Land Surveying 101: What It Is, Cost, Types, and Tips

Land surveying has been around since ancient Egypt and was even used in the building of Stonehenge, but what exactly is land surveying, when should you get a land survey, and how much will it cost? I’ll be answering all those questions and more in the following paragraphs.

What is Land Surveying?

Land surveying is the art and science in which land surveyors use recorded documents, historical evidence, and present standards of practice in order to establish or re-establish corners, lines, and boundaries of a parcel of land.

Boundaries are described in legal documents and the land surveyor follows those descriptions in order to locate the boundary on the land and will mark it for the owner so they know what land he/she owns.

Land Surveying 101: What It Is, Cost, Types, and Tips - Real Estate

What Will The Land Surveyor Do?

A land surveyor will use his archaeological and investigative skills in order to provide independent information that protects your property rights.

Land surveying may also include services such as analysis and utilization of survey data, writing legal descriptions, mapping, subdivision planning and design, creating construction layouts, and precision angle, length, area, and volume measurements.

Land Surveying 101: What It Is, Cost, Types, and Tips - Real Estate

When Should You Get a Land Survey?

Even if your lender, insurance company, or laws don’t require you to get a land survey, it can still be a good idea. Getting a survey can help keep your liability down and can help in ensuring proper measurements. Below I’ve listed all the reasons why someone may want to get a land survey done.

  • You need to find property lines.
  • You’re buying or selling a house or parcel of land.
  • You’re dividing land into smaller parcels or consolidating parcels.
  • You’re building a house or structure.
  • You’re installing fences, septic systems or other improvements.
  • You have a boundary line dispute.
  • You need to meet mortgage requirements.
  • You need to meet title insurance requirements.
  • You need to locate easements.
  • You need to locate utilities.

When ordering a survey, make sure the surveyor knows the reason for the survey because there may be a specific set of standards that must be followed according to your state laws, insurance company, or mortgage lender.

Types of Land Surveys

Land Surveying 101: What It Is, Cost, Types, and Tips - Real Estate

A land survey will typically fall in one of three general categories as either a construction, geodetic, or boundary survey.

Mortgage Location Survey

Ordered by a lender or title insurer, a Residential MLS is intended to provide proof that certain improvements are actually located on the property as described in the legal description. The survey plat must show particular information discovered from measurements taken at a site, and not necessarily evidenced by public record.

A commercial MLS is a low-cost alternative to an ALTA Survey, although it also sacrifices some accuracy. The commercial mortgage location survey follows the same state standards as a residential mortgage location survey, so the lender must be willing to accept these standards in place of the ALTA standards.

ALTA Survey

An ALTA (American Land Title Association) survey is done when buying a home or investment property. A title company will normally require an ALTA survey before issuing title insurance. An ALTA survey may also be referred to as a mortgage survey, since lenders often require them before providing financing.

Typically contracted by the title company, lender, or attorneys representing involved parties for commercial property purchases, refinances or improvements, an ALTA or ALTA/ACSM survey is based on standards put forth jointly by the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping . By utilizing a universal standard, an ALTA survey provides confidence that results are guaranteed.

Boundary Survey

A boundary survey is used to determine the exact location of property boundaries and corners of a piece of land. A boundary survey may be used to settle legal disputes or locate easements or for personal records.

A “Boundary Survey” is used to identify a property’s boundary lines. In this type of survey, the surveyor will set (or recover) the property corners and produce a detailed plat or map. To accomplish this, the surveyor will research the public records and do research in the field, take measurements and perform calculations. This type of survey is necessary for construction and permit purposes.

Location Survey

A location is similar to a boundary survey, but it also includes site improvements. The location survey shows the location and size of improvements as well as the distance measurements between them and the property lines. Property owners often use a location survey for zoning permits.

Topographic Survey

Topographical surveys layout the location of natural and man-made features on a property. These features may include buildings, fences, utilities, ponds, rivers, trees, and elevations. A topographic survey is often used by engineers and architects for planning site improvements.

