There are few subjects we write about here on the blog that get the attention that land surveys do. Obviously, whether you’re a homebuyer, a real estate agent, or a settlement agent, the topic of property surveys seems to be shrouded in mystery and that actually makes total sense.
By nature, surveys are very complex beasts. From the complicated equipment used to facilitate a surveying job to the different types of surveys, to knowing which one is needed and when it’s time to order them. We’re answering your burning questions about land surveys...
Recently, we hosted expert surveyor, Akkad Bakhsh, of Florida-based First Choice Surveying, Inc., for a webinar where we dove into the basics of land surveys. (The recording for the webinar is actually at the bottom of this post if you want to watch!) We were surprised by the number of questions we received during our short Q&A portion of the webinar, so we thought it would be awesome to take all those questions and answer them here on the blog.
Let’s get started on those questions about land surveys:
- When is it time to order a new survey? (We have clients bring us surveys from as early as 1997)
- If your property extends beyond the boundary of a fence - are you responsible for what happens on the other side?
- Why do surveys take so long to turnaround and why do ETA’s change so frequently?
- What’s an ALTA Survey?
- How often to do flood elevation certificates change?
- How do you know if the legal description closes?
- If a property is landlocked, how do you resolve that issue?
Q: When is it time to order a new survey? (We have clients bring us surveys from as early as 1997)
Akkad suggests that for a buyer to truly know what they’re buying, you should be getting a new survey for every closing. Even if the seller is signing an affidavit declaring that they made no improvements, that doesn’t mean the seller’s neighbors didn’t make any improvements to their property that could impact a new buyer. They may have added a fence, or pool, or structure that actually encroaches on the seller’s property, without anyone being the wiser.
It’s always most prudent to obtain a new survey. Especially if a survey is from the 90’s. It’s been more than 20 years and the property in question may have changed hands a few times and the same goes for the neighboring properties. That survey from 1997 probably won’t reflect all the improvements made in the time since.
Typically a standard boundary survey is only going to cost somewhere between $300 and $400 to ensure a $250,000 property has no issues -- seems like a relatively small investment compared to the peace of mind you’re getting and worth the expense.
For more points on this, check out our blog 4 Reasons to Consider Getting a New Survey Before Closing.
Q: If your property extends beyond the boundary of a fence - are you responsible for what happens on the other side?
Simply stated, yes. This is why it’s so important to know where your property ends and your neighbor’s property begins. Surveyors do not determine fence ownership and fences do not necessarily follow true property boundaries, so you can’t just look at a fence and assume that one side is yours and the other is your neighbors. Regardless if you or your neighbor own the fence, if it’s set back several feet from the boundary line on your property, you’re still responsible for whatever happens in that few feet between the fence and the true boundary line, because you own it.
Q: Why do surveys take so long to turnaround and why do ETA’s change so frequently?
It’s typically because of the one thing none of us have control over: The WEATHER!!! Unfortunately, a rainstorm can set a survey job back by days, or even weeks. When a crew is surveying in a particular area and can’t get a job done because of rain and lightning, it usually means there are several jobs they can’t get done that day meaning they still need to get several jobs done before they can draft up your survey. Unfortunately, it’s a dilemma that compounds the longer they can’t get out there in the field and get to work.
It’s important to remember that survey crews are using tall, metal equipment, making them a prime target for lightning strikes. Surveying in the most ideal weather can still be a dangerous job, so you bet they’re going to take as much precaution as possible. Even in the winter months snow can slow down or halt a crew because ice and snow make access difficult to some properties.
Dwindling numbers of young people entering the surveying profession is another factor to blame for longer turnaround times and an inability to recover quickly after delays. Most surveyors have plenty enough work to keep them busy year-round. With jobs lining up, getting behind on just one can affect how quickly they can get to work on your property. We have a blog post that goes into detail about how a lack of surveyors may slow down your closing.
The second reason for delays that you can control? Ensuring surveyors have proper access to the property. You wouldn’t believe how common it is for a crew to pull up to a gated community and be denied access by security personnel because the proper steps were not followed on the title agent or real estate agent’s end to communicate to the seller that they have to do this. In other instances, a surveyor will pull up and a fence will be locked and block their access. If they can’t get in touch with someone, they’ll have to come back another time. The biggest impact you can make to ensure your survey gets turned around as quickly as possible is to be vigilant and proactive in communicating with the proper parties so the surveyor has full access.
Access can be particularly tricky when there’s a tenant in the mix who may or may not be aware of all the details. Akkad shared a story about a crew member that went to a property and a tenant demanded the surveying crew leave. When the crew member explained he had a right to survey the property, the tenant let his dog loose and the surveyor was bitten by the dog just for trying to do his job.
Q: What’s an ALTA Survey?
An ALTA survey is typically used in instances of large, commercial property transactions. Named for the strict requirements set by the American Land Title Association, it’s sort of a gold standard for a commercial property survey because it’s a much more in-depth and detailed survey process. Requirements include locating underground utilities, manholes, building locations, access points, parking lots and spaces, and more.
Of course, more detailed survey jobs will come with a higher price tag, because they take longer and there’s significantly more work involved to meet these strict requirements.
Q: How often to do flood elevation certificates change?
If you’re not familiar, flood elevation certificates are used to determine flood insurance rates. The data that is commonly used to determine flood elevation is not updated often. Depending on different factors, surveyors will commonly use NGVD 29 (National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929) and NAVD 88 (North American Vertical Datum of 1988).
However, flood maps are updated by counties on a pretty regular basis. The elevation of a property shouldn’t change, but the base flood level elevation for a property may change because sea levels change.
Q: How do you know if the legal description closes?
It's a matter of starting from the point of beginning, looking at the angles and distances, doing those bearings and traveling those points. A surveyor will need to draw it out to ensure it closes. Those angles and bearings do change and might turn out the property more, it might be longer on one side and shorter on another but it would still close. Check out this blog we wrote about why legal descriptions are so important in a survey.
Q: If a property is landlocked, how do you resolve that issue?
Akkad says when they determine where a property is and where the closest access point is, they can write a legal description that includes an easement that accounts for ingress and egress to allow access to the property without “taking” anyone else’s property. However, in that case, you will have to obtain approval from every party that will be impacted by the easement. There will need to be unanimous agreement to allow the use of their property as a means to access another property.
Watch the latest webinar recording here: