almost always the surveyor showing up to do their thing.
If you wonder whether the buyer’s lender can use the survey the homeowner had done when they purchased, the answer is no. The lender will have no idea if there were improvements made to the property since then or if the other surveyor did their job properly. Lenders almost always hire their own property surveying company.
The Difference Between a Plot Plan and a Survey of Land
It is essential to understand that there is a significant difference between what is referred to as a tape survey vs. a mortgage plot plan. The word plot plan and land survey are often used interchangeably but shouldn’t be as they have different meanings—kind of like there being a difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor.
A plot plan is far less accurate and not as detailed as a survey of land. Plot plans confirm that the structures related to a property are within that property’s boundary lines. As previously mentioned, the vast majority of lenders will require a land surveyor to do a plot plan before the closing.
Mortgage plot plans are significantly less expensive than a land survey. They are also not as accurate and should never be relied on for anything other than a rough outline of the boundary lines and where the permanent structures sit in relation thereto.
Land surveys and plot plans are both done by a land surveyor.
Types of Property Surveys
There are a few different types of property surveying beyond simple land surveys. Surveying property can be done for all of the following:
- Floodplain surveys reveal lower-lying areas that could be at risk. If your home needs flood insurance, it can be costly.
- Mortgage plot plan surveys that show the boundaries for land that is going to be mortgaged.
- As-built surveys show where improvements, like driveways and septic systems, can be built.
- Topographic surveys reveal the elevation of the plot of land.
- Monumentation surveys show where fences or walls can be constructed on boundaries.
Video: How a Property Survey Works
See an explanation in video format on some of the key things you need to know about land surveys.
Reasons Why You Need Your Property Surveyed
There are some common reasons why a property surveyor is employed. If you have concerns about any of the following, perhaps a land survey could help.
Finding The Boundaries of The Property
Perhaps the most common reason for having a survey is to define the boundary of a property. This could be because the owner wants to construct a fence or building, and they want to be certain they are correctly positioning it on their land.
One sure-fire way of angering your neighbor is to construct a fence that takes some of their land, or what they believe to be part of their land. Whether you are in the wrong or right, having a survey carried out first will make sure disputes don’t escalate.
A property survey should indicate that there isn’t a discrepancy between your land border and that claimed by a neighbor. This can also be important when your land is next to the highway, where the survey should certify your boundary line.
Right of Way
If part of your property blocks your neighbor’s access to the street, they are likely to have the right of way to cross your land. The surveyed land should clear up any concerns you might have about this.
Party Walls and Shared Driveways
If you share a driveway or wall with your neighbor, there could be certain obligations that you are required to follow. This could be something like maintaining your property sufficiently to support your neighbor’s property.
If you don’t stick to these obligations, you could face legal action. Working as a real estate agent, I am often asked how common driveways work. Hiring a land surveyor can sometimes clear up any disputes neighbors may have.
Improvement Violations By The Neighbor
If a previous owner of your home has made improvements, are they violating the law or local restrictions? A survey can check to ensure the improvement doesn’t breach height, dimension, or building line restrictions. You may be wondering how your neighbor could break the law without being caught?
Unfortunately, some people try to beat the system and not pull building permits when required. Sometimes zoning violations do not show up until years later.
Potential Zoning Issues
A land survey will check the property’s zoning classification to make sure you are using it by following these restrictions. Land surveys are often used to determine zoning violations.
Items Hidden Underground With Land Surveys
Are you concerned that there could be underground pipes or cables that you don’t know about? A land survey should let you know about these hidden underground risks so that you know to avoid them when having some construction work done.
Quite often, utility companies have easements or right of use over your property to access and maintain whether they are for power, gas, etc. Additionally, you may need to find out the exact location of said utilities if you are going to do any construction or excavation.One of the many reasons why you might want a property survey is to see what, if anything is underground.Click To Tweet
Bodies of Water
If you have a pond, well, creek, or river on your property, this will be documented in the survey of your land.
