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Surveys, do I REALLY need one?

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Buyer: The sellers already have a survey they are willing to give us for free; why should we go through the trouble and expense to pay for another one?

Real Estate Agent: Well, I am so glad you asked.

Performing your due diligence (inspection period) is essential in this line of work. No matter how small or repetitive it may seem, cutting corners to save money can end up having the opposite effect costing you and your client

in the end.

When it comes to surveys, I have seen ones that have been altered, yep, you heard me right. Sure, mistakes are made, but there are dishonest people in the world, and you have to protect yourself and your client. Early in my real estate career, I ran into this very situation.

My new client (the seller) trusted the previous owner's survey (which was falsified) on a lot they had purchased (before I knew them) and found themselves in a complicated situation when they were ready to sell their lot. You will have to read the story at the beginning of Chapter 5 of "10 Things You Need to Know About Land" to see how the story ends.

What is a survey, and why do we need one?

A survey is a process used to identify a property's corners, points, or pins and measure the distances between them. These points are used to create boundaries for ownership and land maps. Depending on the type of survey you and your client order, residential or commercial, it can show roads, structures, utility easements, creeks, fences, encroachments, and many other things that you might not initially see on the property.

Also, keep in mind that if surveys are based on the middle of a water feature or creek bed, a good flood can change the path of that creek, giving the owner more or sometimes less land than they thought they had. Or a neighbor may be encroaching with some fencing that no one realized. Just another reason to have a new survey!

Here are a few of the surveys you may come across:

Physical/Mortgage/Loan surveys: primarily used for purchasing a single-family home

Plat Maps: How a tract of land is divided into lots

Boundary survey: Shows the property's boundary lines

Topographic (TOPO) survey: Shows the elevation points on a parcel

ALTA/NSPS land title survey: Commercial property or sales of large tracts of land.

This is a sample survey drawn up by one my go-to surveyors that should make a survey easier to understand when you see one.

You or your clients need to know what you are getting! Especially if a utility easement, water feature, flood plain, property line, or anything that could affect the property's value or the ability to get insurance is involved.

Spend the money and hire a professional licensed surveyor (PLS) to conduct a survey according to local and state rules and have them read and interpret the results.

One of my favorite land guys has a video that can explain in a little more detail about a survey.

Summarizing my thoughts.....

I cannot express enough the importance of becoming familiar with the different types of surveys and knowing the right kind of survey needed for your situation. A survey is one of the most important things to acquire during a purchase. Even if you are a seller and may have inherited the property, get a survey so that you will know and understand exactly what you have inherited. You may be surprised to learn that you have more or less property than you originally thought. There may be easements on the property that you are unaware of. A survey will give you more information on the property than you can find on your own. An accurate, current survey will allow you to discover your options in the zoning of a project.

Want more information about land to learn more about your own property?

Get your copy of "10 Things You Need To Know About Land" available on Amazon.


Cheryl L. Sain has been in the real estate industry for over 20 years and has executed thousands of land transactions with investors, developers, national builders, and individuals.


This information is provided as-is and does not in any way make or imply any guarantees as to an outcome. You will need to evaluate the information herein and consult appropriate professionals such as surveyors, attorneys, tax accountants, or any other professional agencies or broker-in-charge to acquire the information and guidance you need to help you make the decision that is best for you.


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