Property Surveys: All That You Need to Know

Erin Easley

Written By Erin Easley

Published 09/13/21
Property Surveys: All That You Need to Know

With all the expenses and responsibilities that buying a home entails, it’s tempting to look for shortcuts or forego tasks that might seem unessential. Saving some time and money now, however, could cost you in the long run. 

A real estate survey or property survey is one procedure you should certainly have completed before closing on a new home. Enlisting the expertise of a professional surveyor can help you avoid legal issues, construction setbacks, and a host of other problems that homeowners can encounter.

In this article, we’ll explain what a home property survey or home buyer’s survey is, why it is important, and how you can go about completing one.

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What Is a Survey for Home Purchase?

A property survey is a formal procedure to collect specific information on a plot of land. This can be completed at any point during a homeowner’s stay on a piece of property, but it is most often organized when a home is on the market and new buyers are prepared to make an offer.

A property survey is most often conducted to confirm the boundary lines of the property, but there are other purposes and uses as well. A thorough property survey report may include:

  • a legal description of the property

  • a description of underground cables, sewers, or other infrastructural components

  • a summary of adjacent properties and structures

  • topographical information, such as the presence of streams or rivers

  • risk assessment information for flooding or other disasters

  • an explanation of improvements that can be done to the property

  • a detailed history of the land, including past changes to the property lines 

Who Does a Survey When Buying a House?

A property survey is conducted by a professional surveyor. The surveyor or team of surveyors should be licensed and registered with the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS).

Home sale laws vary from state to state. Sometimes the home seller is responsible for organizing a property survey; other times, it is the home buyer’s job. If you need to coordinate a survey for property that you’re planning to buy or sell, you can inquire with the NSPS. 

Why Is a House Buyer’s Survey Important?

A comprehensive property survey is important for several reasons. For one, your mortgage lender may require one to confirm that the land is actually worth what you are paying.

A property survey also provides legal assurance of a property’s boundaries. This can protect you from costly and convoluted legal disputes with your local government or neighbors. If you decide to build an addition on your home or construct an outbuilding on your property, you will know exactly where you are allowed to do so. A property survey will also help you avoid accidentally severing underground cables, pipes, or gas lines. 

There are countless horror stories of homeowners building a home on a piece of land they later discover they do not own. Others have damaged underground infrastructure they were completely unaware of, costing them thousands in fines or reconstruction costs. These nightmare situations are easily avoided if a legitimate property survey is conducted beforehand.

Finally, the geological and topographical information in a property survey can help you better understand your property and prepare for potential disasters. If a survey deems your property to be at risk for flooding, for example, you can construct an adequate drainage system to avoid structural damage to your home.

Even if mortgage lenders did not commonly require a property survey, it would still be prudent to have one completed. The potential risks far outweigh the relatively modest cost.

How Much Does a Property Survey Cost?

The cost of a property survey is dependent on a few factors. These include:

  • your state

  • your area’s cost of living

  • the size of the property

  • the land’s shape and terrain

  • the complexity of the property’s history

  • the extent of research required

  • the land’s accessibility and proximity to the surveying team

As of 2021, the average cost of a property survey is around $500. Bear in mind, however, that a 10-acre plot of land in the Adirondacks will cost more to survey than a quarter-acre lot in rural Pennsylvania. 

If you have a smaller plot of land in a state with a lower cost of living, expect to spend under $1,000. If you’re planning to purchase a more rugged, multi-acre plot in a more expensive state, the survey cost will likely be several thousands of dollars.

Still, even the most expensive survey is cheaper than a legal dispute over who owns what land.

How to Get a Property Survey for Your Potential Home

Property surveys are often completed before buying a new home, but they are also commonly conducted before major construction projections or when refinancing a home. 

As mentioned above, you can coordinate a property survey for land you own or are interested in buying by contacting the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Your local chapter will have a licensed professional who can travel to your property and begin the process.

If you’re buying or selling a home, you can also ask your real estate agent for recommendations. If you are planning a new construction project, it may be worth soliciting advice from your contractor as well.

Other Forms of Home Protection

A property survey offers a significant amount of home protection. It gives you official documentation that can support your case in the event of a legal battle, and it provides information that can inform major home improvement and construction decisions.

There are other methods of home protection to consider too. A home warranty, for example, provides financial protection by ensuring that you don’t need to pay out of pocket for inevitable repairs to your home appliances and systems. Much like a property survey, a home warranty is especially useful for new home buyers.

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