FAQ: General

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 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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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 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 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.

I was issued a notice of violation by the code enforcement officer. Can you assist me?

Yes, in conjunction with our permitting services, we can assist in correcting an alleged land use violation. We will review the notice of violation and advocate on your behalf with the municipal official, usually the code enforcement officer. Stephen Salsbury himself is a licensed code enforcement officer in the state of Maine.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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/.