photo of a boundary stake on a lawn

So You Need A Survey – 5 Common Questions Answered

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As a property owner, one important thing to know is where the boundaries are. With clear and distinct boundary lines you’ll be able to avoid issues when building on or selling your property as well as arguments with neighbors over how far over you can build your fence. 

When there are conflicting views about boundary lines, you would want to commission a boundary survey; or if you don’t have a current survey, you might want to get ahead and have one done. 

What Is A Property Boundary Survey?

A property survey is conducted by a surveyor when buying, selling or building a home. While many mortgage companies will require the property to be surveyed, it’s always a good idea to be informed about the property to eliminate future issues or surprises from your investment or sale.

A property survey includes:

  • Historical research of the property history, description, deed, and title
  • Inspection of any ownership discrepancies
  • Site visit to sketch land, boundaries and property characteristics
  • Detailed map of property’s legal boundaries
  • Outlining right-of-ways and easements
  • Document and map the location of current improvements
  • Locate or set property corner pins

Why A Property Boundary Survey Is Important?

As we say in Maine, good boundaries make good neighbors. While there are a variety of circumstances that dictate the need for surveying, most residential real estate transactions can benefit from a boundary survey.

When Would I Need a Survey

A boundary survey essentially establishes the boundaries of a parcel.  The following real estate scenarios are common reasons to initiate a boundary survey:

  • Buying Land: To prevent future boundary disputes, especially when buying a small parcel recently split from a large parcel. If the purchase is being financed, the lender will require a survey to protect its interest in the property.
  • Dividing Land: When a large parcel is divided, whether into two parcels or a multi-lot subdivision, a survey shows the legal boundaries of the new, smaller parcels and additional features such as a road or utility easement into the property.
  • Developing Land: Boundaries will ensure improvements meet setback requirements. A setback refers to how far off the boundary or lot line the improvement must be.
  • Improving Land: If you’re adding structures such as a master suite, garage, deck, or fence to an existing home, a survey will demonstrate that the new additions meet setback requirements.
  • Boundary Dispute: Disputes arise over many issues, such as whether a fence is on the wrong side of the property line or a deck doesn’t meet setback requirements. These disputes are settled using a legal survey of the property.

How long is a survey good for?

A survey is a snapshot in time if you will. The plan and/or pins represent the property boundaries at that moment in time. If a plan is prepared, the improvements shown are the improvements shown at the time of the survey. 

After the surveyors have left the property, a neighbor could create an encroachment, a new fence could be installed, buildings could be built or added on to, driveways could be built or enlarged, or the property could be divided and a piece of the property sold. If nothing ever changes and no land is sold, then a survey plan would continue to reflect and convey the correct information.

How Can a Land Surveyor Help?

A licensed land surveyor determines the location of record boundary lines based on the evaluation of many pieces of information. A survey will document record right(s) of way, deeded or mapped easements, and encroachments both ways over boundary lines. If a plan is prepared, the improvements will be located and shown. Lines of occupation (fence, edge of lawn, hedge, etc.) will also be shown or otherwise documented. During the course of a survey, a surveyor will review title documents and research the parcel deed and the deeds of the neighboring properties.

A surveyor also helps in interpreting deed descriptions. For example, a deed description might read something like: “North by Smith, East by the road, South by a fence, and West by Michael, containing ten (10) acres of land, more or less.”

This information is then used by the surveyor to determine what area constitutes the parcel legally described. The surveyor works to find the metal pins, fence, blazed trees, or other markers used to mark the corners of a surveyed parcel or establish where those pins should be placed.

Getting Started

At Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., we have just shy of 60 years of experience in producing quality boundary surveys, as well as construction and topographic surveys. If you think you might need a survey, contact us and we can help you through the process.