There are several different types of surveys.
The type of survey that we order for closing is called a “Location Survey.” A Location Survey shows the location of the improvements on the property in relation to the apparent boundary lines of the property. It generally involves a physical inspection of the property and is accurate to plus or minus a few feet.
This type of survey will generally cost a few hundred dollars. It should not be used for the purpose of identifying the property’s boundary lines, such as for construction or permit purposes (you’ll need a Boundary Survey for that). When you go to closing, you should feel free to ask the settlement attorney any questions you might have about what is shown on the survey.
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 what is necessary for construction and permit purposes, and it can be expensive — possibly even several thousand dollars — depending on the size of the property and how complicated the records are.
For commercial closings, lenders will usually require a type of survey called an “ALTA/ASCM Survey.” ALTA stands for American Land Title Association, and ACSM stands for American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. An ALTA/ASCM survey is a Boundary Survey that must meet certain stringent standards established by these two organizations.
If you are buying a house and you plan on doing construction in the short term, such as putting on an addition or installing a fence, it might make sense to obtain a Boundary Survey as part of your purchase closing. That way, you would not be paying for a Location Survey for the closing and then having to pay for a Boundary Survey after closing.
You would just need to inform the title company so that they can arrange for the surveyor to perform a Boundary Survey instead of a Location Survey.
Property survey in practice
Where questions come up after closing regarding the property lines, but a full survey plat or map is not needed, another option is to have a surveyor “Mark the Property Corners.”
I recently had this done for a property I own in Maryland so that I could install a wood fence where an old wire fence had previously been located but was now mostly missing. I obtained a Location Survey as part of my purchase closing, and that survey showed that there were some discrepancies between the existing wire fence and the property lines.
The fence company installing the new fence did not require a survey and could have simply installed the new fence where the old one had been located, but I decided that I wanted to see where the property corners were. The surveyor had to dig deep holes in the ground to uncover the original iron rods that marked the corners, and then he marked those locations with stakes.
It was not cheap at $480, but, because it didn’t include a plat or map, it was less than a Boundary Survey would have cost. And I’m very glad I did it. It turns out that the back run of the old fence was more than three feet inside my property line. By locating the new fence closer to the actual property line, I was able to enlarge my yard by three feet.