How to Get a Land Survey

How to Get a Land Survey

What is Land Surveying?

Land surveying allows you to understand your land boundaries. A survey is performed in order to locate, describe, monument, and map the boundaries and corners of a parcel of land. It might also include the topography of the parcel, and the location of buildings and other improvements made to the parcel.

Why are property surveys important?

While property surveys aren’t required everywhere, they are in many jurisdictions across the country. That’s because they detail how your property is defined in an official capacity. Rather than guessing where your property lines are, you have a document that makes it clear.

Emory Wooll, general manager of Title Partners of South Florida, says property surveys are required for lender title insurance policies.

“In order (for a title insurance policy to be issued), we need to know if there are any encroachments on the property prior to closing,” Wooll says. “They’re usually done before a home purchase, or, say, someone is putting a pool in or a fence.”

Wooll says cities or contractors will require a survey before permits can be pulled. So if you’re hoping to build a pool in your backyard, you’ll need a recent survey completed. While there’s a chance you could use an old survey to pull permits, it’s not always guaranteed. In that case, you may want to get a new survey completed.

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How Much Does A Property Survey Cost?

On average, new homeowners can expect to pay $400 – $700 for a professional property survey. However, the cost of a property survey depends on several factors, such as property size, terrain and location. For example, if you want to survey a wooded area, you’ll end up paying more than if you were to survey a flat, relatively empty piece of land.

Professional surveyors also charge for the time it costs them to do research on your property. A well-documented plot of land will take less time to research and cost less money to survey. It also pays to go local, since travel time is also included in the final price.

Basically, the easier the land is to survey, the less you’re going to pay.

What to Expect for Land Surveying Services

When you first request a land survey, we’ll discuss the technology that we use to assess the ebb and flow of your land. Our toolkits can include theodolites, altimeters, global positioning systems, 3D scanners, and drones.

You do not have to modify the land that you want us to survey before we go to work. Nor will we modify anything about your land while on your property. When our work is complete, you can expect both a physical and digital map establishing your land’s boundaries, including construction staking, or otherwise fulfilling the goals you established in an initial consultation.

Our professional surveyors only request that property owners warn us about dangerous elements before we go to work. While it’s our job to identify a lot’s unique features, keeping ourselves safe makes it easier to give you the comprehensive assessment you need.

Choosing Your Land Survey

There’s more than one kind of Pennsylvania land survey available to residents. You can vary the land survey you request based on your property’s needs. For example, if you want to elaborate on your land’s legal boundaries, you can request either a boundary survey or an Land Title survey. 

Comparatively, if you want to stake your land or otherwise sort out its environmental features, you can request construction staking and topographical surveys. Scalice Land Surveying also offers mortgage surveys to help you effectively request or modify a loan used to purchase your land. If you’re not sure what kind of land survey you need, all you need to do is ask.

Estimating the Cost of a Land Survey

The cost of your land survey is going to be unique to your land. Larger properties take more time to assess and are subsequently going to be more expensive to survey. Professional surveyors may also charge more if a lot is environmentally dangerous or difficult to move through.

You can discuss your land survey budget with our team ahead of time. You can browse our services with a consultant on hand. Once you’re ready, we can work with you to give you the land survey you need on the budget you have.

When do you need a land survey?

Referencing a legal description may not be enough to determine your property's boundary lines. Hiring a land surveyor will help you to meet certain requirements for buying or improving real estate or simply locate your property boundaries for your own reference.

  1. Reasons for a land survey include:
  2. Finding property lines.
  3. Meeting mortgage requirements.
  4. Getting title insurance.
  5. Settling boundary line disputes.
  6. Knowing what you're buying.
  7. Locating easements.
  8. Building a house or other structure.
  9. Updating an outdated property survey.
  10. Locating utilities.

Old real estate legal descriptions may reference landmarks or monuments that are no longer on the property, so a land surveyor will have to take new measurements to provide accurate boundary lines. The surveyor may also place new land survey monuments as a reference point for corners and boundaries.

How much does a land survey cost?

The cost for a land survey varies depending on the type of survey and the size and shape of the property. The cost of a property survey will also vary based on the professional surveyor's travel time.

According to HomeAdvisor, most land surveys cost between $200 and $800, with the average being $500. A land survey's costs will be higher for properties with more acreage or more corners.

ALTA surveys have a higher average cost because of the extra work that goes into researching documents and providing more details. The average cost of an ALTA survey is between $2,000 and $3,000.

Keep in mind that these costs are averages throughout the US. The cost of a residential survey can vary greatly depending on the particular market and what public records are available. For instance, the cost of a survey in California can be between $5,000 – $10,000. That number can be even higher depending on the complexity of the survey.

Additional Costs and Considerations

When budgeting for land survey costs, consider a few less common factors that may apply to your situation. A survey may need a boundary line adjustment, or you may find that you can save on the cost of a new survey by having a recent one recertified.

