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The Importance of Property Surveys: What to Expect

Updated: Jul 2

Thinking of buying a new property? A property survey is crucial for any real estate transaction. This important step helps you understand the boundaries and potential issues of the property you're interested in. Skipping this process can lead to costly surprises down the line.



When property surveys are conducted, professionals examine various aspects of the land and structures, ensuring there are no hidden problems. This includes checking for boundary disputes, easements, and encroachments that may affect the property's value and your future plans. By knowing what to expect, you can make more informed decisions and avoid unnecessary headaches.


Survey results also bring to light any common issues you might face, like zoning restrictions or structural problems. With this information in hand, you can negotiate better deals or steer clear of potential pitfalls. Armed with knowledge from a thorough survey, you're better prepared to handle any challenges that arise.


Key Takeaways


  • A property survey is essential to avoid future problems.

  • Surveys reveal boundaries, disputes, and structural issues.

  • Use survey results to make informed decisions about the property.


Understanding Property Surveys



Property surveys provide detailed information on land boundaries, structures, and legal concerns. They are crucial for property transactions and resolving disputes. Here's an insight into the different types of property surveys, their benefits, and the legal standards that govern them.


Types of Property Surveys


Several types of property surveys cater to different needs.


  1. Boundary Surveys: These establish the exact boundaries of a property to avoid disputes.

  2. Topographic Surveys: These depict the physical features of the land, such as elevation and structures.

  3. Construction Surveys: Used during construction projects to guide building placements.

  4. Subdivision Surveys: Necessary when dividing a large parcel of land into smaller lots.

  5. ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys: Provide detailed information on property boundaries, title, and improvements for commercial properties.


Benefits of Conducting a Survey


Conducting a property survey offers multiple benefits, assuring clarity and legal security.


  • Accurate Boundaries: Knowing exact property lines prevents boundary disputes with neighbours.

  • Property Improvements: Surveys guide you in making informed decisions on where to build fences, pools, or other structures.

  • Legal Protection: In case of boundary disputes, a survey acts as legal proof of property lines.

  • Transaction Aid: They are essential during property sales or purchases to verify the property size and features.

  • Easements and Rights-of-Way: Identify and document any easements, right-of-way, or other encroachments affecting the property.


Legal Framework and Standards


Surveys must adhere to specific legal frameworks and standards to ensure their validity and reliability.


  • Public Land Survey System (PLSS): Used in the United States to divide and identify land.

  • State and Local Regulations: Vary by location and govern how surveys must be conducted.

  • Professional Qualifications: Surveyors must be licensed and compliant with local laws and codes.

  • Standards of Practice: Include guidelines like the Land Ordinance of 1785 and ALTA/NSPS standards for commercial surveys.

  • Documentation: Proper documentation is required to ensure that the survey results are legally binding and recognised by authorities.


The Survey Process



This process involves various steps, from an initial meeting with a surveyor, through collecting field data, to analysing and reporting findings. Each step is vital to ensure accurate and reliable property surveys.


Initial Consultation


The first step is the initial consultation. Here, you will meet with a professional surveyor to discuss your needs and requirements. It's important to provide detailed information about your property and any concerns you may have.


The surveyor will explain the types of surveys available, such as boundary surveys, topographic surveys, or construction staking. They will help you choose the one that best fits your needs. This phase is crucial because it sets the scope and expectations for the entire process.


Make sure to ask about the surveyor's qualifications, experience, and any relevant certifications. Trust and communication between you and the surveyor are key to a successful survey.


Fieldwork and Data Collection


The next step is fieldwork and data collection. During this phase, the surveyor visits your property to gather necessary measurements and observations. They use various tools and technologies such as GPS equipment, total stations, and drones for aerial surveys.


This phase can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the size and complexity of the property. Accurate data collection is essential for producing precise survey results. The surveyor will carefully document all findings, including boundary lines, physical features, and any existing structures.


Fieldwork is often the most visible part of the survey process, but it is the foundation upon which the rest of the survey is built. Any errors here can affect the entire outcome.


Analysis and Reporting


After collecting data, the surveyor moves on to analysis and reporting. They process the field data using specialised software to create detailed maps and documents. This step involves converting raw data into useful information that accurately represents the property.


The final report will include detailed maps, boundary lines, and any other relevant features. It is important to review this report carefully to ensure all your questions are answered. If there are discrepancies, discuss them with the surveyor immediately.


The report serves as an official record and can be used for legal, planning, or construction purposes. Accurate and detailed reporting helps protect your interests and ensures that you have a clear understanding of your property.