Has someone told you that your home is built on an old cemetery? A detailed land survey will check this out for you.
How to Hire a Property Surveyor?
If you are wondering where to get an up to date survey of your land, it will entail hiring a land surveyor. When you have decided you need your property surveying, a search online should help.
You can check with the surveying society in your state for professional and qualified surveyors. If you’re selling a home, you can ask your title company or your real estate agent if they have any recommendations for you.
Another excellent way to find a surveyor is to use Google as a tool. Do a search for land surveyors near me, property surveyors near me, or land surveyors nearby. You should see the results of land surveying companies close to your home.
When you find a land surveyor, check that they are licensed in the state to operate. If you’ve found them through their society website, they should be, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check.
What Does a Land Survey Cost?
The overall cost will vary depending on what exactly it is you need to be surveyed. Here are some of the most common surveys and a ballpark estimate of what they cost.
Mortgage Survey When Buying a House
A mortgage plot plan to identify the boundary lines in a home purchase is around $500. The cost of this kind of survey can vary from state to state.
Land Survey For New Construction
If you are going to be getting a land loan to purchase a piece of property or take out a construction loan, the lender will probably require a land survey. You can expect to pay somewhere between one thousand and two thousand dollars.
Depending on how complex the land purchase is, there could be the need for boundary, topography, and staking services.
As-Built Survey Cost
An as-built survey will run approximately $700-1300.A land surveyor will measure the exterior and interior of the structure and create a three-dimensional representation.
The surveyor will use lasers to carry out their work. Doing so is more accurate than using plans or blueprints.
Survey For a Fence Installation
One of the more common land surveys is for a fence installation. The costs generally range anywhere from $300 to $1000, depending on the lot size.
A Boundary Survey
A boundary survey tends to range from between $350 and $700, though this depends on your location and can vary greatly. A survey for a mortgage is typically going to be around $500. If you need your property surveyor to go into great detail and further check the property’s history, you can expect to pay more.
ALTA Home Survey
An ALTA home survey is one of the most detailed. It is performed following the standards set by the American Land Title Association. The cost generally ranges from $2000-$3000 to have this kind of survey done.
The ALTA survey is usually performed when you’re purchasing a commercial property, although it is possible it could be done with a residential purchase as well. Mortgage companies or banks might require this kind of survey because it can catch potential risks or issues that might otherwise change the transaction’s details.
How Important is a Property Survey?
A property survey will officially define the property lines. It provides an official document that can end disputes and be used by lenders for the title insurance policy, among other things.
If you are having contractors construct a home improvement for you, surveys are frequently needed before permits will be granted. Even if you have an old survey report, this may not be good enough.
How to Become a Land Surveyor?
Are you wondering how to be a land surveyor? In order to become a land surveyor, you’ll likely need a bachelor’s degree. Besides having a degree, you will also need to have a surveyor’s license. Licensure requirements vary from state to state so you would need to check in your location.
In order to become licensed, you’ll need to pass two exams and have experience in the field which is typically four years. A surveyor licensing course focuses on geography and physics. The non-surveying requirements include courses in calculus and physics. The surveyor exams are administered by the National Council for Examiners of Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
Training also includes computer-aided design (CAD) programs, along with work in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual salary for surveyors was $63,420 as of 2019.
Final Thoughts Getting a Land Property Survey
A property survey is a vital part of most real estate transactions where there is mortgage financing involved.
You don’t necessarily need to have a survey of the property carried out before you buy a house. It will be up to your lender. However, you should be ready for the potential extra expenses that you might need to pay out should your lender or title company need a land survey.
If you have accurate dimensions of your land professionally documented by a surveyor, it can help you in many ways. It can stop neighbor disputes in their tracks and prevent legal action from being taken against you.
Surveys of land are an essential part of most real estate transactions.
About the author: The above Real Estate information about what is a property survey was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 34+ years.
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