A land survey is a detailed inspection of physical property that is being transferred from one owner to another. Having a survey done helps buyers understand exactly what they are buying by both defining the exact boundaries of the land, showing them where other people have a right to use their land and identifying any potential problems. Having a survey done before a title transfer also gives the buyer the option of buying extended title insurance coverage.
The purpose of a land survey during a title transfer is to let the new owner clearly see where his or her boundaries are, as well as identify any potential problems with the land.
A land survey includes a clear measurement and definition of a property's boundaries. The surveyor uses the property's legal description as well as benchmarks on the ground to plot out the exact dimensions and size of the piece of property being transferred.
Knowing the exact specifications of your property can help you to determine where you can build additional buildings or where you should put a fence to divide your property from your neighbor's. It can also help you make sure that you're actually buying what the seller described.
Surveys also identify any easements on the property. An easement is a right given to another person or entity to use your property. For example, utility companies frequently have easements that allow them to enter your property and read the meter. Alternatively, your property might also be subject to an access easement that allows owners of property behind it to cross through the side of your property to access the road.
Easements can be general, allowing another party to enter your property, or can be specific, giving them the right to use a certain portion of your property. Regardless of the type, easements can limit your ability to do whatever you want with your property and it's important to know where they are and what they do before you take title.
By identifying a property's boundaries and easements, a survey also identifies where you have potential encroachments. Encroachments occur when your property infringes on another property owner's rights. For example, a surveyor might find that the property's fence is actually built 2 feet over the property line into the adjacent property.
Another encroachment occurs if a building is actually built 1 foot into another property's right of way through your property. Some encroachments can be negotiated away before title transfers, and title insurance can cover you for the cost of dealing with some other encroachments. Others can be serious enough, though, that you may choose not to buy a property because of them.
Survey Title Coverage
Having a survey completed is a prerequisite for survey title insurance coverage, also called extended or ALTA coverage, meaning American Land Title Association coverage. These title insurance policies will pay for expenses or losses that you incur if a third party has a right to your property of which you were not aware.
When you provide a survey to your title insurer company, your insurer knows who has a legitimate right to the property and can cover you against claims that arise.
- Bear Island Surveying: Why Should You Survey?
- Point to Point Land Surveyors: An Introduction to Easements
- NOLO: Easement
- Boundary Dispute Law Blog: Survey Says the Fence Encroaches - Now What?
- Law Offices of Peter N. Brewer: Insurance Coverage for Damage Caused by Encroachments
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What is a Survey"? Accessed Oct 22, 2019
- HomeAdvisor. "How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Land Surveyor?" Accessed Oct. 22, 2019.
- Make this an IC: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Shopping for Your Home Loan, Settlement Cost Booklet" Accessed Oct. 22, 2019.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.