What Is a Property Survey & How to Get One

What Is a Property Survey?

There are several types of property surveys, but the types individuals are most likely to need are:

  • A boundary survey: This determines the perimeter of a property to establish exactly how much land is included within it and to ensure the title is accurate. It may also identify whether any neighboring properties have encroached upon the property as well as any easements, or areas where access to the property is shared by others. For example, if you’re buying a house near a beach, there may be an easement allowing the public to cross part of your property to reach the beach.
  • An ALTA/ACSM survey: Also called a mortgage survey or Extended Title Insurance Coverage Survey, this may be required by your mortgage lender or title insurance company. It determines property lines, identifies any utilities on the property and notes improvements (such as outbuildings, garages or fences). ALTA/ACSM surveys comply with requirements of the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.
  • An elevation or floodplain survey: This shows the various elevations of the land to reveal how great the risk of flooding is.
  • A topographic survey: This type of survey identifies not only boundaries and man-made features of the land, such as buildings, but also natural features such as elevation, streams, lakes or hills.

For an additional cost, you can include boundary staking, which has surveyors put markers—typically concrete pillars or rebar—at the corners of the property and along property lines.

The cost of a property survey depends on:

  • The type of property survey.
  • The size, shape and terrain of the property. For instance, surveying acres of undeveloped mountain land with indistinct boundaries costs more than surveying a suburban home with a small fenced lot.
  • The amount of research that’s required to find previous property surveys, titles and other records regarding the property.
  • Travel time, due to the fact that surveyors charge more for driving long distances.

The average cost of a property survey in the U.S. is $504, according to homeowner services company HomeAdvisor, with the cost to survey a one-fifth-acre lot (the average U.S. home property size) ranging from $400 to $700.

Costs also vary by location. Angi, another homeowner services company, estimates average costs for a property survey as follows:

  • New York: $380 to $900
  • South Carolina: $250 to $600
  • Texas: $200 to $550
  • Oregon: $375 to $1,500
  • Illinois: $350 to $700

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Where do I find my propertys survey?

If you’re buying a home, ask the seller to check with their lender and/or title company to see if there’s a property survey on file. The local tax assessor’s office may also have one.

If you’re already a homeowner and a survey was never provided to you, your local property records or engineering department may have one on file. But even if they do, it could be outdated. While such dated surveys are typically accurate on standard city lots, they can be wrong if you live on a former country parcel that’s been altered for suburban development. You might also try checking with neighbors to see where they got theirs.

Property Survey Types

Because there are many different reasons for having a survey, there’s more than one type of survey, including:

  • Land surveys to check the boundaries of a lot;
  • Monumentation surveys for those who want to construct a fence on their boundary;
  • Mortgage surveys to show the boundaries of the whole property that will be mortgaged;
  • Topographic surveys to show the elevation of the land;
  • Floodplain surveys, which establish flood risk areas.

Therefore, when you need a survey, be clear on your reasons for it. This will allow you to better estimate the cost of your survey when you contact a surveyor.

Questions to Ask About Land Survey Cost

Property surveys can be a complex task for some property owners. Always make sure the surveyor is licensed and insured in your state before hiring to avoid any problems later on. Asking these other questions ahead of time will help avoid miscommunication and achieve the desired results without wasting money.

  • Do you have references I can speak with?
  • What kind of survey do I need if I’m trying to determine existing property lines?
  • Have you completed this kind of survey before?
  • How do you determine the cost for this survey?
  • How much are your travel fees?
  • What other add-on charges will be included for this kind of survey?
  • What’s the estimated cost, and can I see a line-item quote?
  • Do you offer any seasonal discounts?
  • How many employees will you send on this project, and how experienced are they?
  • How long will this job take?
  • When can you start?
  • What documents will I receive with this survey?
  • Will you notify me of any local laws about encroachment?
  • What do you recommend as the next steps if you discover a property boundary error?

How Much Does A Property Survey Cost?

