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What Is a Property Survey & How to Get One

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What Is a Property Survey & How to Get One
5 min. read
Property Survey Plan

Image: Francesco Scatena / Shutterstock.com

Buying a home is often more complicated than you expect. Even if you’re not a first-time homebuyer, it may involve more than you remember, especially if it’s been a while since you last purchased. One potential complication could be the requirement to have the land surveyed before closing on the property.

There could be a variety of reasons for a land survey. For instance, perhaps you need to check the boundaries or learn about potential restrictions to the property. Or, a property surveyor might be required when you’re looking to build an addition to a property you already own or construct a fence on the lot, for example.

Whatever the reason, you might be wondering exactly what a property survey is. So, below, we’ll explain what happens when you need to survey the property and how to hire a surveyor.

What is a Property Survey?

If you need to determine the boundaries of land — whether you’re developing the lot or for another reason — a land survey is essential to show you where your property begins and ends in relation to neighboring properties.

You may also have to get a survey when you’re buying a property. It could even be mandatory, depending on where you’re located. Your lender or title company may also require you to oversee the details of a survey, but this isn’t always the case.

Finding Your Land Survey

Notably, there might already be a survey report available. So, first, check with the seller if you’re buying or with their lender or title company. The tax assessor’s office might also have a copy of the property survey. If you own the property and don’t have a survey report, there could also be a copy at your local property records department. You might also ask your neighbors if they have a survey report for their property. If they do, ask them where they got it from.

Unfortunately, if you do find a survey report, chances are that it’s likely old and outdated. However, the details in the survey will still be accurate unless the parcel of land has changed due to suburban development.

Property Survey Types

Because there are many different reasons for having a survey, there’s more than one type of survey, including:

  • Land surveys to check the boundaries of a lot;
  • Monumentation surveys for those who want to construct a fence on their boundary;
  • Mortgage surveys to show the boundaries of the whole property that will be mortgaged;
  • Topographic surveys to show the elevation of the land;
  • Floodplain surveys, which establish flood risk areas.

Therefore, when you need a survey, be clear on your reasons for it. This will allow you to better estimate the cost of your survey when you contact a surveyor.

Officially Documenting Property Lines

Although surveys aren’t mandatory everywhere, they are essential. That’s because a survey is a way to officially define the property lines, thereby removing any misunderstanding that might have developed.

Surveys may also be needed for a title insurance policy, which will need to be established prior to closing, if any encroachment could affect the title. As an example, most lenders will conduct a survey when granted a mortgage to purchase a home.

A survey will also be needed before contractors begin construction work in order to ensure that they have all of the necessary permits. For instance, if you’re planning an addition to your home, you might be able to use an old survey report, but a new survey might be necessary to obtain the permit to build.

How Much Does a Survey Typically Cost?

Different types of surveys have different price points, but the size of the home also factors into the overall cost. Furthermore, the location and the history of the property can also change the property surveyor’s costs. For example, a straightforward survey to determine the boundaries of the lot can cost as little as $100 to more than $600.

Likewise, a mortgage survey — which the borrower will pay and not the lender — will run around $500. And, no matter what type of survey you need for your property, the cost will go up as the complexity of the property increases for the surveyor.

Hiring a Property Surveyor

When closing on a home, your lender or title company may require you to have a property surveyed. If this is the case, you’ll need to find a surveyor fairly quickly. So, ask your lender or title company for their recommendations for a surveyor to check your property. They should have some good, reliable suggestions for you. You can also ask friends and family if they know anyone trustworthy.

Additionally, each state has a surveying society that is affiliated with the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Search their website for surveyors in your area who are licensed and qualified. Then, when you find a surveyor, explain your requirements to determine whether they can meet your needs. Ultimately, you need to make sure that they’re licensed to practice in the state the home is located in.

Also, remember that, in some cases, it could take two or three weeks to complete the survey (although, most of the time, it should take less than a week). The complexity of the survey will also be a factor in the timeline, and locating the property records and deeds may also slow things down. Specifically, if the details those records provide are lacking, that can cause problems for the surveyor, as well.
 
 
If you’re buying or preparing to bring in contractors to improve your home, a survey will address any inaccuracies or misunderstandings about the boundaries. This will also help you avoid costly mistakes and prevent you from getting into a dispute with your neighbor.

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