Before you buy commercial real estate or become a property owner, whether as your primary residence or as an investment property, you need to know the property's boundaries, and that's where a boundary survey or land survey comes in.
A boundary survey, sometimes called a property survey, defines property lines. People often request a boundary survey before they buy or build a house or before they improve or divide property. The boundary survey defines the corners of the property, and a professional land surveyor then uses the information to create a drawing.
Elements of a boundary survey
Lot dimensions are only one aspect of boundary surveys. These surveys can also include improvements to the land, such as swimming pools and fences. And speaking of fences, you shouldn't rely on them to delineate property boundaries, as fences aren't necessarily placed directly on the boundary line; the property could extend beyond the fence, for example.
Some boundary surveys also include easements, which would show whether another person or organization, such as a utility company, has rights to the property and, if so, where those rights begin and end. Encroachment, where a neighbor or neighbors of adjacent properties are somehow occupying the land without permission, can also be part of a boundary survey.
What a boundary survey can do for you
You might be tempted to skip the step of ordering a boundary survey, but that isn't recommended. Getting a proper survey is as important as getting title insurance. Here's what a boundary survey can do for you and why you'll need one.
Find out whether there are encroachments
Probably the main reason investors need boundary surveys is to determine whether there are encroachments, and if so, what they are. You'd want to understand this before you invest. An encroachment could mean a legal battle that you might not want to deal with.
Besides utility easements, which are standard and usually not problematic, some easements could be trouble, such as a driveway easement that allows a neighbor to use the property's driveway to access their property. Not everyone is OK with that, which could negatively affect attracting tenants to a rental property or buyers to a flip when it comes time to sell.
Determine whether renovations are possible
If you plan to improve the property by building additions, you'll need to understand where each boundary line is so you don't encroach on a neighbor's property.
Let you know the type of zoning
A property survey can let you know whether the property is in a flood zone, which may or may not be a deal breaker for you.
How a boundary survey is conducted
The surveyor views your property from atop a hilltop and deems the lines wherever they see fit. Just kidding.
A boundary survey is very exact and takes a meticulous sort to get the job done. At the end of the survey, you'll likely see stakes in the ground marking boundaries. Or you might see flags marking the spots and perhaps painted lines to further map out the property. Although marking the property takes time, getting to the point of marking the boundary lines typically takes even more time. The following is what's involved.
An overview of the process
Here are the steps of a boundary survey.
The surveyor needs to sort through paperwork. Specifically, they need to look at the property deed, and if further information is still needed, they need to visit municipal offices, state agencies, and even historical societies to get the true picture of the lot.
Preparing the land
The property surveyor marks the spots, which is made possible from the conducted research.
The surveyor must document the findings. They can't, for example, just skip the research step and make up boundaries; the surveyor must be prepared to verify how they made the boundary determination for each property line while surveying. This becomes a legal document and is part of the property records.
Why you need a boundary survey
If you don't get a boundary survey and assume the land is yours, you could find yourself in a lawsuit if you encroach on neighboring property or build or conduct other business that violates local codes.
The Millionacres bottom line
Boundary surveys add time and money to your investment. But you'd probably be pennywise and pound foolish not to get one done. Once you've properly researched the property by ordering a boundary survey, you'll have done what you can to prevent major chaos, such as a boundary dispute.