Boundary Surveys

Survey 101 – What are the types of surveys?

ALTA/ACSM SURVEY: a surveying standard jointly proposed by the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping that incorporates elements of the boundary survey, mortgage survey, and topographic survey. ALTA/ACSM surveys, frequently shortened to ALTA surveys, are often required for real estate transactions.

AS-BUILT SURVEY: a survey conducted after a construction project is completed, confirming that the structures, utilities, and roadways proposed were built in the proper locations authorized in the Plot Plan or Site Plan.

BOUNDARY SURVEY: a survey to establish the boundaries of a parcel using its legal description, which typically involves the setting or restoration of monuments or markers at the corners or along the lines of the parcel, often in the form of iron rods, pipes, or concrete monuments in the ground, or nails set in concrete or asphalt. A drawing is then prepared from the field data to provide a representation of the parcel surveyed.

CONSTRUCTION LAYOUT SURVEYING: the process of establishing and marking the position and detailed layout of new structures such as roads or buildings for subsequent construction.

ELEVATION CERTIFICATE: a survey done when a parcel of land is located within a flood hazard area as shown on the FEMA maps. Elevations are determined for the finished floor, garage, accessory structures, and adjacent building grades. This information is then put on a flood elevation certificate to determine the insurance coverage needed, as determined by an insurance agent.

ENGINEERING SURVEYS: those surveys associated with the engineering design (topographic, layout, and as-built), often requiring geodetic computations beyond normal civil engineering practice.

FOUNDATION SURVEY: a survey done to collect the positional data on a foundation that has been poured and is cured. This is done to ensure that the foundation was constructed in the location authorized in the Plot Plan, Site Plan, or Subdivision Plan. When the location of the finished foundation is checked and approved, the building of the remainder of the structure can commence. This should not be confused with an As-Built Survey, which is not to be done until all work on the site is completed.

HYDROGRAPHIC SURVEY: a survey conducted with the purpose of mapping the coastline and seabed for navigation, engineering, or resource management purposes. Products of such surveys are nautical charts.

MORTGAGE SURVEY: a simple survey that generally determines land boundaries and building locations. Mortgage surveys are required by title companies and lending institutions when they provide financing to show that there are no structures encroaching on the property and that the position of structures is generally within zoning and building code requirements.

PLOT PLAN OR SITE PLAN: a proposal plan for a construction site that includes all existing and proposed conditions on a given site. The existing and proposed conditions always include structures, utilities, roadways, topography, and wetlands delineation. The plan might also, but does not always, include hydrology, drainage flows, and flood zone determined from (FEMA) Federal Flood Insurance Reference Maps.

SUBDIVISION PLAT: a plot or map based on a survey of a parcel of land. Boundary lines are drawn inside the larger parcel to indicate the creation of new lot/parcel lines, retention ponds, and roads.

TOPOGRAPHIC SURVEY: a survey that measures the elevation of points on a particular piece of land and presents them as contour lines on a plot.

WETLANDS DELINEATION & LOCATION SURVEY: a survey that is completed when an authorized biologist or scientist has marked the wetlands. The boundary of the wetlands is determined by observing the soil colors, vegetation, erosion patterns or scour marks, hydrology, and morphology. Typically colored flags are then placed in key locations to denote the boundary of the wetlands. A survey is done to collect the data on the locations of the placed flags, and a plan is drawn to reference the boundary of the wetlands against the boundary of the surrounding plots or parcels of land and the construction work proposed within.

What does a land surveyor do?

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.

The role of a surveyor is to precisely establish property boundaries when it has not been surveyed before, mapping those boundaries and producing a legal description of the boundaries.

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.”

A surveyor uses the information 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.

When do I need a land surveyor?

There are several situations where you may need the professional services of a land surveyor. A survey is recommended when buying a new property, dividing your existing property, making improvements on your property, adjusting a boundary line, determining the location of your boundary lines,  solving boundary disputes with a neighbor, preparing a letter of map amendment (LOMA) for flood-prone properties, or preparing a site plan for a planning board permit. Good boundaries make good neighbors.

