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A Comprehensive Guide to Property Surveys

A Comprehensive Guide to Property Surveys

When it comes to land and property ownership, knowledge is your first line of defence. Understanding the specifics of your property's boundaries, easements, and topography is crucial for both legal protection and maximising its potential. Enter the property survey—a detailed and legally-binding document that holds the unseen aspects of your estate in outline and depth. 

Homeowners, real estate investors, and property developers, in particular, need to be well-versed in the intricacies of securing this foundational piece of their assets. In the following comprehensive guide, we'll explore the intricate process of obtaining a property survey, why it is essential, and how it can be the key to peaceful neighbors, successful developments, and resilient real estate investments. 

What is a Property Survey? 

A property survey, quite simply, is the documentation of a piece of land's boundaries, dimensions, and other physical features. Conducted by a licensed surveyor, the survey is legally binding and used to establish ownership, facilitate property transfers, determine encroachments, set the stage for construction projects, and much more. 

Types of Property Surveys 

Here are several types of surveys homeowners and real estate professionals commonly encounter: 

  • Boundary Survey: Defines the boundaries of a property to prevent encroachment and land disputes. 

  • Topographic Survey: Focuses on the contours of the land, identifying natural and man-made features critical for development and construction. 

  • ALT/NSPS Survey: (American Land Title Association/National Society of Professional Surveyors) An in-depth survey typically required for commercial properties that outline encroachments, easements, and improvements on or near the property. 

  • Floodplain Survey: Determines a property's location in relation to a FEMA-designated floodplain, affecting insurance and development considerations. 

The Surveyor's Role and Legal Significance 

Surveyors are more than mere recorders of land data; they are trained professionals with a legal responsibility to provide accurate representations of a property's status. Their work, often involving advanced technology such as GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), is crucial for maintaining the integrity of land ownership and use. 

A property survey is typically one of the closing requirements in real estate transactions. By signing off on the survey, buyers and sellers acknowledge the accuracy of the land's boundaries and the exclusion or inclusion of any shared spaces, encroachments, or easements. 

Why Should You Secure a Property Survey? 

A property survey might not be the most exciting aspect of property management or purchasing, but its value is immeasurable. 

Avoiding Land Disputes and Neighbourly Nuisances 

Imagine the frustration of having a decades-old tree or a section of your garden encroaching on a neighbor's land, or vice versa. These scenarios quickly escalate into legal and personal nightmares, easily avoidable with a recent property survey that clearly marks shared boundaries and includes documentation of visible encroachments. 

Essential for Property Purchase and Development 

Any significant property transaction, whether buying or selling, requires an up-to-date survey. This step ensures that the property transferred is precisely as described and not subject to unrecorded rights or discrepancies that might affect future use or development. 

Insurance and Financial Implications 

A property survey can influence the conditions of your mortgage or other financial products related to the property. It's often a requirement for title insurance, and in some cases, can affect the rates of various policies, particularly those tied to liabilities and natural disasters. 

How Do You Obtain a Property Survey? 

Securing a property survey is a multi-step process that requires communication with a trusted surveyor and a commitment to timeline and cost. 

Steps to Commissioning a Survey 

The path to obtaining a survey begins with finding a qualified surveyor. Recommendations and online reviews can be a helpful starting point. 

  • Step 1: Choose a Surveyor—Look for a licensed professional with experience in the specific type of survey you require. 

  • Step 2: Request a Survey—Provide the surveyor with as much information about the property and its intended use as possible. 

  • Step 3: Commission the Work—After receiving a cost estimate, agree on the terms and timeline for completing the survey. 

Factors Influencing Survey Cost and Timeline 

The size of the property, the complexity of the survey, the availability of historical documentation, and environmental considerations all impact the cost and duration of the surveying process. A standard city lot might be surveyed within a couple of weeks, while a remote, large estate with difficult terrain could take several months. 


Understanding the Survey Document 

Once the survey is completed, you'll receive a document with specific components and language that may be foreign to the layperson. 

Key Components of a Property Survey 

  • Legal Description: This is the narrative description of the property, often used in legal documents. 

  • Plat or Map: A visual representation of the property, showing the dimensions, boundaries, and any features of the land that impact its use or value. 

  • Surveyor's Certificate: The surveyor's professional assurance that the information in the survey is accurate to the best of their knowledge and abilities. 

Common Survey Terms and Their Implications 

Familiarise yourself with these terms: 

  • Encroachment: A permanent or temporary intrusion of a structure or element into another's property. 

  • Easement: A right to use a portion of another person's property for a specific purpose. 

  • Setback: The distance which a building or other structure must be set back from a street or property line. 

  • Monument: A physical marker placed by the surveyor to indicate a property corner or boundary line. 

Conclusion: The Stakes Are High, but the Path is Clear 

The security of a proper property survey is not a luxury; it's a necessity for any land or property owner. It's a process that starts with understanding the importance of this legal documentation and continues with decisive action to secure it. 

By investing the time and resources into obtaining a survey, you are laying the groundwork for peace of mind, operational efficiency, and the longevity of your property's value. Whether you're overseeing the creation of a new neighborhood, purchasing your first home, or expanding an existing business, the role of the property survey in your success cannot be overstated. 

Now, more than ever is the time to take a step toward understanding and securing your property's survey needs. Whether it's reaching out to a surveyor for the first time or reviewing your current survey for updates, this proactive measure could stand between you and a myriad of legal and operational headaches. Your land deserves the integrity that only comes with a comprehensive property survey. 



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