Content of the material
- Understanding What Land Surveys Are
- Preparing for the Search
- Getting property lines surveyed during a dispute: the process
- Understanding Boundary Surveys
- How Long Boundary Surveys Take
- What Is Involved in a Boundary Survey
- Boundary Surveys Are Flexible in Usage
- How to Find Property Lines for Free
- Homeowner’s Deed
- A Tape Measure
- Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company
- Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality
- Buried Pins
- Use an App
- Bring in a Professional Surveyor
- Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info
- When is it necessary to get a land surveyor?
- The Bottom Line
- Additional Survey Services
Understanding What Land Surveys Are
Land survey is a broad term that encompasses various types of surveys, including:
- Boundary surveys
- ALTA/NSPS land title surveys
- Subdivision surveys
- Topographic surveys
As you can see, a boundary survey is a type of land survey. The similarity that exists between a land survey and a boundary survey is that they’re essentially cut from the same cloth. However, despite that, all the land surveys are different because they do and measure different things.
Preparing for the Search
There are even better information sources than your deed. The best (and sometimes most elusive) document you can lay your hands on is the surveyor’s map, or plat. The plat translates that legal confusion of numbers and terms on the deed into pictures. It may also show references to natural landmarks, or triangulation data which may locate a particular point.
Plat-chasing is a major pastime among surveyors. Your plat, if one exists, may accompany your deed. Or it may languish in city or county records (clerks’ or surveyors’ offices would be the best places to search) or reside with a previous owner. Plats of neighboring land are helpful, too. They may show the location of a common boundary.
If you live in a subdivision or built-up area, you may be wondering why your deed’s legal description reads only “Lot 22, Rock Creek Estates” or “Tract A, First Addition.” But these, too, are metes and bounds surveys. The surveyors created several lots at once, so they drew one map of the whole thing. Deed descriptions merely refer to the master plat, which you will find in the public records.
You should also keep an eye peeled for early versions of your property description, surveyor’s notes, and descriptions of roads that border your land. Why? First, to ensure that your deed doesn’t contain mistakes; second, to find out all you can about boundary markers — the key to property lines.
You are now nearly ready to step into the surveyor’s shoes. First, though, you’ll have to gather your equipment. You’ll need a compass, long measuring tape, plumb bob, level, hatchet, some ribbon, and stakes. You’ll also need a willing assistant. Now check your instruments. Do they read in the same numbers as the survey? If not, you will have to translate.
Most people will have on hand the type of compass that uses the directional measurement known as azimuth. Being ornery as a rule, surveyors use another system, called bearings. To learn how to translate one to the other, see the end of the article section “Converting Azimuths to Bearings.”
On to distances. We measure lengths in feet and inches, don’t we? Well, the surveyor uses either feet and tenths of a foot (be very alert for this!) or a venerable system called chains. Don’t panic at this. A chain measures 66 feet. Why 66 feet? Because it’s convenient for land computations. Ten square chains equal one acre — which means to compute acreage rapidly, all you have to do is find the number of square chains, then move the decimal point once to the left. Also, one mile stretches exactly 80 chains.
A hundredth of a chain — about eight inches — is called a link. Old-timers also used a quarter-chain measure (16-1/2 feet), calling it a rod, pole, or perch.
I find that if I’m faced with a description written in bearings and chains when my equipment reads in azimuths and feet, my brain reels at the prospect of translating and tramping about at the same time. It’s far better to translate all the degrees and distances on paper before you set out.
Getting property lines surveyed during a dispute: the process
If you find yourself involved in a property boundary line dispute, you will need to have the boundaries of your property surveyed. Once you have discussed the situation with your neighbour and have both provided whatever documentation you are already in possession of and where possible, you have established that you are both comfortable with this course of action. You can then go ahead and source an accredited chartered land surveyor. This is an informal way to settle your dispute, and in many cases, this will resolve the issue without recourse to legal action.
