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What is a property survey?

A property survey, or land survey, is the process of assessing the property you’re buying. The survey reveals what legally belongs to you and what you’re allowed to do on the property. A survey is especially useful if you plan to build onto the home or make any major changes after buying it.

A property surveyor looks at the following:

  • Property boundaries: The surveyor defines your land boundaries so that you don’t build a structure that encroaches onto your neighbor’s property, such as a fence or an additional room to your home. If you intrude on your neighbor’s land, you could face legal charges.
  • Easements: An easement is the right to use someone else’s land. The survey will inform you of any easements, such as utility workers’ rights to come onto your property in specific situations. You also may share some property with a neighbor, such as an alley or driveway.
  • Topography: You’ll find out details such as your home’s elevation. This may help you know whether you need flood insurance, or whether you’re able to make certain updates to the home.

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Home Sellers and Their Selling Experience

  • For all sellers, the most commonly cited reason for selling their home was the desire to move closer to friends and family (18%), that it was too small (17%), and the neighborhood had become less desirable (11%).
  • 90% of home sellers worked with a real estate agent to sell their home.
  • For recently sold homes, the final sales price was a median of 100% of the final listing price.
  • Only 26% of all sellers offered incentives to attract buyers, a drop from 46% of all sellers last year.

How To Get A Property Survey

Now that you understand the benefits of property surveys, you’re probably wondering how you can get the most precise idea of your property’s legal boundaries. There are several ways to go about getting a property survey.

Hire A Land Surveyor

Luckily for grazing deer and hungry rabbits, not every plot of land is clearly defined and enclosed by a white picket fence. As land shifts over time, some initial property line markers may no longer exist. If you have any questions about property lines, the safest thing to do is hire a land surveyor.

A professional land surveyor is an expert in defining property lines. They use their skills, education and specialized field equipment to create legally binding property surveys. They can even serve as expert witnesses in court cases about land disputes. (Remember when we talked about encroachments earlier?)

During the property survey, a land surveyor will compare historical records and data with any existing markers to accurately define your property lines – and their findings are legally binding. This process takes time, effort and boots-on-the-ground legwork, so hiring a well-respected and well-reviewed land surveyor before purchasing land or beginning any new home expansions is your best bet to avoid any legal issues in the future. Call around for quotes before you decide, and be wary of any too-good-to-be-true low estimates.

Check The Property Deed

Several different types of deeds are used in real estate. A property deed is a written legal document that transfers ownership of a property from the grantor to the grantee. (Not to be confused with a title, which is the actual document that states who legally owns the property.) This type of deed will have several pieces of important information about the property: accurate owner names, exact address, tax map number, legal description, restrictions, and other information like conditions of the transfer and reservations of rights by a prior owner. While some deeds only reference a lot or block number, many include detailed measurements in the form of – yep, you guessed it – a property survey done by a land surveyor.

Search Property Survey Records

While there is no national archive of real estate records, many states require property surveys to be filed with the local government. You can search for property surveys by visiting the courthouse, property or assessor’s office where your new land is located. You will need to manually check transfers, requirements and restrictions on the property. This avenue can be time-consuming, but it’s a free to low-cost way to empower yourself with the knowledge and history of your new property’s legal boundaries.

Find A Property Survey Online

Can’t make it to the courthouse? No worries, many local governments keep property records online. To search for your piece of land, you’ll need specific details about the property you want to look up. Gather as much information as you can, like the street address, boundary descriptions and date of the last survey, and search the official county or assessor’s website where the property is located.

The more information you have, the easier it will be for you to find the survey you need. Not all records will be digitized, but the results of your search may help you narrow down the exact office where your survey is located. You can then call the office and ask if they can mail you a copy of the survey.

Geographical Information System (GIS) maps and property search sites are a better option if you have limited information on your property. However, these sites often charge a fee or require a subscription.