Here are some reasons you may need a surveyor:

  • The land will be bought: Buyers are encouraged to have property surveyed to prevent future disputes about its boundaries, 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.
  • The land will be divided: 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.
  • The land will be developed: If you own vacant land and intend to improve it in any way, including building on it, the land might have to be surveyed to establish its boundaries, so that any improvement meets setback requirements. A setback refers to how far off the boundary or lot line the improvement must be. For example, a county might require that homes be built at least 20 feet off the property line (a 20-foot setback).
  • Improvements will be made to previously developed 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.
  • Boundaries are in 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.

Is a boundary survey needed when buying or selling a home?

Buyers like to know where the boundary lines are. Having an up-to-date survey helps market the sale of your existing home.

Why will it take so long to survey my house lot?

Unless your property is located within a relatively new subdivision that is well marked with corner monumentation, chances are we will have to visit your property two or more times to take the measurements we need, locate any available boundary evidence, perform deed research, prepare survey calculations, and return to the property to set corner pins.

Can Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., survey my house lot for me?

Of course. We survey all types of properties, from small in-town parcels to large rural parcels.

How much does a boundary survey cost?

The price of a land survey will depend on many variables.

The cost can range from $300 to $4,000 or more. Many states employ a Public Land Survey System and require land to be surveyed upon every conveyance, making surveying a lot less expensive and more predictable for the surveyor. Maine is not among those states. Maine is a “colonial” state in which land was not always divided up in equal squares, and Maine does not require a survey upon a conveyance.

The complexity of the survey and the requirements of the client will determine the exact cost:

  • A mortgage inspection/pre-purchase inspection costs the least.
  • If just the field work of marking corners is needed, the survey will cost less than if a drawing is also required.
  • If the property deed is vague or poorly written, has no dimensions for the length of the boundary lines, or has not been updated to reflect previous conveyances, the extra amount of deed research needed will make the survey costs go up.
  • Single parcels cost less than surveying a large parcel divided into multiple smaller parcels; the more divisions, the higher the land survey cost will be.
  • The more corners a single parcel has, the higher the cost will be.
  • When boundary lines and corners are hard to access due to dense woods or water, the costs will most likely be higher.
  • The more detailed the survey is (structures, topography, wooded areas) or if encroachments are found, the higher the cost.
  • If the boundary lines are to be brushed out and the trees along the boundary lines blazed for visual reference, the cost will be higher. Brushing and blazing are highly labor intensive.
Can I get an estimate for a boundary survey?

Yes, at Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., we provide free cost estimates. Please provide as much information as you can such as what need you have, street address of the property, tax map and lot number, deed, existing survey plan, purchase and sale agreement, real estate listing, and the anticipated closing date, if applicable. You can fill out our form here

How long will it take to have a boundary survey completed?

That depends on the type of service you need. Mortgage Loan Inspections, or MLIs, are usually turned around in a few days. Letter of Map Amendments, or LOMAs, are also turned around in a short amount of time. A full boundary survey will take longer, depending on the amount of work already scheduled, the extent of services to be provided, and sometimes the weather.

How can I help with the survey of my land?

Your goal is to make sure the survey is done easily and accurately. These tips will reduce the difficulty and time, and hence the cost, required to complete a survey:

  • Provide us with all the legal documents you have, such as a previous survey or a title deed showing the property’s legal description or that of the larger parcel being split.
  • Provide any maps of the land, which are especially useful for large parcels.
  • Clear debris from lot lines or where lines are to be established.
  • Locate and mark the existing boundary pins (sometimes called monuments) with marking paint and/or wood stakes, a good option for those who have a metal detector or can borrow one without cost.
Can you survey just one boundary line for me?

We can do that. The Maine Board of Licensure for Land Surveyors sets out requirements for land surveying, but with an agreement between land surveyor and client, the scope of work can be limited per a written agreement. See the board’s web page on Land Surveyor rules at https://www.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions/surveyors/laws.html.

What are the setbacks to a property line?

