Legal Questions? Visit the sources above for answers and references

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Q: When do I need a survey?

A: It is wise to obtain a survey before purchasing a home, constructing improvements such as fences or walls along property lines, or planting or removing trees and landscaping along property lines. It may also be a good idea to have a professional surveyor stake the location of a home to be built, especially if there are ordinances or restrictions affecting the placement of the house on the lot.

Q: Are there different types of surveys?

A: Some of the various “types” of surveys are as follows:

Mortgage Survey: A location of improvements on the property. Usually
requested by a lender or title company in conjuction with a mortgage
application, this type of survey shows the bank and title company that there are no encroachments or major problems with the record description of the land, so the title company can write a lender’s title policy for the bank. In Tennesee, no property corners are set, and no liability is extended to the purchaser of the property, unless the client also contracts for a General Property Survey. In Georgia, a General Property Survey must be performed in addition to the mortgage survey.

General Property Survey: This is what most people refer to as a “stake
survey”, a “corner survey”, or a “boundary survey”. In this case, the
surveyor usually contracts directly with the land owner. The survey will
provide, at a minimum: markers set at the corners of the land, compliance
with the state’s minimum standards for property surveys (including the Class of survey, the type of markers set, and the quality and detail of the drawing). The land owner can contract for additional services to be provided in conjunction with the property survey, such as additional markers along the property lines, location of improvements or natural features of the land, flood elevation certificates, topography surveys, and the like. The “General Property Survey”, when performed with the necessary care and attention to detail, is usually sufficient to meet the needs of a land owner for title insurance purposes, fencing, construction, etc. This survey is certified to the land owner, and the surveyor extends liability to the land owner for the care exercised in the performance of the survey.

ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey: The “Cadillac” of surveys, this survey is
usually requested by purchasers, lenders, and title companies together in
conjunction with the purchase or refinance of valuable commercial or
industrial sites. The survey must meet the minimum standards adopted by the American Land Title Association, and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. These requirements in almost every case exceed the minimum standards of any state licensure board. As can be expected, the increased requirements of the specs result in a comparable increase in the cost of the survey.

Topography Survey: A survey to define the contours (elevations) of the property, drainage patterns, etc.. The topography survey is usually ordered by an architect or engineer for construction planning purposes.

Q: Are there any requirements that I should specify when contracting with a surveyor?

A: Any time you consider contracting with a surveyor, you should demand the following: 1) A written Proposal, Contract or Agreement specifying the
services to be performed and the cost of the survey. 2) proof of insurance,
including general liability, errors and omissions liabilty (comparable to a
doctor’s malpractice insurance), and worker’s compensation insurance.

Q: I have title insurance. Will I have to worry about boundary problems?

A: That depends on the type of policy you paid for. We are not title attorneys, but one of the local title company attorneys can help answer that question for you. Ask for an explanation of the difference between a “lenders” policy and an “owners” policy. They can tell you what kinds of coverage are available, and what your policy does and does not provide protection from.

Q: My neighbor down the street just had his land surveyed. The surveyors came all the way down to my house and beyond. Why did they have to come down here to survey a lot 4 houses away?

A: In order for a survey to be reliable, the surveyor should examine all record descriptions (deeds, plats, etc.) in the block, or in the vicinity. After doing so he or she should attempt to find and locate all of the property corners that are called for by those documents. Only by doing so can the surveyor hope to find any discrepancies or errors in prior surveys or written documents that could adversely affect his client’s boundary line locations. By looking for the preponderance of evidence as to actual location of property lines in the area, the surveyor can most likely render the correct opinion of the location of the client’s land. While the minimum standards of some states imply this method of surveying, the minimum standards of Georgia actually define this method as the only method of surveying acceptable under law.

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