Understanding 4 types of property surveys

To determine the exact location of her property lines, Dianne hired a surveyor to
At Federal Title and Escrow, we require a property survey for single family home purchase closings. Homebuyers frequently ask us why it is necessary to have a survey.

The main reason we obtain a survey is that the lender providing the purchase financing requires that we issue a lender’s title insurance policy that does not take exception to survey matters, and in order to do that, we need to review a survey.

My recent post discussing encroachments onto neighboring property is an example of how important obtaining a survey can be from a homebuyer’s perspective.

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.

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Comments (5)

  • sean


    29 June 2015 at 13:57 | #

    I am just learning about land surveyors, and what they do, and this was very helpful. Particularly, I appreciate you pointing out what property survey looks like when it is put into practice. This seems like it would be beneficial if you were considering putting up a fence around your property.


    • Lynn


      16 March 2016 at 22:32 | #

      This article was so helpful. I also just need the corners marked. Should I tell the surveyor that? Also can you supply the company you used.


  • Eldoron


    29 May 2016 at 11:50 | #

    I recently purchased a home and paid cash so I did not need a survey. I was given a copy of an old survey by the previous owner but I cannot find the property markers. Would the surveyor that did that one give me a break on just locating the property markers for me?
    Thanks, El


    • webmaster


      03 June 2016 at 15:47 | #

      Hi El, that's a good question! You may want to reach out to the surveyor company you have on record to find out if they can help you out.


  • Jonathan Smith

    Jonathan Smith

    29 July 2016 at 04:10 | #

    Property surveys are helpful to know exactly about a property. I hope your post about different type of surveys can help people to know what types of survey they require. Thanks


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