We cannot stress the importance of a real estate survey enough. It is common for all parties involved in a real estate transaction to assume that a survey is an unnecessary expense. Depending on the size of the property, the cost of a survey can rage from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. However, there are many important factors that you should consider before deciding against obtaining a survey, such as:
Boundary Lines: Although it may be obvious, real property tracts are rarely clearly separated from adjacent tracts (i.e. you cannot clearly see where your property begins and ends) You may believe that you have 50 feet of road frontage, that a beautiful tree is just inside your property boundary, or that your driveway is entirely on your property, but there is no way to be certain without a survey.
Setback Lines: Every property has setback lines designated by a developer or the local government. These lines prevent you from building structures within a certain distance from your boundary lines. Only a survey can verify where those lines are in relation to the existing structures, and any future buildings you may wish to construct.
Easements: There are two ways to determine whether real property is encumbered by easements: a title search and a survey. Title searches are routinely performed by your attorney before you close, but even your attorney cannot tell you exactly where those easements may be within your boundary lines. A survey on the other hand, will show you where those easements are and help you determine whether the property is suitable for your intended uses.
Encroachments: Encroachments are a much bigger deal in the real property context than on a football field. Instead of a five-yard penalty, you could have your neighbor’s entire building on your property. Although that is an extreme example, we have had to help clients resolve that type of issue. The more common scenarios that we see involve fences and driveways. Even if a licensed contractor installed the fence or driveway, it is all too common that fences and driveways end up a few feet over from their intended placement and wind up encroaching on the neighbor’s property. While the current owners may not mind this, a future owner may come along and force you to move it at your sole expense. You rarely have a claim against your seller if you purchased the property with this type of problem, because you had the opportunity to get a survey.
Title Insurance: Title insurance companies will tell you that if you did not get a survey, you effectively eliminated 90% of your title insurance protection. Most people do not realize that title insurance will not protect you against any issue that would have been discovered with a survey. This even includes property described on a recorded plat! Without a current survey, title insurance companies do not provide insurance based on the recorded plat and therefore do not insure your property dimensions.
Real property law still relies on the old legal maxim “caveat emptor,” which means “buyer beware.” If you purchase real property that has encroachment problems, buildings within setbacks, easements, etc., you are responsible for correcting them and you likely have no claim against your seller. You take the property “as-is” and sometimes that can have disastrous consequences for the ill-informed purchaser.
Before you close or before you decide against obtaining a real estate survey, give us a call and one of our Real Estate Attorneys will be happy to discuss pros and cons of surveys with you. Call us today at 704-289-4577.