How to Find an Existing Survey of Property

What is a property survey?

A property survey is all about defining what’s yours and what isn’t. “Property surveys are performed for a number of reasons,” says Curtis Sumner, executive director emeritus of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Typically, he says, they are used to establish boundaries when new parcels of land are being developed.

Surveys can also identify and confirm already established land boundaries. For example, if you’re considering putting up a fence, you’ll need to know exactly where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins. That’s what a property survey helps you determine.

Depending on where you live, buying a home might require a survey to be performed. Many lenders and title companies require a copy of a survey to close on a home, but they’re not mandatory everywhere. You might also be able to use a prior survey instead of obtaining a brand-new one, provided the existing survey isn’t glaringly outdated.

Why are they important?

Surveys detail how your property is defined in an official, legal capacity. Rather than guessing where your property lines are, you have a document that makes it clear.

Property surveys are also critical for other reasons. According to Emory Wooll, president of Fort Lauderdale, Florida–based Elite Choice Title and Escrow Corp., they 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, if someone is putting a pool in or a fence.”

Wooll adds that municipalities or contractors will require a property survey before permits can be pulled for major renovation projects such as additions. You could be able to use an older survey for this if you have one on hand, but that’s not always a guarantee — so, depending on where you live and the scope of your project, you might want to proactively commission a fresh one.

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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.

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4 types of plat maps you should know

You may encounter different types of plats depending on the characteristics of the property as well as your specific intentions as a buyer. These are the four main varieties you should familiarize yourself with:

  1. Plat of subdivision: Used when property is divided into smaller tracts of land
  2. Plat of consolidation: Used when adjacent properties are consolidated into a single, larger plot of land
  3. Correction plat (also known as an amendment plat): Used to fix minor errors in existing plat maps
  4. Vacating plat: Used to remove an existing map from record, often due to lack of development

Knowing each of these will help give you a sense of what’s contained within a plat map before you even take a look at it. That way, you’re less likely to get confused about the information presented in a plat — and believe us, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when reviewing these documents.

How Much Does A Property Survey Cost?

On average, new homeowners can expect to pay $400 – $700 for a professional property survey. However, the cost of a property survey depends on several factors, such as property size, terrain and location. For example, if you want to survey a wooded area, you’ll end up paying more than if you were to survey a flat, relatively empty piece of land.

Professional surveyors also charge for the time it costs them to do research on your property. A well-documented plot of land will take less time to research and cost less money to survey. It also pays to go local, since travel time is also included in the final price.

Basically, the easier the land is to survey, the less you’re going to pay.

Do I Really Need a Land Surveyor to Find Out My Property Boundaries?

If you have exhausted every option to find your property boundaries, it’s time to hire a land surveyor. While you can technically survey the land yourself, nothing is official unless a licensed and certified surveyor evaluates and measures the property. Therefore, it’s best to leave your site layout survey to the professionals.

Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info

In older neighborhoods, property owners may have purchased or sold off portions of their yards. Locating a survey pin won’t give you this information, but the most recent legal description recorded on your deed will list any such changes. If you don’t have a copy of your deed filed with your homeowner records, get one at the register of deeds office, often located within your county courthouse.

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.

When Would I Need to Know My Property Boundaries?

Homeowners don’t always think about the importance of knowing their property lines. But there are multiple scenarios where you should know your property boundaries.

When Transferring Property Ownership

You will need to know your property’s dimensions when applying for a mortgage or transferring title ownership. To complete this, you may need to hire a professional to conduct an ALTA survey. These are specific types of land surveys that meet requirements from the American Land Title Association (ALTA).

When a Property Line Dispute Occurs 

Property line dispute lawsuits frequently happen throughout New York. These can be a chore to deal with, especially if you have an extremely aggressive neighbor. The best way to settle a property line dispute is to know precisely where your property boundaries begin and end. 

With firmly defined boundaries, these disputes can get resolved quickly. And by staking property lines, you can prevent new conflicts from arising in the future.

When You Want to Buy or Sell Your Property 

If you have a home or land, you want to sell or purchase, it’s best to define the property boundaries. Knowing the boundaries of the land you’re buying will help you know exactly what you’re purchasing and where its location is. In addition, providing potential buyers with a map of the property boundaries can help entice them to make a sound purchase. 

When Doing Any Construction Work 

If you’re trying to renovate your property with additions or construct new buildings, you’ll need to know where your property boundaries are. This is so you can avoid any encroachment issues. The last thing you want is to invest time and money into building a new addition to your home only to realize that it will encroach on someone else’s property line. 

