If there is one thing in real estate that hasn’t changed, it’s using land surveys. Land surveys have been used for centuries as a way to determine real estate ownership. They are also used to clarify what can be done on a property. Although land surveys have been around for ages, most people don’t really know what they are or how they work.
A land survey is a drawing that shows the precise boundaries of a person’s property, thereby removing any doubt as to where a home’s property line is. It also lays out the dimensions and exact locations of buildings on the property—including houses, sheds, garages, or storefronts.
Land surveys come in a wide variety of different categories. The most common surveys include:
- Boundary surveys
- Topographic surveys
- Location surveys
- ALTA surveys (American Land Title Association)
- Subdivision surveys
- Site-planning surveys
- Construction surveys
Land surveys are required for various reasons, all of which tend to be legal in nature. The reason why you need a survey varies based on the type of survey that you need to get. The general gist is that surveys are used to flesh out the details of a transaction.
For example, an ALTA survey is used when you want to buy a home or investment survey as part of a lender’s requirements. Boundary surveys are done to settle boundary disputes. Subdivision surveys are used to establish smaller divisions of a larger land plot and are typically filed with local offices.
Land surveys are generally required whenever one of the following is true:
- You are planning a major construction, like a home or a shopping center.
- You have a boundary issue with a neighbor that’s headed to court.
- You are changing the boundaries of your land for a subdivision.
- Your land recently experienced (or will experience) a significant change, such as a major chasm due to an earthquake or a newly-planned manmade lake.
- You’re trying to plan for site improvements or want to convert a lot of land into a new construction.
- You need to get insurance for a new home purchase.
- You have been asked to perform a survey by your town or by a court.
The cost of a land survey depends on the type of survey that you’re trying to get. The vast majority of land surveys will only cost between $200 and $800, with the national average being approximately $500. Of course, this is just the average.
Certain states, such as California, also require people to pay additional fees to get them done. California is known for having incredibly expensive surveys, with a typical survey costing between $5000 and $10000.
Though typical surveys tend to be affordable, specialty surveys can easily cost more. For example, ALTA surveys can cost between $2000 and $3000 due to the extra work and research that needs to be performed.
Unfortunately, most (if not all) states will not allow property owners to perform land surveys on their own. There are many reasons for this, but it’s mainly because surveying does not allow any room for error. As such, it requires professional-level skills. Moreover, doing your own land survey could be considered to be a conflict of interest.
If you want to become a land surveyor, then you have your work cut out for you. It’s not an easy career track to choose, which is partly why the price of a surveyor tends to be as high as it is.
Every state has its own unique set of requirements when it comes to land surveyor qualifications. Most will have their own educational requirements, professional licensure, as well as minimum experience. To become a surveyor, you also will need to pass an exam and follow through with continued education.
Getting a land survey is a somewhat rare occurrence, usually sparked by a major change in how land is being used. If you need to have a land survey, then you might feel a little intimidated. You shouldn’t be.
Surveys are essential as they help protect consumers from potentially bad faith projects. They can also help towns keep accurate records of properties. They are there to help everyone, and while they might get expensive, they’re worth every penny.