What are property lines?

Property lines are necessary during construction by the developer, city, county, or state to show where ownership of one plot of land starts and ends. A surveyor establishes the formal boundaries and marks them. When the property is legally split, the new property lines are established in a survey. The property line at the front of your house is known as your frontage, the measured distance across the front of the plot you own. The property lines on the side of your plot are known as sidelines. Local zoning laws often dictate these distances.

Why are property surveys important?

While property surveys aren’t required everywhere, they are in many jurisdictions across the country. That’s because they detail how your property is defined in an official capacity. Rather than guessing where your property lines are, you have a document that makes it clear.

Emory Wooll, general manager of Title Partners of South Florida, says property surveys are required for lender title insurance policies.

“In order (for a title insurance policy to be issued), we need to know if there are any encroachments on the property prior to closing,” Wooll says. “They’re usually done before a home purchase, or, say, someone is putting a pool in or a fence.”

Wooll says cities or contractors will require a survey before permits can be pulled. So if you’re hoping to build a pool in your backyard, you’ll need a recent survey completed. While there’s a chance you could use an old survey to pull permits, it’s not always guaranteed. In that case, you may want to get a new survey completed.

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Contact your loan officer to find out if he has access the property’s survey. The mortgage lender might have a copy of the property survey, because it also holds the title.

Purpose of a Property Survey

A mortgage company may require a property survey to verify that the property is worth the amount of money provided in the loan. Neighbors may utilize a property survey to determine who owns or has rights to cross certain portions of the land. A seller should have a property survey to know what she will convey in the sale. An owner who wants to build on the property should have a property survey to be aware of any complications that may arise.

How do I hire a property surveyor?

Searching for property surveyors in your area is one of the best ways to find companies to get the job done.

“There is a surveying society in each of the 50 states, all of which are affiliated with NSPS,” Sumner says. “Each of those societies has a website, which will typically include a ‘Find A Surveyor’ section.”

It can be more cost-effective to work with the previous surveyor on the property, if possible, because that surveyor will have maps and records already on hand. If you can’t locate the prior surveyor, the next best thing is to try to work with the surveyor who assessed the properties next door.

Don’t be afraid to ask your title company or lender for recommendations, too.

You should also take the time to question your potential surveyor. Talk about your needs beforehand to make sure they can fulfill the requirements. Check that the surveyor is licensed to practice in the state where the property is located, Sumner advises.

Be mindful of how much time it takes to complete a survey. Wooll says property surveys can usually be completed within a week, but it could take up to three, depending on the company.

Sumner says there’s no way to determine exactly how long it’ll take to complete a survey since there are so many variables to consider, including the quality and availability of property records, such as deeds.

Property Survey FAQs

Still unsure how property surveys work or if you need one? We’ve answered a few frequently asked question.

Is a property survey necessary?

Property surveys may not be legally required and may not be a requirement for all mortgage lenders. You can order a survey at any time, but it can be especially important to order one when buying or constructing a new home.

Can I buy a house without a survey?

Purchasing a house without conducting a property survey can be risky. Not considering the boundary lines of the property could lead to unforeseen problems down the road. It’s also worth considering a property survey when buying a home.

Do I need a survey if I am a cash buyer?

Because you are purchasing the home using cash, there are no lender requirements to have a boundary survey completed. However, a survey may be required should you decide to purchase title insurance.

How to Find Property Lines for Free

Homeowner’s Deed

A homeowner’s deed should include a legal description of the plot of land, including its measurements, shape, block and lot number, and other identifiers such as landmarks and geographical features. If the language is tricky, reach out to your real estate lawyer or agent for help in deciphering it.

A Tape Measure

If you want to visually confirm your property lines, you can use a tape measure to determine the boundaries. From a known point detailed in the deed’s description, measure to the property’s edge and place a stake at that point as a marker.

After all the edges have been determined, measure the distance between the stakes. Compare the results to make sure they match the corresponding deed or plat.

Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company

Most mortgage lenders require prospective homeowners to have a current survey, and your title insurance also depends on it. If you bought your home recently but don’t have the survey, contact either company to see if they have a copy on file.

Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality

A property’s history and legalrecords are generally kept in the municipality or county’s tax assessor’s office or in its land records or building department. You can usually begin your search by going online to access the relevant property records. Most municipalities offer this information for free, but some offices may require a small fee or ask that you access the records in person.

