Ask the Contractor: Land survey spares hassle, headaches

Essential when buying, selling or improving property

Dear Sandy:

We are considering purchasing a parcel of land and our Realtor told us we should really consider paying for a lot survey. Can you give us your opinion?

— Wendy and Tom, Williamson Valley

Wendy and Tom,

Thank you for asking for my opinion. You know I love to offer that!

OK, first of all huge kudos and hugs to your Realtor! I know that you are probably thinking a land survey may seem arduous and unnecessary, but the fact is there are many illustrations and cases where a potential buyer should have had the property surveyed in advance of purchase. Most recently, I heard of three local purchases where the properties all had encroachments from adjoining properties; two major encroachments where the adjoining properties had constructed driveways and roads to their property crossing over and traversing the property that was just purchased. Now there are legal issues and not-so-neighborly discussions taking place.

Surveying is more of an art with very strong principles of mathematics applied. A land surveyor will research the available documents about your land, including deeds and previous surveys. The surveyor will then visit the property and physically measure on the ground any pins or monuments that are found. All dimensions will be checked against the previous records for discrepancies and they will develop a map of these findings for you. When requested by you, surveys will also note any fences, driveways, easements and building locations.

I am sure that if you ask any Registered Land Surveyor, they would always say to have a proper survey if you are buying or selling a piece of real estate. You should be aware of any boundary discrepancies that could affect the value of your property before completing the transaction. Any issues about the boundaries of the property should be settled before your agreements are finalized, or you can be in for a legal headache later. It is also good to have peace of mind that there are no issues with your boundaries.

Having a survey of your property will give you the freedom to then improve your property if you should choose to build a shed, fence, or any other structure on the edges of your land. That way, you can be assured that you are not building on your neighbor’s land, and you can be confident that you are not fencing out any land that is actually yours. Most building officials will want to see the building setbacks staked on the ground so they can be sure that there are no potential zoning violations.

In all seriousness, land surveys help homeowners and property buyers avoid future headaches such as boundary disputes and, today more than ever, the importance of getting your property surveyed has never been greater. When folks are constructing homes, adding sheds, installing fences and driveways without having a property survey done, they run the risk of litigation.

Again, and I cannot repeat this enough, a survey can help you avoid problems such as possible encroachments on your property and believe me, they can become bigger issue down the road.

Surveys also indicate necessary items that are used by two neighboring properties such as a common driveway or walkway, are disclosed on the survey. They can help keep you in harmony with your neighbor. The surveyor will identify how much of the shared element is located on the property you are purchasing. This disclosure allows you to evaluate the impact of the shared element on the property before you buy, such as who is responsible for the cost of maintaining the joint item and the estimated amount of your portion of such fees. The surveyor will determine if any known easements or rights of way directly affect the property, such as easements and rights of way are rights to the property granted from one property owner to a neighboring owner, owners, or a business, such as a utility company. Rights of way are generally for allowing persons or entities to pass over the property. Easements are typically for land access and placement or use of a structure. The survey will allow you to determine who has these types of rights to the property you are buying and for what purpose.

Surveys are important and they are worth every penny. Just ask Tom Liuzzo, registered land surveyor with Granite Basin Engineering:

“When asked about the importance of a land survey, I feel that the emphasis should be on the investment you are making in the property and the building. In many cases that investment is your home, hopefully your forever home. That home needs to be built on a stable foundation or it will not stand the test of time. An accurate survey needs to be considered a part of that stable foundation. If the representations of the boundaries are not accurate and you build the house in the wrong place, your investment is potentially lost. I have had a handful of situations where I was called to survey a piece of ground with an existing home built upon it and had to tell the property owner that they were built too close to the property line, they were built in an easement or in a few cases, they were built over the property line. It is heartbreaking to see that all of that could have been avoided by investing in a good property survey. When compared to the cost of the home, the cost of a boundary survey is a very small percentage of the overall cost and a very inexpensive way to obtain peace of mind. Please don’t guess, Get it Surveyed.”

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or 95.5 FM or on the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry; meet your local community partners and so much more. It is a great way to start your weekend.