How to Get a Property Survey

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.

What Remedies Do I Have if My Neighbor Starts to Use My Property?

If you think that your neighbor is starting to use your land, even if it’s just a minor thing like building a fence in the wrong location or installing a drainage pipe that crosses the property line, you need to act immediately.

Property boundaries are very important when it comes to the use of land, and even a small encroachment by your neighbor onto your land may result in consequences that you cannot foresee.

For instance, if your neighbor builds a fence or a new driveway that comes onto your property by a few inches, this may be enough for a title company to refuse to issue insurance when it comes time to sell your house.

Also, many states have laws that allow a person who uses another’s land for a long enough time to gain a legal right to use the land. In some cases, they gain ownership of that land through adverse possession.

As with most situations, the best option is to start talking with your neighbor as soon as you notice the encroachment. The neighbor may have made a simple mistake and will correct the error.

If your neighbor does not want to cooperate, your best option is to point out the deed showing the property boundaries, or to hire a surveyor to come out and place new property line markers. If the neighbor does not stop building on your land, hire a lawyer and bring a trespass lawsuit. A judge can issue an order to force your neighbor to stop building on your land.

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Visit the Local Zoning Department

The zoning department is the municipal office that records plats: the maps, drawn to scale, that show land division. Unless your home was built more than a hundred years ago, you can probably obtain a copy of your block and lot plat for a minimal fee. This will give you the exact dimensions of your lot—in other words, the property you legally own—in relation to other lot lines on your block.

RELATED: Setback Requirements: 7 Things All Homeowners Should Know

Boundary Line Agreements

Boundary line agreements are written legal contracts between neighbors made to settle disputes over property boundaries. They vary slightly by state, but the point is to have a way where property owners can agree on property line usage outside of going to court.

Boundary line agreements are not the same as boundary line adjustments. Boundary line adjustments are made when property owners want to exchange land, redefining the property line between them, typically done without involving money. Boundary line agreements are specifically used when there is a dispute over land and its use.

How Boundary Line Agreements Protect From Encroachments

One of the most common reasons for a boundary line agreement is when a neighbor has encroached on your property by building a structure on it. Often, this issue is only made known because you did a land survey for another project and discovered your neighbor built on your land.

In order to retain the title to that piece of property, you can create a boundary line agreement with your neighbor. In this agreement, your neighbor acknowledges their mistake in encroaching on your property and you allow the structure to remain standing. This allows you to retain legal ownership, your neighbor to use what they built and for you both to stay out of court. You retain the right to the property and if the structure is torn down or destroyed, the neighbor must rebuild it on their property.

If you wish to cede the property to your neighbor, you can file a boundary line adjustment, though you’ll need to pay review fees, and the process takes longer than an agreement. Regardless of your decision, you need to do something if you ever intend to sell or transfer the property. A neighbor’s structure on your property may make things more complicated the longer it goes unaddressed.

How much does a property survey cost?

The cost depends on what type of survey you need and the property’s size, location and history. A simple property boundary survey can cost anywhere from $100 to $600, while a mortgage survey costs an average of $500, according to data from HomeAdvisor. The more complex a property’s features and records history, the more you’ll likely pay for a surveyor’s time.

If you’re buying a home and need a survey to establish property lines or determine whether a property is in a floodplain, or if you’re required to provide the document to your lender, you will need to pay for the survey.

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.

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.

Why Do You Need a Property Survey?

Believe it or not, homes have actually been built so they overlap property lines.

One builder didn’t use the correct property lines. The house was built on community property in the neighborhood. In order to sell the house, the homeowner had to buy the community property from the neighborhood association.

How could this happen? It is more common than you might imagine. If builders don’t use surveyors and “guess” at the property lines, big mistakes can happen.

If you are investing in real estate, you need a property survey to make sure you are getting what you think you are getting. Land value gets established based on the chunk of property. You want to be certain to get what you pay for.

If you are buying property hoping to build, or add onto a house, you need to know the location of the property lines for building purposes.

Where do I find my propertys survey?

If you’re buying a home, ask the seller to check with their lender and/or title company to see if there’s a property survey on file. The local tax assessor’s office may also have one.

