Land Surveys to Document Your Property’s Characteristics

Jun 01, 2018 - By Hayden Outdoors

When to Consider a Land Survey?

A land purchase often requires a survey of the parcel being bought, assuming a current survey doesn’t already exist. A survey which is essentially a map of the property, illustrating boundaries and other features – can help a lender document the nature of the property on which its providing funding, and can provide a title company assurance as to what it’s protecting. For a buyer, of course, a survey can offer peace of mind, confirmation as to what exactly is being bought.


Who is Responsible for Hiring a Surveyor?

The responsibility for hiring a surveyor can fall on either the buyer or seller, depending on the language in the purchase contract. Regardless of who must hire the surveyor, arrangements should be made soon after the purchase contract is in place, as surveyors are often booked weeks in advance; in busy markets, procrastinating on hiring a surveyor can be problematic, potentially requiring amendments to the contract calendar.


What Does a Land Survey Report Look Like?

Using existing documents, as well as data and measurements collected on site, a surveyor will produce a document – the survey – that accurately depicts the property’s size and shape, with corners and boundary lines marked, as well as the precise locations of other features, such as roads and buildings.

It’s important to note that mapping programs, including online platforms offered by many county assessors’ offices, provide parcel maps, but these aren’t surveys, might not be as accurate, and won’t meet lenders’ or title companies’ survey requirements. Assessors’ offices might have on file surveys produced when large tracts of ground were subdivided; it’s worth a buyer’s time to acquire and study these surveys, but they’ll often be too out of date to meet the survey requirements for a purchase, even if the property’s characteristics haven’t changed.


What Happens Once the Survey Report is Generated?

In lieu of a survey, an improvement location certificate, or ILC, might suffice, depending on the terms of a purchase contract and the needs of the title company and lender. Like a survey, an ILC is prepared by a surveyor, but shows only the position of improvements – buildings, roads – in relation to property boundaries, and generally serves to provide assurance that such features aren’t encroaching on neighboring properties. As it’s simpler than a survey, an ILC is also generally much less expensive; while a survey on 35 acres might cost $1,500, an ILC might run only $500. (Actual pricing on surveys and ILCs will, of course, vary by market and will be affected by the complexity of a given property.)

Even after meeting the needs of a lender or title company, a survey has obvious ongoing value, serving as a valuable reference when it comes to selecting future building sites, documenting little-used easements that might otherwise fade from memory, and equipping a property owner to handle any potential disagreements as to property lines. And, should an owner opt to put the property back on the market, that existing survey might meet lender and title company requirements for that next purchase. A surveyor can often update and re-certify an existing survey, provided the survey doesn’t become outdated.