Common Findings and Issues



When conducting a property survey, several key issues often arise. These include boundary discrepancies, easements and rights of way, and structural concerns. Each of these can significantly impact the value and usability of the property.


Boundary Discrepancies


Boundary discrepancies are common and can create legal and financial complications. These issues arise when the actual boundaries of the property differ from what is recorded in legal documents. Surveyors use precise instruments to measure and map the property lines.


Discrepancies can occur due to historical inaccuracies or changes in the landscape. Resolving these issues may involve legal action or agreements with neighbouring property owners. It's crucial to address boundary discrepancies early to avoid conflicts during property sales or developments. Accurate boundary information ensures you fully understand the limits of your property.


Easements and Rights of Way


Easements and rights of way are also important findings in property surveys. An easement allows someone else to use a portion of your property for a specific purpose, such as access to a neighbouring plot. Rights of way are similar but typically refer specifically to transit routes.


These can affect your property's value and usability. For instance, a public footpath through your land might limit development options. Understanding these rights helps you avoid future disputes and plan accordingly. Easements and rights of way should be clearly documented to prevent misunderstandings or legal challenges.


Structural Concerns


A property survey often uncovers structural concerns. These issues include foundation problems, cracks in walls, and roof damage. Structural concerns can pose safety hazards and lead to expensive repairs if not addressed promptly.


Surveyors assess the building's condition and provide detailed reports. Regular maintenance and prompt attention to structural issues can prevent minor problems from becoming major headaches. If you find significant structural concerns during a survey, it may influence your decision to purchase or require renegotiation of the price.


Understanding these key areas—boundary discrepancies, easements and rights of way, and structural concerns—ensures you make informed decisions about your property.


After the Survey: Making Informed Decisions



Once the property survey is complete, you'll receive a detailed report. This report contains crucial information about boundaries, potential issues, and any legal considerations.


First, review the boundary lines outlined in the report. Ensure they match your understanding and any existing documentation. Boundaries can affect your plans for fencing, landscaping, and building extensions.


Next, check for any issues highlighted by the survey. These might include structural problems, drainage issues, or encroachments. Addressing these issues promptly can save you from future legal and financial troubles.


List of potential issues to scrutinise:

  • Structural defects

  • Water drainage problems

  • Boundary disputes

  • Easements and rights of way


Reading through the survey, you might find terms or notations you don't fully understand. Consider consulting a professional like a solicitor or surveyor who can explain these terms and suggest actions you can take.


If the survey identifies serious problems, you might need to reconsider your purchase. It’s important to weigh up whether you can afford or are willing to handle these issues.


Steps to take after identifying serious problems:

  1. Re-negotiate the purchase price.

  2. Request the current owner to fix the issues.

  3. Walk away from the deal if necessary.


Having reviewed your survey, you may feel more confident about moving forward with your property plans. Use the information to plan renovations or ensure compliance with local regulations. This informed approach helps guard against unforeseen expenses and legal issues.


Frequently Asked Questions


Understanding the importance of property surveys is crucial when purchasing real estate. This section answers common questions about why surveys are necessary, how they benefit buyers, what information they provide, and more.


What are the key reasons for conducting a property survey before purchasing real estate?


Conducting a property survey helps you identify boundaries, verify legal descriptions, and detect encroachments. It ensures you are aware of any potential disputes or issues with the property lines.


How does a property survey protect the interests of the buyer?


A property survey protects your interests by highlighting any issues with boundaries or title discrepancies. This information allows you to address problems before finalising the purchase, potentially saving you from future legal complications.


What type of information can a buyer expect to obtain from a land survey?


A land survey provides details about property boundaries, physical features, and any encroachments. You will learn about the exact dimensions of the property and the location of structures, easements, and utilities.


Are there different kinds of property surveys, and if so, how do they vary?


Yes, there are various types of property surveys, including boundary surveys, topographic surveys, and construction surveys. Each type focuses on different aspects, such as land contours, boundary lines, or construction requirements.


What are the potential consequences of foregoing a property survey in a real estate transaction?


Skipping a property survey can lead to legal disputes over boundaries, unexpected encroachments, or unrecognised easements. These issues can result in costly legal battles or limitations on how you can use the property.


How often should property surveys be updated, and why is this necessary?


Property surveys should be updated whenever there are significant changes, such as new construction or modifications to boundaries. Regular updates ensure that all information remains accurate and current, preventing potential disputes.


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