Do I need to get a survey? This is one of the questions we receive most often from buyers of residential property and like most things, requires analysis of a few issues in order to assist the client in making the decision. The first question is whether someone other than the buyer will require a survey in order to close the transaction. This would most typically be the lender. Since most residential lenders don’t currently require a survey, this is rarely an issue but does come up from time to time. If a survey is not required by a third party, it becomes a decision that needs to be made by the purchaser of the property. Some considerations would be: (i) if the property is improved by a structure (ii) are there fences, driveways or other improvements that may encroach onto the subject or adjacent properties or (iii) do any building restriction lines or easements exist on the plat or otherwise? This is not an exhaustive list but rather an illustration of some of the items that may need to be taken into consideration. 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.
There are three basic types of surveys for a home purchaser to choose from. The most commonly used in a residential closing is a Location Drawing as it is the least expensive option. With this option, the surveyor locates the improvements in relation to the property boundaries, which are located 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 important 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 actually 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. There is also a much smaller margin of error when a Boundary Survey is done. As it is a more detailed survey, it does frequently 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. It is essentially a more comprehensive version of a Boundary Survey that adheres to the American Land Title Association’s nationally accepted set of 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 generally cost-prohibitive for the majority of residential transactions. ALTA’s are most important if there is additional land development work that will be done on the property.
If you have any questions about whether a survey would be beneficial to 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.
Paul Skrickus serves as Counsel to Eagle Title where he handles both residential and commercial real estate transactions. He also is an Attorney with Liff, Walsh & Simmons, Eagle Title’s affiliated law firm. Paul is recognized as a 2019 Super Lawyers Rising Star.