The Importance of Property Surveys

An accurate survey is a crucial step in your home-buying process, making sure you don’t encroach on a neighbor’s property — or vice versa. A mistake in the survey can cause legal problems later. Here’s what you need to know now to avoid problems later.

Location, shape and size.  A survey will show a sketch of the parcel of land, including its shape and length of each side, and a legal description of where the property is located. When the property was originally parceled, a professional surveyor walked off the boundaries of the piece of land. In subsequent sales, a surveyor will use county government records as a guide to confirm the survey. Today’s global positioning systems and lasers bring the accuracy into the digital age.

Three basic methods. Going back to America’s founding, land was surveyed using a system called metes and bounds. A permanent marker such as a tree or boulder would be a starting point to begin walking off the shape and size of the boundaries and the degree of angle for each corner. Today a metal pin or a concrete post is used for the starting point.

Later, for large tracts of land, the rectangular survey system mapped out property with a grid of boxes within boxes. This is commonly seen in areas of the midwestern United States.

The third system is used primarily for subdivisions where a development is carved up into house lots and is called the recorded map plat. It may also be referred to as the lot, block, subdivision or lot-and-block system. The shape and size of each lot is still mapped on a plat using either metes and bounds or the rectangular survey system, but the survey lists the lot and block numbers of the street and in what county and state it is located. The plat is recorded in the county in which the property lies before building can begin in a subdivision.

Additionally, the survey will show structures located on the property. It will show any easements, meaning roads, driveways or utility lines on the property that give someone other than the property owner the right to come onto the tract.

Why is it important? The mortgage company for the buyer requires an accurate survey of the property to ensure there are no disputes over ownership that could affect the deed. Property surveys are crucial for settling disputes such as when a property owner builds a structure that infringes on neighboring property lines.

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