If you’re already a homeowner and a survey was never provided to you, your local property records or engineering department may have one on file. But even if they do, it could be outdated. While such dated surveys are typically accurate on standard city lots, they can be wrong if you live on a former country parcel that’s been altered for suburban development. You might also try checking with neighbors to see where they got theirs.

The Property Survey

The property survey is an official document that defines the piece of property. If the land got divided long ago, sometimes it is necessary to trace back through multiple surveys to get to the original lines of the property.

The property survey not only matters for the selling of the property, but it also matters for development too. Municipalities will often have restrictions about how close you can build to a lot line.

There might be restrictions for where you can place a fence or how far a barn or shed must be away from the property line. Adding to a home or building a second structure on your property will require permits.

The permit is issued once the property survey shows the new building will, in fact, fall inside the property lines and follow local laws for building.

Locate Hidden Property Pins

Survey pins are thin iron bars, 2 or 3 feet long and sometimes capped with plastic, which the original survey crew inserted on the property lines. If you have access to a metal detector, move the device over the ground along the sidewalk to the curb to locate the survey pin. Pins may be buried just under the surface, or up to a foot below. A few days before you dig, however, you must call 811, the free, federally designated number that will route you to your local utility company. Ask the utility company to come out and mark any buried lines so you don’t unintentionally hit one. There’s no charge for this service, but if you damage a buried utility line, you could end up having to pay to repair it.

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How To Find Your Property Stake:

It is much more common for the stakes to be several inches underground. Not so deep that they match up with the frost line, but deep enough that some digging is necessary. In that case, your best bet is to buy or rent a metal detector (inexpensive ones cost less than $50). When you’ve found your target, dig down to make sure that it’s really a stake and not just a lost quarter.

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After you have found the iron property stake, replace the dirt and hammer in a small piece of wood as a visible marker.

Note: If locating your property lines precisely—in a legal dispute, for example—we strongly recommend that you hire a professional surveyor.

Why Are Property Lines Important?

Property lines are important because they eliminate gray areas when it comes to property ownership. Because of property lines, you know exactly what land you’re getting when you begin the process of buying a house. Your mortgage lender and/or title insurance company will need to verify the property lines to help you qualify for a mortgage.

Knowing your property lines is also helpful when starting a home improvement or major landscaping project. You’ll want to have an understanding of where your yard ends and a neighbor’s begins. That way, you won’t end up accidentally building a new addition on your home or putting up a fence around your yard that encroaches on your neighbor’s property.

Finally, being aware of your property lines shows that you’re respectful of the neighboring premises. Knowing the boundaries of your property can help you avoid disagreements with your surrounding neighbors, especially ones that could lead to legal disputes.

Where Can I Find Information That Will Tell Me My Exact Property Boundaries?

You may be able to find the property markers or boundary monuments yourself. They will be located at the corners of your property. Often these are metal pins or stakes buried 6"-10" below the surface at each corner. The markers should be shown on the land survey. You can use a shovel and a metal detector to find them. You can also reference the description in your deed and walk the boundaries of your property

You may find information about how to find markers on properties like yours by visiting the section of your city’s website that deals with construction and permits.

If you are experienced enough to read and understand a land survey, you can request a copy of the land survey or subdivision plot from your county clerk’s office. These documents are required to have detailed information regarding where your property boundaries are, but they are complex and are written for professional surveyors.

If you want to know exactly where your property boundaries are, hire a licensed land surveyor. he or she will come out to your land and place markers on the boundary lines of your property. You can find licensed land surveyors in your area by searching the internet or visiting your town hall and asking city staff who does surveys in your area. (In rural communities there may be only one surveyor who handles a large area.)

In most situations, the cost of a land survey is dictated by the size of the land that is to be surveyed, whether there is an accurate subdivision map already existing, geographic location, and the last time the land was surveyed.

The cost of a survey typically starts at $500 and goes upwards into the thousands of dollars. If your land has not been surveyed for a long time, or if there are multiple existing survey maps that conflict with each other, you can expect to pay more.

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