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What Is a Property Survey (and Why Is It Important)?

A property survey probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you start looking for a new house or a plot of land. You’re likely to be more focused on the neighborhood, the schools, and the property’s unique features. But a property survey is a crucial step in avoiding future headaches. Getting your property surveyed at settlement helps you understand potential risks, plan for future improvements, and protect your investments.

What Is a Property Survey

A property survey is a detailed, aerial view drawing or diagram that shows your property lines and their measurements. It also describes the features of the land and any other structures on the property.

A good surveyor will also research land records and other public files for information about the property and neighboring properties. They then perform onsite field work, including measuring physical improvements and gathering all evidence of “corners monumentation” (how corners have been marked in the past). The surveyor then compares findings in the field with the description of record and drafts a plat that shows property limits and the location of utilities, noting any discrepancies found on the plat.

What Does a Property Survey Cost?

The cost of a land survey varies, as does the level of detail provided. Not all property surveys need a detailed map. If you only want your legal property lines flagged and your corners marked, you’ll pay around $500.

That’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing the potential risks and value associated with the property. From flood potential to the chances of landing in court over a disputed boundary, a property survey uncovers any surprises that could cost you major time and money.

An extensive land survey includes more detailed renderings, photographs, and a history of previous property changes. (Natural features like ponds, ditches, and hedges can shift over time.) The survey may also note the presence of utilities and any site-specific issues, like flood zones or sinkholes.

Total cost depends on the property’s history, size, location, and unique features. A historic farmstead, for example, will cost more to survey than a new construction home where the land divisions are more straightforward.

Do I Need a Property Survey for a New Home Construction?

Yes. You should get a house location survey prior to planning new construction. Don’t depend on a building contractor to determine your home’s location in relation to your lot lines. Building contractors are not land surveyors. Be sure that the home is in compliance with the local zoning code and HOA.

Reasons Why You Need a Property Survey

In case you’re not quite convinced of the value or necessity of a property survey, or you’re not sure how extensive a survey you need, here are a few more reasons why a land survey is a smart investment.

1. Preventing or Resolving Boundary Disputes

When you want to build a new addition, such as a garage, driveway, deck or patio, you’ll have the confidence of knowing you’re building on your own land. That protects you from the potential financial loss of having to tear down an addition and rebuild.

An accurate survey of your fence line saves you more in the long run. The same is true for tree and shrub lines. Whether you’re on good terms with your neighbors or not, do yourself a favor by knowing your property’s boundaries and protecting your home’s value and future marketability.

2. Preventing Encroachment

A property survey shows the relationship of the property to adjoining properties. It protects you when a neighbor tries to build on your property. Here are some common scenarios where encroachment can become an issue:

  • A lake or water source is shared by adjoining properties
  • Former owners granted access to the property
  • Boundaries are not clearly distinguished by fences or other structures
  • Roads and other access ways cross bordering properties

3. Knowing the value of your property

Lakes, ponds, and rivers may be clearly visible on any given property, and they can be both a source of beauty and value for your property. But underground wells, aquifers, creeks, and streams are less visible. If you’re purchasing a large property, you’ll want to know where water sources are located to understand the best location for houses and other structures.

Property owners whose land features water sources need to be aware of whether or not the entire water source is located on their land. If, for example, you and your nearest neighbor share a legal right to a lake or pond, are they OK with you fishing on the side that falls within their property boundary? On the other hand, are you OK with your neighbor allowing public access to your “half” of the lake? These are questions a land survey can clarify before boundary disputes arise.

A land survey also establishes discrepancies between actual occupation or use and the description of record. The perceived boundaries of a property, such as tree lines or that beautiful new fence in the back yard often differ from the actual recorded boundaries. Obtaining a survey prior to closing brings such discrepancies to light before it’s too late.

4. Knowing the dangers of a property

A detailed survey provides information on potential threats and dangers to your property, including the possibility of flooding or damage from downed utilities. These manmade elements could be potential hazards:

  • Cables
  • Drains
  • Electric Lines
  • Natural Gas Lines
  • Poles
  • Telephone Lines
  • Water Lines
  • Vaults
  • Wires

If these utilities are on your property you’ll want to understand the potential dangers involved. For families with children and pets who enjoy running around outside, it’s important to understand where these potentially life-threatening structures are, and to educate children on avoiding them.

Flooding – This is especially important in coastal Florida. Knowing the potential your property has for flooding impacts more than just your flood insurance premiums. Living in a floodplain affects everything from where to build new fences and structures to where to place homes, roadways, and other access areas.

Finding a Good Property Surveyor

Getting a property survey done the right way is worth the cost. If the surveyor makes a mistake, you won’t be on firm legal footing, and you may end up paying more to correct or repair issues that can and will arise.

Ask a trusted real estate professional for a few recommendations. Here at Rabell Realty Group, we refer homebuyers to land surveyors all the time, and are happy to put you in touch with an experienced, licensed and insured professional.

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