That depends on the municipality where the property is located and the underlying land use ordinance. Land use ordinances (sometimes referred to as Unified Ordinance) are typically the controlling legislature for setback requirements. Some land features may not require any setback at all. It is always best to check with the municipal code enforcement officer first:

Can I split or divide my property?

The answer to this question will be specific to your property. To help you answer this, we will need to know the history of the parcel and review the property for any covenants or deed restrictions that would prohibit further division of the parcel. We will have to consult with the municipal land use ordinance to see what the lot zoning requirements are for a buildable lot. Depending on the history of the property, we may need to apply to the municipality to subdivide the parcel or amend a previously approved subdivision plan to add another parcel to it.

Can I build a fence along the boundary line?

Typically, most municipalities in Maine do not consider a fence a structure; thus, many times there is no setback for a picket fence or a chain link fence. Again, it is always best to check with the municipal code enforcement officer.

Can you help us with a boundary line agreement?

We assist many clients with establishing a boundary line agreement. We will monument the agreed-to line, usually by setting pins along the line, prepare a plan showing the agreed to boundary line location, and also prepare a metes and bounds description of the agreed-to boundary line. An attorney will then use this in preparing the documentation for both parties to sign, memorializing the agreement. This agreement ultimately gets recorded at the registry of deeds just like a property deed.

Can you prepare the property deed?

You will need an attorney to assist you in preparing the property deed. We prepare a legal description, also known as a metes and bounds description. This describes the direction and distances around the property so that others know what you own for property. The description is typically contained between the heading of the deed (to and from) and the signature on the deed at the end, but sometimes it will be at the end of the deed which is typically referred to as Exhibit A. The deed will then be recorded in the registry of deeds.

What technology does Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., use?

The technology available to land surveyors has grown incredibly in the last couple of decades. In the 1960s, when Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., was started, theodolite survey instruments and 100-foot long steel tapes were the technology of the day. In the 1970s came the advent of the first stand-alone microcomputer for coordinate geometry. Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., was an early adaptor, purchasing an Olivetti P-101 in 1970 for the sum of $3,200. The Olivetti P-101 had no data storage device. When the computer was shut off, all the data in memory was erased. In 1971 a model P-602, which included a magnetic tape drive for data storage, was purchased for the grand sum of $6,577.50. Later in the 1970s, a Hewlett Packard distance meter was purchased. This machine measured distances up to two miles using laser measurements. It was heavy and bulky but was a huge leap in technology. Three-hundred-foot steel tapes became common. In the 1980s, Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., purchased the first of many total stations, which combined angular measure and distance measurement all in one unit. In the 1990s, GPS came along, first as large, bulky units that had to be stationary for an hour or two at a time just to measure one position, then backpack-type units with one- to two-meter accuracy which was used for forestry type surveying. The 1990s also brought the advent of computer-aided design (CAD), using desktop computers to draw survey plans. Since then, GPS has really matured to the point where we use it almost every day and the functionality has grown as quickly as mobile computing devices have grown and matured, as the mobile computing device and 4G cellular communication are key to utilizing GPS on the fly.

Will you use GPS for my survey?

We may use a satellite receiver during the course of our work. The United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS) consists of up to 32 medium Earth orbit satellites in six different orbital planes, with the exact number of satellites varying as older satellites are retired and replaced. The GPS system has been operational since 1978 and is currently the world’s most utilized satellite navigation system. In actuality, Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., utilizes GNSS receivers (GNSS stands for Global Navigation Satellite System and is the standard generic term for satellite navigation systems that provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning with global coverage). Our survey grade receivers utilize multiple satellite positioning systems including GPS, GLONASS (Russian), Galileo (European), and Beidou (Chinese), resulting in the most accurate positioning. For more information, go to https://www.gps.gov/systems/gnss/.

Is the GPS always right?

Just because a land surveyor chooses to use GPS does not automatically make the result absolutely correct. GPS is really just another measuring device, just like a measuring tape. Yes, GPS is a valuable tool to use in the right circumstances. We can quickly measure long distances without a line of sight between the two points we are measuring, for instance. But a licensed land surveyor still has to interpret the data they collect just as surveyors always have, read and understand deed descriptions, and use sound professional judgment when making decisions before concluding where a property line is located.

