Why are land surveys important? Because you can’t buy or develop land properly without one. Going in without a land survey is flying blind. You have no way of knowing what obstacles you may face or even the exact perimeter of your property.
If you want to know where you’re going, get yourself a map. In this case, a land survey. Don’t go with an old survey. It’s probably outdated and lacks evidence of improvements or changes that have occurred since it was performed. Have a new one conducted.
Land surveys are about more than finding the edges of the property, although that’s an important thing to know. They also tell you about the topography of the property, which your architect and builder need to know
If your project requires a planning permit, a land survey must be provided to obtain it. The regulating agency needs something to compare to the various land zoning requirements, permitted land uses, municipal strategic statements, overlays, and other planning documents.
What else can a land survey tell you?
Easements and Rights of Way
Most developed areas create easements and rights of way so city, county, or state workers can build and maintain infrastructure. It’s also possible that a parcel of land blocks the entry to another property. The owner may request or require an easement to access that property without trespassing.
An easement is a non-possessory right for a person or entity to use a piece of real estate they don’t own for a specific purpose. For example, most easements are roadways or paths through or along the edge of a property. It allows others to access areas within or behind the property for reasonable use and right of travel, allowing for more freedom of movement.
A right-of-way is a type of easement. It gives people the right to cross the property from one place to another. Rights-of-way may be granted by an affirmative easement, private easement, public easement, or an easement by necessity.
Encroachments and Adverse Possession
An encroachment occurs when a property owner violates the rights of the neighboring property owner by building on or extending construction onto that neighbor’s property. When you own the land, you want to know if someone has built on it without permission. As a developer, you need to know where the lines are drawn, so you don’t get hauled into court because you are encroaching on land that doesn’t belong to you.
Encroachment is a form of trespass, and it’s easy to do if you don’t have an accurate land survey.
Adverse possession is a hostile takeover of someone else’s property. Someone who was not the original owner of the property has acquired rights to it without purchasing it or asking permission. It sounds worse than it is, but like an encroachment, you shouldn’t enter into a land deal if someone else has adverse possession, and you certainly shouldn’t be possessing someone else’s land adversely either.
Missing Permanent Boundary Markers
It shouldn't happen, but sometimes permanent boundary markers are removed either by accident or by design. Particularly for parcels that haven’t changed hands in decades, it is entirely possible the permanent boundary markers have been damaged or covered up.
A land survey identifies where your boundaries are in the absence of markers. You need to know whether your plans fit on your parcel, and you want to avoid encroaching on someone else’s property.
Legal Survey Requirements
Each state sets its own legal requirements for surveys. In Texas, for example, the Texas Board of Professional Surveying sets out procedures and policies for surveying land. The board developed a set of minimum standards of practice, so the consumer has a way to judge a surveyor's bona fides.
The requirements also state the precision with which the surveyor must report boundaries within corporate limits and how to treat extraterritorial jurisdiction and rural areas. The rules cover everything from what the survey document must contain to the licensing of a professional surveyor.
What Does a Land Survey Include?
A proper land survey includes, at a minimum:
- Boundary measurements.
- Details of the property including the presence of buildings, sidewalks, fences, trees and stumps, driveways, and other features.
- Any discovered encroachments.
- Easements, rights-of-way, adverse possession, and other legal appurtenances.
A survey is a specific description of a piece of property, a description required for the title as well as for development purposes. As the survey is performed and documented, the surveyor is responsible for meeting all current local regulations, including wetlands, zoning, and the placement of permanent corner markers for the future.
Land surveying, in certain ways, has become easier as technology steps in to provide accuracy and precision. On the other hand, measuring requirements may become tighter as expectations rise.
Walk It Yourself, Too
It’s your land. You need to walk it, too. Preferably you walked the parcel before you bought it, but you need to go back and refresh your memory. Request a property profile from your realtor and match the profile to the parcel.
The profile should give you ownership information, a plat map, the legal description of the property, as well as tax information. The plat map is especially helpful for finding boundary markers, easements, and rights of way.
A land survey is essential because it is part of the legal description of the land. It becomes part of the deed of title. Land ownership is an ancient concept, and each owner, to this day, is highly protective of the boundaries to their property.
Legal entanglements are rarely on anyone’s to-do list. Without a land survey, you could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit, or you may find you must fight to gain legal access to land that is included in your deed.
If you don't know precisely where the boundaries lie, you have no way of making a legal claim. As far as development and land use is concerned, your land survey tells your architect, designer, and builder how the land rises and falls, locates trees, utilities, and other obstacles, and serves as the map for your project.
Before you purchase property, begin renovations on an existing property, or decide to sell your land, obtain a land survey, so you know exactly where you sit.