• Bill Warrell

What Is a Land Survey? A Way to Clear Up a Lot of Confusion

What is a land survey? In the simplest terms, it's a graphic depiction of a property, much like a map, outlining its legal boundaries and other features. While land surveys typically aren't required during real estate transactions, they're extremely useful tools that can clear up a whole lot of confusion. Here's what you need to know about land surveys and how they can come in handy.

How are land surveys made?

Surveyors lay out the exact dimensions of a property by using your home's deed, which should include a description or map of your property line. Unfortunately, these descriptions can be hazy and might use outdated landmarks such as trees that have long since disappeared. For that reason, a surveyor will physically measure the land as well.

"GPS is one of the possible tools we use when completing a survey," says Robert Sandlin, a land surveyor in Missouri and Kansas with Shafer, Kline & Warren. But the individual survey will dictate the appropriate tool. An altimeter, for instance, would be used to measure a property's elevation.

Once the property's boundaries are determined, each state has a minimum standard for so-called monumentation that a surveyor is required to follow.

"In many situations, the surveyor will set rebar with a plastic identifying cap on it into the ground," says Sandlin. If property corners are on asphalt or concrete, magnetic nails or marks might be chipped into the pavement.

Reasons to get a land survey

People get surveys for a variety of reasons, including the following

  • To resolve boundary disputes: Typically on the residential level, people get land surveys when there's a disagreement over where one person's property ends and another's begins, Sandlin says. One common example is when a neighbor erects a fence that appears to be over a property line. If the neighbors can't come to an agreement on their own, they might hire a land surveyor to figure out whose land it isand where the fence can legally be built.

  • To pinpoint plot size and price: Land surveys can also accurately determine how large a plot of land is that's being bought or sold. As such, it's a great negotiation tool; if a survey finds that a plot is actually smaller than advertised, buyers can bargain accordingly.

  • To build a new home: If you're building a home, most states require a land survey. For instance, topographical surveys show the elevation points across a property to determine the best place to build a structure or establish drainage.

What to look for in a land survey

The land survey needs to include the property boundaries and the location of any improvements such as buildings, paving, or fences, says Catherine Gilliland, an engineer with Vitruvian Designs & Engineering, in Texas, who frequently uses surveys in her work.

The survey should also do the following:

  • Identify any easements, building setbacks, or other restrictions on the property, which will affect your use and future development of the site.

  • Include a written description for the property deed, because properties often lack visual boundary markers like an iron rod in the ground.

  • Determine whether or not your home is in a floodplain. If a house is in a floodplain, the surveyor will also provide an elevation certificate, which includes your home's floor elevation as well as the lowest and highest ground elevations near the house.

Your surveyor should also verify the boundary descriptions of all adjacent properties to ensure that the property lines are defined exactly the same on all documents. Occasionally with older adjacent parcels, there is a discrepancy over who owns what; in such cases you can call in a surveyor to sort things out.

How much does a land survey cost?

While the cost of a land survey varies by the size and complexity of the plot, in general the price can range from as low as $200 for a simple one-side boundary marking to well over $1,000 for a full property survey.

To find a surveyor, check out the National Society of Professional Surveyors, which lists members who must adhere to a certain level of education and ethics.

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine. Originally posted at realtor.com

Recent Posts

See All

What is a CDD?

If you’ve looked for property in Florida you’ve most likely run into the term ‘CDD’ and been confused by it. Let’s take a look at what it is. A CDD (Community Development District) is a special distri

Keller Williams on the Water /  1301 6th Avenue West, Ste 100 Bradenton , FL 34205

Keller Williams Realty, Inc. is a real estate franchise company. Each Keller Williams office is independently owned and operated. Keller Williams Realty, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity Employer and supports the Fair Housing Act.