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Land Surveys: What, When, Why?
By Barbara Pronin
A land survey, sometimes called a title survey, provides a geographical description of real property. Performed by a professional surveyor, a complete survey documents the property’s boundaries, easements, and improvements. To be acceptable for a title insurer, the survey must be done to minimum standards set forth by ALTA/NSPS in 2016.
While regulations vary from state to state, many lenders require some type of land survey in order to secure a mortgage. In California, a survey is not required by lenders. Even if the lender does not require a survey, the buyer would be wise to secure one and review it before taking title. A buyer who chooses not to do so assumes the risk of any misunderstandings that might surface after closing.
For example, there have been cases when buyers found out after taking title that:
  • A neighbor’s fence encroaches on the property
  • A utility company has access rights to the back yard
  • A part of what was thought to be the back yard belongs to a neighbor 
Consider the aggravation – and the financial ramifications – if a new owner were to build a structure on a portion of his/her property only to learn that the water company had access rights for maintenance purposes, and the new structure had to be removed.
In fact, most problems involving boundary or easement misunderstandings come to light only after closing, when the new owners wish to make improvements such as adding a pool, a patio, or a building extension – only to learn that their boundaries are not what they thought they were.
Clearly, then, although a current land survey may cost several thousand dollars at a minimum, having one done can buy peace of mind for the new owner. In California, the cost for the survey will be listed as a ‘buyer’s expense’ in the closing paperwork.
It’s worth noting that the question of who pays for the survey may be negotiable – and sometimes, a copy of a survey done previously can be obtained from the seller if he has one. (Unless the seller has since made improvements, such as putting up a new fence, it should suffice.)
In any case, it’s good practice for agents everywhere to educate their buyer clients about the value, as well as the cost, of having a land survey done prior to closing.
Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade.

This material is not intended to be relied upon as a statement of the law, and is not to be construed as legal, tax or investment advice.  You are encouraged to consult your legal, tax or investment professional for specific advice.  The material is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only.  Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, no representation is made as to its accuracy. 

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