Buried Pins

At the corners of your property, you may be able to find steel bars that have been buried, sometimes still visible, with a marked cap on the top end. These were likely placed on your land when a survey was completed. If you can’t readily see the pins (they may have been buried over time), use a metal detector to help you locate them.

While this isn’t a legally binding way to determine your property lines, it will give you a good idea of the boundaries. Warning: Before you start digging, call 811, the national call-before-you-dig hotline, to request the location of buried utilities you don’t want to inadvertently dig into an underground utility line.

Use an App

Download an app like LandGlide that uses GPS to determine a parcel’s property lines. LandGlide is free for the first seven days.

How To Get A Property Survey

Now that you understand the benefits of property surveys, you’re probably wondering how you can get the most precise idea of your property’s legal boundaries. There are several ways to go about getting a property survey.

Hire A Land Surveyor

Luckily for grazing deer and hungry rabbits, not every plot of land is clearly defined and enclosed by a white picket fence. As land shifts over time, some initial property line markers may no longer exist. If you have any questions about property lines, the safest thing to do is hire a land surveyor.

A professional land surveyor is an expert in defining property lines. They use their skills, education and specialized field equipment to create legally binding property surveys. They can even serve as expert witnesses in court cases about land disputes. (Remember when we talked about encroachments earlier?)

During the property survey, a land surveyor will compare historical records and data with any existing markers to accurately define your property lines – and their findings are legally binding. This process takes time, effort and boots-on-the-ground legwork, so hiring a well-respected and well-reviewed land surveyor before purchasing land or beginning any new home expansions is your best bet to avoid any legal issues in the future. Call around for quotes before you decide, and be wary of any too-good-to-be-true low estimates.

Check The Property Deed

Several different types of deeds are used in real estate. A property deed is a written legal document that transfers ownership of a property from the grantor to the grantee. (Not to be confused with a title, which is the actual document that states who legally owns the property.) This type of deed will have several pieces of important information about the property: accurate owner names, exact address, tax map number, legal description, restrictions, and other information like conditions of the transfer and reservations of rights by a prior owner. While some deeds only reference a lot or block number, many include detailed measurements in the form of – yep, you guessed it – a property survey done by a land surveyor.

Search Property Survey Records

While there is no national archive of real estate records, many states require property surveys to be filed with the local government. You can search for property surveys by visiting the courthouse, property or assessor’s office where your new land is located. You will need to manually check transfers, requirements and restrictions on the property. This avenue can be time-consuming, but it’s a free to low-cost way to empower yourself with the knowledge and history of your new property’s legal boundaries.

Find A Property Survey Online

Can’t make it to the courthouse? No worries, many local governments keep property records online. To search for your piece of land, you’ll need specific details about the property you want to look up. Gather as much information as you can, like the street address, boundary descriptions and date of the last survey, and search the official county or assessor’s website where the property is located.

The more information you have, the easier it will be for you to find the survey you need. Not all records will be digitized, but the results of your search may help you narrow down the exact office where your survey is located. You can then call the office and ask if they can mail you a copy of the survey.

Geographical Information System (GIS) maps and property search sites are a better option if you have limited information on your property. However, these sites often charge a fee or require a subscription.

Contact The Previous Surveyor

Land surveyors keep copies of the property surveys they complete. (Legally, the survey belongs to them.) If you know the name and contact information of the previous land surveyor, try reaching out. It’s very likely that, for a fee, they can send you a copy. Land surveys usually last 5 to 10 years after they are completed, so if the previous survey was done a long time ago, it’s probably a good idea to get a new one done even if you locate the official document.

Standards and Procedures Manual for Surveying and Mapping

The Standards & Procedures for Surveying and Mapping manual provides a standardized guide for consultant land surveyors in the performance of surveying and mapping projects for the Office of General Services.

Download

Evidence Showing a Property Survey Exists

A surveyor uses physical markers to show the boundaries on a parcel. A party can walk a parcel to look at what markers exist to indicate a survey has taken place. In newer properties, stakes, pipes, markings on concrete and masonry nails in asphalt indicate a surveyor has done a property survey.

In older properties, fences, trees and buildings may be the markers. When these objects or landmarks no longer exist, a property survey that refers to them may be outdated.

Read More:How to Find a Legal Property Description

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