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Boundary Line Adjustments

There are times a boundary line needs adjusting. After the surveyor has established the boundaries of your property, they may need to correct an inaccurate line. This is usually added to the cost at a rate of $20 to $25 per hour. Alternatively, if you sell a portion of your property, you’ll need a land surveyor to re-establish your new property line and update the plat map. This is a more expensive cost with an average of $800 to $1,200 and includes a full survey.

Tree Survey Cost

If you have a property with many trees, you may want to plot out where all the trees are located and the types of trees growing on your property. This is beneficial to assess if trees have suddenly died in certain areas or if they’ve been removed. If the terrain is challenging to get through, this could cost up to $6,000, but a survey of a simple plot of land could cost only $200.

Recertification

In most cases, a land survey should be accurate for 5 to 10 years. To avoid additional land survey costs, you could request a recent land survey to be recertified. This eliminates the need for a complete survey and reduces costs by 50 percent or more.

AREA COMPUTATION

If your property has a simple rectangular shape, you don’t need to read this. But what about those of you with odd-shaped lots with five or ten separate sides? Before you throw in the towel, try this method for computing your acreage.

First, make a scale drawing of your property on grid paper (Step 1). It doesn’t have to be entirely accurate, but it should be large enough so you can write plenty of figures inside. Write the direction (in bearings) and distance along every boundary line.

Second, draw lines running north-south and/or east-west through every angle point. You need be concerned only with lines in the interior, and once they meet another inside line, you need draw no further.

Your polygon is now divided into rectangles and right triangles (Step 2). To figure out the area of the triangles, all you need is a math book or calculator with sine and cosine functions. Remember them from high school trigonometry? In a right triangle, the sine equals the length of the side opposite an angle divided by the length of the hypotenuse (which, you’ll notice, is always a boundary line with a known length). A cosine equals the adjacent side divided by the hypotenuse.

You already know one angle of each triangle — remember, the bearing is the angle from the north-south line you drew. So if you look up the sine or cosine (whichever is appropriate) of that angle, you can use that and the length of the boundary line to solve for the remaining sides of the triangle.

For example, take the shaded triangle from Step 2 — one that has a hypotenuse of 917 feet running S13E (Step 3). The sine of 13 degrees is .225.

Since .225 = opposite side/ 917, then the opposite side = 206. Now you can use the cosine of 13 degrees, .974, to solve for the angle’s adjacent side: .974 = adjacent side/917 … or 893 feet. The area for a triangle is 1/2 base times height, in this case 1/2 X 206 X 893 = 91,979 square feet.

As you work, write every calculated distance on the appropriate grid line, and record the area of each sub-figure inside that shape. When you add all those areas up at the end, you’ll have your square footage. Divide that by 43,560 and you’ll know your acreage.

Originally published as “Surveying Your Own Land” September/October 1986 MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

5. Joint Driveways, Party Walls, Rights-of-Support, Encroachments, Overhangs, or Projections

Unbeknownst to you or your next-door neighbor, you may have an obligation by law to support your neighbor’s driveway by maintaining your own. This could lead to boundary disputes, so you will want legal documents to back yourself up.

How Land Surveyors Do Their Jobs

Surveying land means taking extremely accurate measurements over long distances. Today’s surveyors use technology to improve accuracy and save time. Surveyors often choose their tools according to the project’s needs. Popular tools include:

  • Theodolites, optical instruments used to measure angles.
  • Altimeters that measure slopes.
  • Total stations, electronic distance measurement devices that also help when leveling surfaces.
  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that can use satellites to take extremely accurate measurements.
  • 3D scanners that can capture changes in elevation.

Modern land surveyors also use software developed to combine information from several devices. The software makes it possible to create detailed land survey reports that are easier for ordinary people to read.

Questions to Ask About Land Survey Cost

Property surveys can be a complex task for some property owners. Always make sure the surveyor is licensed and insured in your state before hiring to avoid any problems later on. Asking these other questions ahead of time will help avoid miscommunication and achieve the desired results without wasting money.

  • Do you have references I can speak with?
  • What kind of survey do I need if I’m trying to determine existing property lines?
  • Have you completed this kind of survey before?
  • How do you determine the cost for this survey?
  • How much are your travel fees?
  • What other add-on charges will be included for this kind of survey?
  • What’s the estimated cost, and can I see a line-item quote?
  • Do you offer any seasonal discounts?
  • How many employees will you send on this project, and how experienced are they?
  • How long will this job take?
  • When can you start?
  • What documents will I receive with this survey?
  • Will you notify me of any local laws about encroachment?
  • What do you recommend as the next steps if you discover a property boundary error?