Contact The Previous Surveyor

Land surveyors keep copies of the property surveys they complete. (Legally, the survey belongs to them.) If you know the name and contact information of the previous land surveyor, try reaching out. It’s very likely that, for a fee, they can send you a copy. Land surveys usually last 5 to 10 years after they are completed, so if the previous survey was done a long time ago, it’s probably a good idea to get a new one done even if you locate the official document.

Do I really need a home survey?

It’s worth remembering that a home survey isn’t mandatory; it’s entirely up to you whether you get one or not.

And given how expensive buying a house is, it can be very easy to dismiss the idea. You might think that you’re spending enough already, and the house looks ok, so what’s the point of spending another £1,000 on a report?

However, the reality is that it’s all too easy for there to be problems with a property that you might not be able to spot, but which would be clear to a surveyor. And it’s better to have a clear idea of precisely what you’re buying from the outset so that you can budget for any work that needs to be done early on.

You may also be able to use the information in the report to renegotiate the purchase price. This will be a balancing act though; if you are in a market where there is strong demand from buyers, then the vendor might not be willing to budge on the price, as they are confident someone else will pay it.

Alternatively, if too many problems are highlighted by your survey you may decide to pull out of the sale and find another property.

>> MORE: About moving house checklist

Do I need a survey on a new build home?

The only situation where paying for a survey might be considered a waste of money is if you are buying a new build. This is because it should come with a 10-year warranty from the builder.

Is a home survey the same as a valuation?

If you’re taking out a mortgage to buy a property, then the lender will require the property to be valued. A valuer will come and cast their eye over what you’re buying to get an idea of what it’s likely to be worth before the lender will approve your application.

It’s important to understand that this valuation is not the same as a home survey. The valuer is not looking in detail at the possible defects of the house; in fact, they aren’t acting on your behalf at all. They are only there to let the mortgage lender know what they think the property is worth.

>> MORE:About House ValuationsImage Source: Getty Images

My First Home: I Was Over The Moon When I Collected The Keys

by Brean Horne

From saving up a deposit to finding the perfect home in South East London, we follow a recent first-time buyer in our My First Home series.

Majority of Consumers Shop Small to Keep Money Local

Our survey showed 57 percent of consumers say they shop local to keep money close to home, and 38 percent of consumers support local businesses to feel connected with their community. According to Fundera, 108 million shoppers spent over $12.9 billion on 2020’s Small Business Saturday (compared to $20 billion in 2019).

And, regardless of 2020’s events, 28 percent of people think the economy is in “good” health. However, 75 percent of businesses reported that COVID-19 had a negative effect on their business.

Characteristics of Homes Purchased

  • Most recent buyers who purchased new homes were looking to avoid renovations and problems with plumbing or electricity at 36%. Buyers who purchased previously-owned homes were most often considering a better overall value at 38%.
  • Buyers typically purchased their homes for 100% of the asking price, with 29% purchasing for more than the asking price.
  • The typical home that was recently purchased was 1,900 square feet, had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was built in 1993.
  • Convenience to family and friends was the second most important factor in influencing neighborhood choice after quality of the neighborhood, surpassing convenience to jobs and affordability, which were more important last year.

Can You Negotiate Your Land Survey Cost?

Your property survey is one of the fees you can shop around for when buying a home. In fact, it’s listed as such on the loan estimate form you’ll get from your mortgage lender.

To do this, request a quote from several surveyors in your area. Make sure that you’re comparing the same fees and charges, and be careful to ask about any add-on fees you can expect for travel, research, unique terrain, and more. 

Consider asking your real estate agent, lender, builder, or mortgage broker for recommendations, as they may have preferred surveyors who will offer you a discount. 

The Bottom Line

Property surveys are an important part of the home buying process, and are usually paid for by the buyer. It’s possible to find information on your property lines without conducting an official property survey; however, you won’t end up with an official document and you can’t use your findings as part of a property sale or legal dispute. The most secure option is to hire a licensed professional property surveyor, but the cost will vary depending on the type of land you want surveyed.

Got more questions? We don’t blame you, this real estate stuff can be tricky. Luckily, our Learning Center has the answers! Keep reading to become the most informed buyer you can be.

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