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Land Survey Answers

What is a land survey?

There is more than one type of land survey that you may need if you are buying or selling a property.

A residential boundary survey identifies the borderlines of the property from corner to corner.

A mortgage survey is used by lenders, title companies and other parties in a transaction to determine if improvements to a property, such as driveways, sidewalks, garages, decks or swimming pools have encroached or spread across the recorded borderline to an adjoining property. Encroachment issues can delay a closing.

If you are considering buying or building on a cliff or hillside land, near a fault line or in a flood zone, you will want to be sure to ask for a Geological Report to assess potential geological hazards before you proceed. (In parts of California, the seller may be required to provide this type of report.)

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What does a surveyor do?

A surveyor is a licensed engineer who stakes the boundaries of the property and creates a scale drawing that shows the location of the residence, fence lines, and any improvements that have been made to the property (patio, garage) to be sure that they do not encroach on an adjoining property.

A surveyor will also point out any established easements, access to any public right of way and determine if there are any building setback violations.

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When is a survey necessary?

A boundary survey is not always required. Different states have different requirements, but, if you are the buyer, it is to your benefit to know exactly how much land you are paying for. Surveyors often find defects that could lead to renegotiating the price of the property you are buying.

A fence that divides a property from a neighbor may not be built along the boundary line of the adjoining properties. The property's driveway may encroach on a neighbor's land. A neighbor may have built a deck that extends over the borderline. Issues like these should be addressed before you close a transaction.

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What does a geological engineer do?

A geological engineer will review public geological surveys and map out the distance of a property to a known fault line and any other geological hazards, such as unstable ground that may be a threat to your investment.

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How much does a property survey cost?

The price of a survey is based on the service and the size of the property. If a title company sends its own surveyor to define the boundaries of the property, there will likely be a separate charge for that service.

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Who pays for a professional property surveyor?

Generally the buyer pays for the survey as part of the closing costs, unless a different arrangement has been made with the seller prior to signing the purchase agreement.

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Are property surveyors required to be licensed?

Yes. Each state has its own licensing board for land surveyors and engineers.

Visit your state's Web site for specific licensing information or to verify a license. Or, find a property surveyor near you.

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I want to build a fence. Do I need a survey?

Your local permit office may require a survey before granting a fence permit. If you don't need a permit, getting a survey is still a good idea – even if you're replacing an existing fence.

Suppose a previous owner built the fence on your neighbor's property? You wouldn't want to make the same mistake. A land surveyor can provide you with peace of mind and suggestions for fence placement.

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How long does a survey take?

The time it takes to complete a survey depends on the type of survey, the property's complexity, the weather, required research, discrepancies, and the surveyor's workload.

If you need the survey by a specific date, be sure to discuss your time frame with potential surveyors before hiring. If you are aware of boundary issues or other land problems, be sure to let the surveyor know.

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