How much does a GPS cost?

Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., uses survey grade GNSS/GPS receivers with accuracies in the millimeter range. The receivers are very expensive, plus the associated processing software, maintenance, and subscriptions can cost from $15,000 to $30,000 per unit, plus ongoing yearly subscription costs for software and firmware updates.

Are your developments environmentally sustainable?

Yes, we work with our clients to incorporate as many sustainable features within their projects as make sense for the situation. This can include natural stormwater bio-retention areas and filters, vegetated swales, porous pavement with underdrains to avoid open detention ponds, in-fill urban developments, revitalized sites, sensible lighting plans, landscaping, and recently, encouraging solar provisions into the developments.

Does Herrick & Salsbury, Inc., perform FAA tower certificates?

Yes, we survey all types of radio and cellular tower sites including rooftop sites, monopole tower sites, guyed tower sites, and utility pole mounted tower sites. We also do exclusive tower lease surveys and get easements surveyed and mapped. Pre- and post-construction surveys are provided as well.

Can you help with site planning?

We offer clients assistance with planning and evaluating many types of projects including housing developments, commercial buildings, land subdivisions, and shoreland zoning permits. Knowing the local best practices, we can maximize the value of your project and advance a realistic application for approval.

Can you prepare a mortgage inspection for me?

Yes, we can prepare what is commonly known as a mortgage inspection for clients. Mortgage inspections are used many times by prospective buyers to evaluate potential purchases during a due diligence period.

Can you survey my camp lot?

Yes, we have many camp lots in the area and this is a service we frequently provide. Camp lots can be problematic to survey. One reason is that camp lots decades ago were considered low-value property. That is hard to imagine in this day and age, as waterfront lots are now the most valuable property. However, when “camp” became popular after World War 2, landowners who had water frontage were typically selling the property 50 feet at a time for about $1 per foot of frontage. It was measured, if measured at all, with a carpenter’s ruler or rope by the landowner without the benefit of a survey. Pipes or pins may or may not have been set at the time. Even if they were set, construction of roads, ditches, and camps destroyed all the boundary evidence. Relations between camp owners were typically friendly, and observation of boundary lines was casual at best. It was “camp,” and people didn’t go to camp for more than a few weeks in the summer and really did not care about boundary lines until more recent times. Not every camp lot has these characteristics, but a large majority do. It depends on the neighborhood. We will gladly prepare a free estimate for you.

Can you tell me if my house is in a flood zone?

Yes, we would be glad to help. If we have surveyed the property, we can show the flood hazard boundary line on the survey plan we prepared. As an alternative, we can physically locate your house and plot the house location on the flood maps to see if the structure is located in the flood hazard zone or not.

Do I need an ALTA survey?

ALTA (American Land Title Association) surveys are normally used during commercial or investment type transactions. A request for an ALTA survey usually comes from a title attorney or a lending institution. The American Land Title Association has specific requirements and plan formats for surveyors all across the United States to use for uniformity. A requirement of an ALTA survey is that the client must present the surveyor a title insurance commitment document.

Do the different colors of surveyor ribbons mean anything?

Different surveyors use different colors of ribbon to mark boundary lines. There are no requirements to use any one particular color. Many times on a construction site, different colors will mean different things. Different colors of paint lines on pavement are signifying different utilities such as water, electric, and communications.

Does title insurance insure my boundary lines?

Probably not. In order to insure boundary lines, you would need the survey exception in the policy removed. The only way to get the exception removed is to have a current boundary survey and a surveyors’ report prepared for the title insurance company.

How will you mark my line so I can see where my line goes?

Line marking can consist of setting wooden stakes in the ground along the boundary line in an area where there are not many trees or in an urban environment. Typically, in a wooded area, we will place surveyor ribbon (also referred to as flagging) on trees to visibly mark the line. The best method of marking line in the wooded areas would be to brush out the lines (removing the limbs and underbrush) along the boundary line and blazing the tree (making a scarf on both sides of the tree at about chest height), which is the traditional way of marking a boundary line but is more expensive due to the labor involved. It is totally up to the client to decide how to have the line marked.