Can I Find My Property Line Online?

Yes, you can usually find your property lines online. Your county may have online maps for all of the real estate in your area, accessible through the official county or assessor’s website. Property lines can also be found through any online search engine on Geographical Information System (GIS) maps. Another way to view property lines online is on interactive online maps.

Check Sidewalks and Street Lights

Examine the lines that are cut in the sidewalk in front of your house. Often, the contractor who poured the sidewalk started and stopped on the property lines, so those cut lines may coincide with the edges of your property. As well, the appearance of the concrete on your side of the property may be slightly different from that on your neighbor’s side. Streetlights, too, are often placed on property lines. While these visual clues are good indications of property lines, if you intend to build or install something on your land, you’ll need additional verification.

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When There Is No Property Survey

When there is no property survey, a county recorder may have a plat map. A plat map shows a tract of land subdivided into plots. A developer usually creates a plat map before building a subdivision or a neighborhood. A plat map can be used to determine property lines.

Read More:How to Read Land Survey Plats

How To Find Property Lines

While locating property lines might seem like an overwhelming task, there are a few easy ways a property owner can find or evaluate theirs. Consider the following:

Read The Property Line Map, Or ‘Plat’

A property line basemap, or a “plat,” is a drawing that maps out your property’s boundary lines and includes details like elevations, bodies of water and structures. You might even be able to find property maps of neighboring properties if you have shared property lines. A plat is typically included with your property’s paperwork, available at your local assessor’s office or accessible online.

Check The Deed To The Property

One way to check your property lines is to look at the property’s deed. The deed should have a legal description of your land’s boundaries. If for some reason the current deed does not describe the property lines, it will refer you to an older one that does. But know that if you use an older deed, it may include landmarks or other features that no longer exist.

Acquire A Property Line Survey

A property line survey is a precise measurement of a land’s legal boundaries. If a property line survey is not already included with the plat and the property deed, you can hire a professional surveyor to measure where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins.

Land surveyors will also research the property’s history regarding things like subdivisions, easements, and ecological restrictions. A mortgage lender will usually require a new survey be done for the property upon purchase.

Look For Property Line Markers

Some newer properties might include property line markers, such as stakes, from when the properties were first divided. If you have a slightly older property, you can likely still find these markers if you walk your property lines and look closely for stakes that are either sticking up or are flush with the ground.

How to find property line maps of your property

Plat maps are matters of public record, so you should be able to readily view any documents that are relevant to your property. Actually tracking them down may be easier said than done if you don’t know where to look, though. Google Maps can’t help you here. You might get a rough idea of the property from looking at Google Maps, but you won’t be able to see more detailed information like where precisely your property lines sit. Here are the best places to start your search for your local plat map:

  • County clerk
  • County assessor
  • Office of the recorder of deeds

Although you’ll have to schlep all the way to your county courthouse to get your hands on the physical plat map, you might be able to find a copy online. Some county and city governments have geographic information system (GIS) software on their websites, which you can use to view property line maps. So, it’s worth checking those out first before making the trip to the county clerk’s office. Often, it’s as simple as typing in your address into a search bar.

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Contact the title company that handled the title transfer when the sale of the property closed. To issue a title insurance policy on a property, a title company often keeps a copy of a property survey to help show that the title is clear. Title companies can also make an exception if no survey is done, and therefore don’t provide survey coverage in the policy. Depending on the details of the sale, you may be able to get a copy of the property survey from the title company.

How do I hire a property surveyor?

Searching online 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, try the surveyors who assessed the properties next door. Don’t be afraid to ask your title company or lender for recommendations, too.

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

How long will the process take?

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

They can usually be done within a week, says Wooll. But it could take up to three or more, depending on the company and their current backlog. As is true of so many tradespeople at the moment, demand is high, so wait times can be longer than what they were before the pandemic.

Records

Maps from the Secretary’s Office, from the late 1700s to mid-1800s Minutes of the Commissioners of the Land Office and Land Board Lands Under Water Application Survey Maps, from 1786 to present Lands Under Water Index Maps, from 1900 to present State-owned waterbodies & related research Card Index of Land Sales, from the 1650s to present Transfer of Jurisdiction Maps 1829 Surveyor General’s Atlas of Patents Letters Patent Miscellaneous Deeds and Title Papers Military Patents

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