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Do I need to get a survey? This question is one we receive most often from buyers of residential property and, like most things, requires analysis of a few issues to assist the client in making the decision.

The first question is whether someone other than the buyer will require a survey to close the transaction; this would most typically be the lender. Since most residential lenders don’t currently need a survey, this is rarely an issue but does come up occasionally. If a third party does not require a survey, it becomes a decision that needs to be made by the purchaser of the property.

Some considerations would be:

  1. If a structure improves the property.
  2. Are there fences, driveways, or other improvements that may encroach onto the subject or adjacent properties?
  3. Do any building restriction lines or easements exist on the plat or otherwise?

While these considerations are not an exhaustive list, they do illustrate items that may need review. In most situations, the benefit of obtaining a survey drastically outweighs the problems that may go undiscovered by not getting one. It is truly an important form of due diligence, no different than a home, well, or septic inspection.

A home purchaser has three basic options for a survey. The most used in a residential closing is a Location Drawing, as it is the least expensive option. With this option, the surveyor locates the improvements concerning the property boundaries using the legal description or recorded subdivision plat rather than actual markers in the field. However, with the low cost, there is a lower level of reliability. They can be helpful when there are not as many improvements and boundary lines are not as crucial to the character of the property.

The middle tier option would be a Boundary Survey. With this option, the surveyor would include marked property corners and identify the boundaries where they are in the field instead of only using the platted boundaries. Many people refer to this as a “stake survey” as they frequently include the placement of stakes to show a visual property line. Boundary Surveys have a much smaller margin of error; it is a more detailed survey, but it does require more time to complete the survey work. This option is often utilized in densely populated areas such as urban environments where properties and improvements are closely situated or with respect to waterfront properties.

The most detailed and thus expensive of the options is the ALTA Survey. This survey is a complete version of a Boundary Survey adhering to the American Land Title Association’s nationally accepted standards. It shows the actual location of the boundaries, all improvements, easements, and rights-of-way, among other information about the property. ALTA Surveys are generally only used in commercial transactions, with limited exceptions; they are usually cost-prohibitive for most residential transactions. However, if there are additional plans to develop the land, ALTA’s are critically important.

If you have any questions about whether a survey would benefit you, which one you should elect to have done, or about one you already have, the attorneys at Liff, Walsh & Simmons and Eagle Title are here to help. Please give us a call at 410-266-3600.

This article originally ran in the August 2022 Chesapeake Real Producers

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Paul Skrickus is the Director of Commercial Operations at Eagle Title.As the head of the commercial title team, he and his team oversee and manage all transactions involving commercial property insured by the firm. Paul has over seven years of commercial title processing and underwriting experience and has been an integral part of the division’s growth over the last decade into one of the best commercial title agencies in Maryland.Before serving as the Director of the Commercial division, Paul served as the Underwriting and Post-Closing Manager for the residential division, and before that, title review counsel for both the residential and commercial divisions. He was also an attorney with Eagle Title’s affiliated law firm Liff, Walsh and Simmons for over six years, focusing his practice on real estate and financing matters. His peers have recognized Paul as a Super Lawyer “Rising Star.”To contact Paul for more information, email or call (443) 569-7386.