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A land survey may be just what you need if you’re thinking about buying a new property with the intent to build on it.
Land surveys provide crucial information for home buyers, landscapers, property owners, and developers. These surveys are assessments you should consider before buying a piece of land. Surveys can help you understand exactly what you own, and where you may build, improve, or alter your lot. We’ve outlined several reasons why land surveys are crucial, how you should conduct one, and some stories that prove why land surveys can be so important.
Know Your Boundaries
A land survey assessment is officially defined by Eric King, ASLA of King Landscaping in Atlanta, as one “that shows property lines, the home itself and any hardscape areas like a driveway or sidewalk.” He adds that prospective land owners should “never buy a home without getting a survey.”
John Valachovic, Director of upstate NY-based Kaaterskill Associates, has been a surveyor for over 25 years, and has personally surveyed part of the Appalachian Trail. John assures that new owners need to know exactly how much property they are buying. “It reaffirms the owner’s claim to the amount of acreage they own and how the property is improved.”
Despite the fact that landowners often have to obtain permits to build on their property or risk fines, one’s neighbors may not bother with the lengthy process themselves. Landholders should therefore be aware of their estate’s boundaries and enforce them because otherwise they may lose a portion of their property. John tells a cautionary tale involving a boundary dispute between two landowners. While he was working on a survey, a neighbor came up and mentioned that his woodshed was likely over the property line. It later turned out that half the man’s barn had been constructed on the wrong parcel. Needless to say, the pair ended up in court over the issue.
“The entire problem could have been avoided if the neighbor had requested a survey when he bought the property or before he built a new structure.” John goes on to say, “our client never would have known how much property he was buying without a survey. There is a law of adverse possession which says if a person is using property for seven years and the owner never claims the property or requests the person stop, the property can go to the one who has been using it. Although property legally changing hands due to this law is a long and difficult process, it is possible to lose land if a person is unaware of their own property lines.”
Paul Cones, President of legal resource site CourthouseDirect.com puts it bluntly, “Obtaining a land survey when purchasing land or a home is important if you want to protect your investment.”
Improvements and Encroachment
When you’re planning to construct something on your property, Albert K. Marmero, Esq. at Long, Marmero & Associates, LLP, strongly recommends a land survey. “If the land or home buyer plans to erect any improvements (shed, fence, etc.) they will need to make sure they remain within their boundaries and they will likely need to provide a survey to the municipality when seeking a construction permit,” states Albert.
The same can be said from a “defensive” standpoint. “I have seen many cases where a neighbor’s fence, shed, etc slightly encroaches into another property. Without a survey, you will not know this and you will have no ability to seek removal of the encroachment.”
Paul Cones of CourthouseDirect.com asserts that conducting a land survey is an excellent way to protect one’s landholdings. The process helps “show where all structures are located on the property to make sure they do not encroach beyond property lines or into building lines…The surveyor will also look for any physical features that would indicate a pipeline or other potential encumbrances
How to Perform a Good Land Survey
Naturally, the easiest way to be sure any land survey is done correctly is to contact a professionally accredited surveyor. John Valachovic of Kaaterskill Associates says that prospective land owners should make certain that “the surveyor uses the filed records such as deeds and maps in conjunction with field measurements of the actual property” rather than using a municipality’s GIS mapping services or Google Earth to obtain information. Prospective landowners should also consider the reputation of those in their employ and how detailed the maps they have requested will need to be.
Eric King of King Landscaping further advises prospective landowners to “get a typical boundary survey that shows building setback lines on all four sides of the property. Also [get a] break down of all of the impervious surface elements that obstruct water from flowing directly into the ground.” This likely includes driveways, patios, air conditioning units, and the house.
“If you’re planning to do future work, ask the surveying company to show any trees and their caliber size on the plan. I typically have them show any tree six inches or greater in diameter. You also can request an optional topographical survey that shows contour lines and any elevation change across the property. You’ll only need that if you’re planning to do any changes in grading or retaining walls that you’ll need to show changes to the contour plans.”
He adds that, “surveys can cost from $350 to $1,000. [But] landscaping firms also can subcontract the work and add the cost into the total project cost, saving you time and effort.” Just like John, Eric strongly recommends looking up an established surveyor with good online customer reviews.
When purchasing a property, make sure to consider a land survey, especially before you build on the land. Feel free to reach out in the comments below.