On average, new homeowners can expect to pay $400 – $700 for a professional property survey. However, the cost of a property survey depends on several factors, such as property size, terrain and location. For example, if you want to survey a wooded area, you’ll end up paying more than if you were to survey a flat, relatively empty piece of land.

Professional surveyors also charge for the time it costs them to do research on your property. A well-documented plot of land will take less time to research and cost less money to survey. It also pays to go local, since travel time is also included in the final price.

Basically, the easier the land is to survey, the less you’re going to pay.

How much does a land survey cost?

The cost for a land survey varies depending on the type of survey and the size and shape of the property. The cost of a property survey will also vary based on the professional surveyor's travel time.

According to HomeAdvisor, most land surveys cost between $200 and $800, with the average being $500. A land survey's costs will be higher for properties with more acreage or more corners.

ALTA surveys have a higher average cost because of the extra work that goes into researching documents and providing more details. The average cost of an ALTA survey is between $2,000 and $3,000.

Keep in mind that these costs are averages throughout the US. The cost of a residential survey can vary greatly depending on the particular market and what public records are available. For instance, the cost of a survey in California can be between $5,000 – $10,000. That number can be even higher depending on the complexity of the survey.

Land Survey Cost: DIY vs. Hiring a Professional

Photo: depositphotos.com

It’s easy to do your own quick assessment of how big your property or structures are using a measuring tape and lasers, but your findings won’t hold up in a legal dispute. Since property boundaries are tied to high-value assets, only licensed surveyors can conduct surveys to establish the value and size of your land. A DIY survey will not qualify for use in a property sale, and it likely won’t include any records of easements or rights-of-way.

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Some surveys require extensive research and expertise in geologic principles. Licensed surveyors complete schooling and training to be legally certified as land surveyors. This also means the legal burden is on them. If you need to use a property survey in a court of law, the surveyor is liable for an inaccurate assessment, not you. Land survey costs are simply one of the necessities of dealing with property assets, and leaving the complicated job to an expert is the best choice.

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Your Due Diligence with a Property Survey

Sounds simple enough, right? Your property survey tells you about the property you’re potentially going to purchase, and any stipulations that come with it. It’s still important to complete your due diligence when it comes to a property survey. First, get multiple quotes from surveyor companies, and pick the one that works best for you. Then, make sure you go with the surveyor to attend the property survey. You will learn more about the land you might buy, and be the first to know about any potential problems. Finally, follow up with any questions once you’ve seen the property survey.

How do I hire a property surveyor?

Searching online for property surveyors in your area is one of the best ways to find companies to get the job done. “There is a surveying society in each of the 50 states, all of which are affiliated with NSPS,” Sumner says. “Each of those societies has a website, which will typically include a ‘Find A Surveyor’ section.”

It can be more cost-effective to work with the previous surveyor on the property, if possible, because that surveyor will have maps and records already on hand. If you can’t locate the prior surveyor, try the surveyors who assessed the properties next door. Don’t be afraid to ask your title company or lender for recommendations, too.

Sumner advises checking to make sure a surveyor is licensed to practice in the state where the property is located. You should also take the time to question your potential surveyor. Talk about your needs beforehand to make sure they can fulfill the requirements.

How long will the process take?

Sumner says there’s no way to determine exactly how long it’ll take to complete a property survey since there are so many variables to consider, including the quality and availability of property records, such as deeds.

They can usually be done within a week, says Wooll. But it could take up to three or more, depending on the company and their current backlog. As is true of so many tradespeople at the moment, demand is high, so wait times can be longer than what they were before the pandemic.

How Much Does a Survey Typically Cost?

Different types of surveys have different price points, but the size of the home also factors into the overall cost. Furthermore, the location and the history of the property can also change the property surveyor’s costs. For example, a straightforward survey to determine the boundaries of the lot can cost as little as $100 to more than $600.

Likewise, a mortgage survey — which the borrower will pay and not the lender — will run around $500. And, no matter what type of survey you need for your property, the cost will go up as the complexity of the property increases for the surveyor.

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Aug 24, 2016

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