Do I Need a Survey?
We’re about to make an offer home and I had the agent send over a copy of the offer acceptance to review. I noticed that there’s a section for surveys, and I hadn’t really considered needing one until now, should I get a survey?
There are a few things that you should know about surveys…
Number 1 – I am not an attorney – I say this because this is what real estate agents are (or at least should be) taught to say to their clients when they are asked this question. A real estate agent who says yes quickly is okay, if not a little overzealous, but a real estate agent who quickly says no or some version of no such as, “it’s in a subdivision, just look at the plat” is not only an idiot, but also begging to be sued.
The correct response from a real estate agent is laying out the pros and cons of surveys and then let you decide for yourself. Real estate agents can often get carried away when providing consultation and advice to buyers, but make no mistake… real estate agents are not attorneys and should not ever provide you with legal advice.
What is a survey?
The survey is a technical drawing showing the borders of a property as determined by a licensed surveyor. The surveyors determine these boundaries by using highly technical equipment such as GPS devices to pinpoint the metes and bounds coordinates against historical land maps.
Basically, our surveyor looks at land maps and county records determine where the boundaries should be and then they use GPS devices to locate those boundaries on the land. They then mark the corners of the property and prepare actual survey document.
Why would I need a survey?
The purpose of the survey is to identify the borders of the property. The reason you need to know the borders is to make sure that you are actually on your property. You want to know the borders before you build anything from a fence to a pool or actually adding onto the existing home. You also want to know if the neighbor is on their property. My father purchased a piece of land that was supposed to be 3 acres and when the survey came back it revealed that the property was 3 acres, but neighbor had built the fence 30 feet beyond the property line. That made the actual usable acreage roughly 2.5 acres. That might not sound like much, but on commercial property that sells for $150,000 an acre. That’s a $75,000 hit in value.
For the residential properties; I’ve dealt with surveys that discovered houses were actually built on a different lot, swimming pools were built on wrong lot, or one time of buyer found that they were getting 59 acres when it had originally been advertised as 75 acres (M/L)
Why do properties with acreage usually include M/L (More or Less) in the description?
If you are shopping for a home with acreage then you are likely to see that acreage notated as 55 acres M/L. M/L stands for more or less. Throughout history surveying has never been an exact science and rarely have two surveyors actually agreed on boundaries for a particular piece of property. It is quite possible that a parcel of property surveyed 25 years ago to be 15 acres would come out with a different number today. There a lot of potential factors for this, but the primary reason for is the advancements in GPS mapping technology. Never before have surveys been so accurate and so easy to perform. So the term more or less could mean just that, you could be getting the 15 acres advertised or you could be getting 17 or possibly even 9 acres. Generally, if there’s any doubt in the size a lot your real estate agent will write in a specific acreage range that is acceptable to you. If the survey comes back outside with acreage outside of that range that you would have the right to terminate the contract, and then to renegotiate or just walk away.
Do I need a survey if I’m buying a home in a subdivision?
Typically subdivisions are built out by developers and often the person building the home is the person who subdivided the lots. Subdivisions usually have very specific easements and setbacks plus the small lot size doesn’t really allow for much confusion concerning the boundaries of the lot. So all that means that the margin for error is much lower in a subdivision than on rural properties. Now do mistakes happen? Are fences and driveways built at least partially on the wrong lot? You bet they are. Can this be a huge mess for you if you don’t find out about it until it’s too late? You bet it can. I can’t advise for or against getting a survey on a home inside of the develop subdivision but I can tell you that I sold dozens of homes in subdivisions and my company sold hundreds of homes in subdivisions and that during that time, I don’t think I ever saw a buyer request a survey on a home in a developed subdivision. The place where they would be most necessary are where the homeowner has added thing since the house was originally built such as workshop for pool they likely didn’t get a new survey when they built those improvements so there is at least some chance that they built the improvements over the property line.
What happens if I don’t get a survey?
Likely, nothing. Property line easement disputes are very rare between good neighbors and even marginal neighbors will likely settle things amicably if it ever gets brought up at all. And in the event that the property line is disputed, if the property line encroachment has been going on for number of years you could potentially claim adverse possession and ultimately “win” the land that is in dispute. But you know what else is rare? House fires. But is the fact that they are rare going to stop you from getting homeowners’ insurance? Probably not. Surveys can definitely serve as an insurance policy, they can also be used as negotiating tool and as a guide for building purposes.
Is there any reason why I should not get a survey?
During my time as a real estate agent the two biggest complaints against surveys with costs in the amount of time it took to have one completed.
How much does a survey cost?
That depends on a number of factors including size of property, location of property (the further away from the surveyors office you are the more they charge), and how long ago the last survey was performed (the longer it was, the more research may be required of the surveyor).
The typical cost for city lot is $300-$500. The typical cost for five-acre lot is $500-$800. The typical cost for a 50 acre lot is $1000-$1500.
How long does it take for a survey to be performed?
This is largely dependent on your area and a time of year. Licensed surveyors are a fairly rare commodity, and many of them concentrate on commercial jobs as opposed residential. Also at certain times of the year there is a much greater demand for surveyors than others. During my days as a realtor, surveys would often take 2 to 3 weeks to be returned and in the busy periods it was not unusual for that number to be pushed to 4 to 5 weeks. As you would imagine this made everyone involved in the transaction angry and frustrated and the time factor was probably the biggest deterrent for most people getting surveys.