I just need one line surveyed so it won’t take very long, right?

It may be a relatively simple task, especially if your property has been recently surveyed or you have land in a subdivision that is well marked. If not, chances are we will have to visit your property two or more times to make the measurements we need, locate any available boundary evidence, perform deed research, and prepare survey calculations, and then return to the property to set pins on the one boundary line.

I want to give my daughter or son part of my land. How do I do this?

You will need to divide your property. First, we would assess the ability to do a legal division. We will need to know the history of the parcel and review the property for any covenants or deed restrictions that would prohibit further division of the parcel. We will have to consult with the municipal land use ordinance to see what the lot zoning requirements are for a buildable lot. A gift of land (a lot division) from a parent to a child is almost always exempt from municipal subdivision review, but we will help you answer that question as well. We will work with you to help convey your child a buildable lot, survey the parcel being gifted or conveyed, and prepare a description of the land being gifted or conveyed, which your attorney will use in preparing a deed and the transfer papers.

I want to subdivide my property. What will happen?

A subdivision is typically defined by the sale or lease of three or more parcels from the same parent parcel within a five year period. There are exceptions for gifts to a family member if you reside on the property for five years or more plus other exceptions. Generally, an application to the municipal planning board is required. The planning board will review the request against a list of standards in the municipal land use ordinance or subdivision ordinance. The planning board will cause notification to the public, notify neighboring lot owners, and advertise and hold a public hearing where the public can comment on the proposal. The public hearings can be televised or streamed for public viewing. Many times multiple hearings are needed. The process is very public and can be intimidating at times. We have many years of experience taking applications through the approval process and will be glad to handle the permitting for you.

My neighbor might be cutting trees on my lot; can you mark the boundary line?

Yes, we can. It may be a relatively simple task, especially if your property has been recently surveyed or you have land in a subdivision that is well marked. If not, chances are we will have to visit your property two or more times to make the measurements we need, locate any available boundary evidence, perform deed research, and prepare survey calculations, and then return to the property to set pins on the one boundary line.

My neighbor says my garage is on their property and I have to move it. What can I do?

Presumably your neighbor has had a boundary survey completed in order to assert a legitimate claim. We can review the neighbor’s survey and make our own independent assessment of your boundary line location to see if the claim has any merit or not and work with your attorney to provide you with options. Many times there are differing opinions as to where a boundary line is located between land surveying professionals. These differences can be resolved by negotiations or asking for relief from a court of law.

What are the minimum shore frontage requirements?

Each municipality will have what is known as shoreland zoning. Within each municipality there will be differing areas of zoning along the shoreline, river or significant wetland. Generally speaking, each residence within the shoreland zone is required to have one acre of land and 150 feet of saltwater frontage or 200 feet of freshwater frontage. These frontage requirements will be different for commercial uses and water-dependent uses or activities.

What are the minimum zoning requirements?

Each and every municipality in Maine has what is known as home rule. The municipality will usually dictate minimum lot sizes and configurations such as lot width and frontages. There are very few State minimum zoning requirements outside the shoreland zone. In rural areas without municipal wastewater systems, State law dictates a minimum lot size of 20,000 square feet (about one-half of an acre) to install a septic leach field.

What flagging color do you use?

Typically we use fluorescent orange flagging/surveyor ribbon to mark property corners and boundary lines. You as a client can specify any color you would like us to use, as there is no requirement to use any one color.

What if I don’t know my map/lot or deed reference?

We can usually find this information on the town’s website. We will need to know how the property is being taxed, i.e., Billy Bob versus Billy’s LLC, and can look it up in their commitment book. Some smaller towns do not put their information on a website so you may need to visit the town office to obtain the documents.

Why will it take so long to set one pin?

Unless your property is located within a relatively new subdivision that is well marked with corner monumentation, chances are we will have to visit your property two or more times to make the measurements we need, locate any available boundary evidence, perform deed research, and prepare survey calculations, and then return to the property to set the corner for you.