However, with a dispute of this nature, things can quickly become less amicable. If you are in a property dispute with your neighbours, it would be wise to familiarise yourself with the Boundary Disputes Protocol (BDP). This will help you to get to know the process of boundary disputes before any legal action is taken. Once you are familiar with this, you will want to have your property lines surveyed. In many situations, this will defuse the tension and prove who owns which piece of land. However, if this does not settle the situation, you will need to consider legal action – but first, you think about the mediation route. A mediator is impartial and can act between the two parties to find a solution when communication has broken down.
Understanding Boundary Surveys
Despite being the most basic type of survey, boundary surveys can be complicated to understand to the average person. To know the differences that exist between boundary surveys and other land surveys, you’ll need to know how they work.
How Long Boundary Surveys Take
Compared to more extensive surveys, like , boundary surveys don’t take too long. However, don’t expect quick turnaround times regardless. While faster than more extensive surveys, you’re still looking at a week or more for completion. Again, this is mainly due to how boundary surveys get done.
What Is Involved in a Boundary Survey
Unlike topographic surveys, which mainly consist of fieldwork, boundary surveys also require research with local records. Surveyors will take measurements on the field and cross-reference them with historical records to ensure accuracy. Afterward, a final report gets drafted and sent to you.
As you can imagine, depending on the size of your property, it can take some time for all of the work to get completed. So even though the amount of work can be “less,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier.
Boundary Surveys Are Flexible in Usage
Land surveys aren’t optional in most states, including New York. If you begin a new project, sell your property, or purchase a new property, it’s mandatory to get a land survey done so you can obtain the proper permits and approval from the local government.
While boundary surveys are required in many cases, there are some instances where they’re not. In fact, even if you don’t need a boundary survey done, many people still get one just for peace of mind. In addition, getting a boundary survey done can potentially prevent any major legal issues from forming before they even begin.
How to Find Property Lines for Free
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.
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.
Bring in a Professional Surveyor
Before you drive yourself too crazy with the metes and bounds survey, know that the only legally binding method to determine exact property lines—essential, for example, if you intend to build an addition to your house—is to have a professional survey. Local building codes will determine how close to your property line you can legally build. A professional survey could cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the size of your property and the complexity of the survey. Costly, perhaps, but adding to your dream house while keeping in your neighbors’ good graces is priceless.
RELATED: How Much Does a Land Survey Cost?
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.
When is it necessary to get a land surveyor?
People may need the help of a land surveyor when buying property or land, in order to know precisely what you own. This means there will be no surprises later down the line. A land survey describes the exact boundary line and what the area includes. You will often be required by a bank or trust to provide a survey before you are granted a mortgage to be sure that everything is as you have stated.
You will also need a land survey in order to determine your legal permits and rights. Land surveying is most commonly requested during a property dispute. Land surveys indicate the boundaries of surrounding properties and determine where trees and fences lie.
Land surveys are frequently used in property disputes to prove where the boundary of your property is and which side of a fence belongs to which property. A land survey is often required when people can’t find a land registry title plan for their property. Getting a land survey is particularly useful to clarify who is responsible for paying for the replacement of a fence. You might also find yourself involved in a property boundary dispute if one party wishes to erect a fence that is taller than the other party would prefer.
Land surveys are also invaluable if tree roots are causing damage to your property or blocking your light, by establishing whether you are entitled to fell the tree, or whether you are in charge of its maintenance. A survey can help you answer these tricky questions and can be instrumental in settling any neighbour disagreements peacefully.
Another situation in which you will need a survey done is if you are making alterations to your home or surrounding area. If an extension is being built, a survey is needed to ensure you are building on your own land, and not encroaching on anyone else’s property.
The Bottom Line
As a homeowner, it’s crucial that you’re aware of property lines so that you can respect your neighbor’s property and avoid any legal disputes. If you’re struggling to find your home’s property lines, utilize one of the strategies mentioned above, or go online to check. Remember that before you start an outdoor project such as building a fence on the property line, make sure to consult with your neighbor and a real estate agent about your property’s rules and regulations.
Are you trying to put in a new fence but aren’t sure how to pay for it? Why not apply for a cash out refinance today?
Additional Survey Services
In addition to Boundary Surveys, Partner coordinates a range of early-stage surveys that guarantee a strong foundation for your project, including:
- Accessibility and ADA Surveys
- Topographic Surveys
- Expert Testimony