Curious About Why You Should Have Your Property Surveyed? Talk to a Lawyer

Sometimes, a dispute between neighbors is just the result of a misunderstanding. Confusion over where one property ends and the other begins is why having your property surveyed is a good idea. Adjacent properties can be tricky even when things seem clear.

For an affordable fee, you can pay the land survey cost, select the type of survey, and have clarity about your plot of land.

If you have questions about getting your new home surveyed, or you have a dispute with your neighbor that you need help resolving, it’s a good idea to speak with an experienced real estate attorney near you today.

An attorney can also help with your real estate transaction, title company, or title insurance issues that may come up. If your land changes your taxes, you and your attorney should talk to a tax assessor.

How do I hire a property surveyor?

Searching for property surveyors in your area is one of the best ways to find companies to get the job done.

“There is a surveying society in each of the 50 states, all of which are affiliated with NSPS,” Sumner says. “Each of those societies has a website, which will typically include a ‘Find A Surveyor’ section.”

It can be more cost-effective to work with the previous surveyor on the property, if possible, because that surveyor will have maps and records already on hand. If you can’t locate the prior surveyor, the next best thing is to try to work with the surveyor who assessed the properties next door.

Don’t be afraid to ask your title company or lender for recommendations, too.

You should also take the time to question your potential surveyor. Talk about your needs beforehand to make sure they can fulfill the requirements. Check that the surveyor is licensed to practice in the state where the property is located, Sumner advises.

Be mindful of how much time it takes to complete a survey. Wooll says property surveys can usually be completed within a week, but it could take up to three, depending on the company.

Sumner says there’s no way to determine exactly how long it’ll take to complete a survey since there are so many variables to consider, including the quality and availability of property records, such as deeds.

Preparing for the Search

There are even better information sources than you

There are even better information sources than your deed. The best (and sometimes most elusive) document you can lay your hands on is the surveyor’s map, or plat. The plat translates that legal confusion of numbers and terms on the deed into pictures. It may also show references to natural landmarks, or triangulation data which may locate a particular point.

Plat-chasing is a major pastime among surveyors. Your plat, if one exists, may accompany your deed. Or it may languish in city or county records (clerks’ or surveyors’ offices would be the best places to search) or reside with a previous owner. Plats of neighboring land are helpful, too. They may show the location of a common boundary.

If you live in a subdivision or built-up area, you may be wondering why your deed’s legal description reads only “Lot 22, Rock Creek Estates” or “Tract A, First Addition.” But these, too, are metes and bounds surveys. The surveyors created several lots at once, so they drew one map of the whole thing. Deed descriptions merely refer to the master plat, which you will find in the public records.

You should also keep an eye peeled for early versions of your property description, surveyor’s notes, and descriptions of roads that border your land. Why? First, to ensure that your deed doesn’t contain mistakes; second, to find out all you can about boundary markers — the key to property lines.

You are now nearly ready to step into the surveyor’s shoes. First, though, you’ll have to gather your equipment. You’ll need a compass, long measuring tape, plumb bob, level, hatchet, some ribbon, and stakes. You’ll also need a willing assistant. Now check your instruments. Do they read in the same numbers as the survey? If not, you will have to translate.

Most people will have on hand the type of compass that uses the directional measurement known as azimuth. Being ornery as a rule, surveyors use another system, called bearings. To learn how to translate one to the other, see the end of the article section “Converting Azimuths to Bearings.”

On to distances. We measure lengths in feet and inches, don’t we? Well, the surveyor uses either feet and tenths of a foot (be very alert for this!) or a venerable system called chains. Don’t panic at this. A chain measures 66 feet. Why 66 feet? Because it’s convenient for land computations. Ten square chains equal one acre — which means to compute acreage rapidly, all you have to do is find the number of square chains, then move the decimal point once to the left. Also, one mile stretches exactly 80 chains.

A hundredth of a chain — about eight inches — is called a link. Old-timers also used a quarter-chain measure (16-1/2 feet), calling it a rod, pole, or perch.

I find that if I’m faced with a description written in bearings and chains when my equipment reads in azimuths and feet, my brain reels at the prospect of translating and tramping about at the same time. It’s far better to translate all the degrees and distances on paper before you set out.

Why a Property Survey Is Important

A property survey assures the lender and title company that the property you’re buying is true to its description. For homeowners, doing a property survey before starting construction or improvements ensures you’re building on your own land to hopefully prevent any future disputes with neighbors. Cities may also require property surveys before construction can be permitted. Check with your city to see if a survey is needed and, if so, what type.

Conducting a property survey is wise even if the boundaries of your property seem clear, such as a house with a fenced yard. If the fence you’re replacing is really on your neighbor’s property, it’s better to make that discovery before starting the work.

Property surveys can also resolve disputes. Your neighbor may be upset that you’re walking through his yard to get to the creek behind your homes. A property survey can prove you have the right to do so.

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