Five reasons a land survey is required
for real estate transactions:
Existence of the Property
Nearly all titles to land in the United States depend on an original grant or patent and subsequent conveyance instruments. All of these instruments contain descriptions of the land conveyed. It is a fundamental principle that for a deed to be valid it must contain a sufficient description. Whether a metes and bounds description or a description by reference to a parcel on a map is sufficient to transfer the property is often dependent upon whether a knowledgeable property surveyor can interpret the description and reasonably locate the property physically on the ground. In determining whether the land description is reasonably clear, the surveyor determines whether the land description forms a mathematically closed figure and whether the description reasonably conforms to the physical evidence on the earth’s surface. The first is done by numeric calculation, the second by a physical measurement process in the field performed by the property surveyor.
Relationship of the Property to Adjoining Properties
Merely locating the lines described in a deed on the ground is not adequate for establishing the physical limits of a property owners interests. All parcels of land exist in relation to the parcels surrounding them. Surrounding parcels may include privately or publicly owned lands, rights-of-way, easements, roads, and water bodies. At some point in the past, all adjoining land parcels were held in common by a single grantor. Over time, parcels were partitioned off or subdivided until the current ownership configuration was arrived at. As a general rule, the description in a senior deed or prior conveyance controls over any discrepancy in a later one. If an error was made or an ambiguity was created in describing a parcel being partitioned off from a larger parcel or an error was made later in an attempt to correct or refine an earlier description, the legal descriptions of adjoining parcels may be inconsistent. Their “common” boundary may in fact either overlap or not meet. Failure to discover overlaps may leave the holder of the junior deed owning much less property than his deed on its face would indicate. The presence of gaps or gores also poses problems when attempting to consolidate several adjacent parcels under a single owner for development purposes. When consolidation is attempted, the task of definitively establishing ownership to these leftover land strips must be accomplished. If a gore exists along a street line or right-of-way, it has the potential of creating a landlocked parcel.
Relationship of Occupied Lines to Recorded Lines
Not infrequently, the boundary lines of a parcel as physically occupied or possessed by its owner differ from the distances and direction called for in the deed or differ from the monuments called for in the deed. Discrepancies between possession and the called for deed lines may range from minor variations in fence line locations to substantial encroachments of multi-story buildings. A land survey should always show the occupied lines, the deed record lines, and the extent of any mismatch. Significant mismatches suggest potential claims of ownership by senior right or adverse possession or suggest a change in a boundary line by mutual agreement and acquiescence. To cut off any potential rights of another to a claim of adverse possession, the property owner may want to record an appropriate document confirming his claim of ownership or seek a change, in possession to match the record lines.
Location of Physical Improvements
This reason for requiring a survey is related to the previous one, but deals with the relationship of all physical improvements on the parcel to the boundary lines of the parcel, not just those improvements near the exterior limits of the parcel. Features which property surveyors are often requested to locate include fences, walls, driveways, pavements, buildings, structures, utilities, wells, and natural features such as streams and ponds. This information is necessary to determine the presence of features which may limit the value or use of the property and to determine conformity with local ordinances regarding minimum building setbacks. When most attorneys and laymen think of a survey, this is the type of information they expect to see on the surveyor’s final survey map.
Unrecorded Easements and Other Facts not Recorded
There are numerous unrecorded rights that can affect title to land which may not show up in a title search but will become obvious upon an inspection of the property. The right of a neighbor to use utility lines, drainage ditches, sewer lines, and unrecorded travel easements across the property may have been acquired by prescription or other methods of land transfer by un-written means. A visual inspection of the property will usually give some physical indication as to whether such adverse rights may exist; i.e. the presence of manholes or vent pipes suggest underground sewers or utilities. Only a survey in which unrecorded physical features are referenced to the property line will induce a typical title insurance company to remove its exception of the title policy in regard to “any state of facts an accurate survey might show”.
Problems your survey or re-survey could discover:
- Building or residence encroaching on or off of subject property.
- Building or residence encroaching into a utility or access easement.
- An encroachment from public utilities onto subject property.
- Fences, retaining walls, seawalls, driveways or other improvements encroaching onto or off of subject property.
- Any visible access over or across subject property.
- Any previous mistakes made or ambiguities created by a prior property surveyor or land owner.