A topographic survey includes field measurement and preparation of a plat to establish land elevations. These surveys are typically contracted by a residential or commercial property owner before making improvements to the property such as, but not limited to, additions, landscaping or parking lots.

Subdivision Survey

A subdivision survey is used to divide a parcel of land into multiple lots for a subdivision. A subdivision survey is used to create subdivision plats and must be filed in the land records with the recorder’s office

Site-Planning Survey

A site-plan survey is used to plan the development of site improvements. The proposed building, or other improvements, is drawn inside of a boundary survey. A site-planning survey is normally used when applying for building permits.

Construction Survey

A construction survey involves the surveyor staking out the location of planned structures and improvements. The surveyor does this to show construction workers where to build and the distances between planned improvements.

Plot vs Plot Plan vs Plat Survey

Plot plans cost $75 to $200 and plat surveys purchased from the county cost $10 to $30. The two are very different from one another.

  • Plot: This is a designated parcel of land which is a property of its own, such as that for a home.
  • Plot Plan: This design lays out structures and buildings which exist on or will exist on the plot. It is not meant to be as accurate as a land survey.
  • Plat Survey: This is a legal document that shows the area around the plot as well as the plot itself. It clarifies where streets, other plots and easements are and how your plot fits into the bigger picture.

How Much Does a Land Survey Cost?

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.

Average Cost Of A Land Survey

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.

Save Money By Requesting a Public Copy

You can get copies of land surveys that have already been done. Your local building, recorder, or tax assessor’s office may have a public copy of a land survey available. In some cases, a fee might be required to access these records.

If those offices don’t have a copy of a land survey, check with a local title company. Title companies will have copies because ALTA surveys are often required before they issue title insurance.

Land Surveying 101: What It Is, Cost, Types, and Tips - Real Estate

How Long is a Land Survey Good For?

How long a land survey is good for depends on how long the surveyor’s liability lasts. That is how long the professional will defend the document if it’s challenged. The length of time varies from state to state but typically lasts 5 to 10 years from the time of completion.

Who Pays For The Land Survey?

In most cases, the buyer will pay for the land survey, or the land survey is negotiable.

Use the table below as a guide of what to expect but make sure to call your local title company to verify as laws and regulations may change.

HawaiiWashington D.C.Nebraska
MontanaNew Hampshire
NevadaNew Jersey
New YorkNew Mexico
TennesseeNorth Carolina
TexasNorth Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Finding a Good Land Surveyor

The best way to find a good land surveyor is through a referral. Whenever I need a good referral, I usually go to my local real estate investors association(REIA) Facebook group and ask for one there.

Check credentials. Most states require these professionals to have licensing and insurance.

Make sure they work on your terrain. The more complex your project, the more experienced the assessor should be.

Land Surveying 101: What It Is, Cost, Types, and Tips - Real Estate

Make sure you get at least three different quotes and but don’t use any lowball offers. They’re probably way cheaper for a reason. If you want the results to hold up in court or in the case of a real estate transaction, the reputation of the professional is paramount. Also, make sure that your land surveyor is familiar with the area and has good reviews online.

How Long Does a Land Survey Take?

provide the pro with a past record of your plot and your deed, if possible. Additionally, clear the area around your property lines to give the professional easy access.

What Does a Land Survey Look Like?

Land surveys are an official document, and for the most part, look vastly the same. It’s best to read the land survey just like a regular map and reference any written documentation as needed. Important parts to note are the:

  • The address or parcel number on your paperwork that should match your deed.
  • The legend with an explanation of symbols such as those used for boundaries, utilities, easements and roadways.
  • The scale will indicate the ratio of size between your map and the taken measurements.
  • The certificate seal in which the surveyor will have signed.
  • The written survey that contains information on the official findings, a legal description, and changes/disparities between the previous and the current surveys.
  • The mapped property lines that show exactly where the property starts and stops.
  • The outlined improvements to the plot.
  • Topographical features that will show the relief and elevation.
  • Any mapped easements or service entrances that cross the plot.
  • Any marked areas where other properties may be infringing on the boundary lines.

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