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 (15)

  • 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


  • Tiffany smith

    Tiffany smith

    23 February 2017 at 20:50 | #

    Can a land surveyor remove an existing pin and move so my neighbor gets more land. About 15ft.


  • Ed


    06 April 2017 at 17:52 | #

    When a "location survey" is done at time of a house purchase - does the surveyor typically mark the lines/corners with stake/ribbon? The seller of our current house had a survey done, but nothing is marked. They are saying we did not ask for it to be marked - and that is now additional cost. Just wondering what is typical.


    • webmaster


      19 April 2017 at 17:36 | #

      Hi Ed, thanks for your question. A location survey is just a drawing, they do not typically mark the lines or corners. That would be considerably more expensive and is not common.


  • Mark A James

    Mark A James

    17 June 2017 at 10:40 | #

    If a survey is required for the loan to process then who is required to pay for it? I would think the seller must ensure the property measurements are correct and would pay for this as is his closing costs or is this something the New buyer is responsible for or is it negotiated. Thank you kindly for your answer


    • Nikki


      19 June 2017 at 13:51 | #

      Hi Mark,
      In DC, MD and VA the buyer typically pays for the location survey. However, it is something that could be negotiated between the parties.


  • Jack


    20 June 2017 at 15:34 | #

    I have property that on a grade with a 7' tall retaining wall that encroaches onto the adjacent property about 2 feet, for the length of the property. The wall was build in the 1960's to create a parking lot, and at that time, the person who owned it, also owned the adjacent lots, so she must have assumed building the wall onto the other property was not an issue? I have owned this property now for 20 years and it has not been an issue with the last owner. I have a new person who's moved in and done a "stake" survey and the lines they have come up with are quite different from all the legal descriptions I have going back to 1943. I'm wondering if I should have a survey done myself, and what type? Is there any recourse for this, or would this be a case for adverse possession? I live in MI. Thanks!


    • Nikki


      20 June 2017 at 16:20 | #

      Hi Jack,
      A boundary survey will likely help you determine the proper property lines. However, the adverse possession laws can differ significantly per state so you should check with an attorney in your state about the possibility of an adverse possession claim.


  • Leslie Marisol Cobar

    Leslie Marisol Cobar

    22 June 2017 at 09:49 | #

    Hi , I need a property survey done just to put up a fence. Do I have to have markers I don't have the money. My town needs it for my permit


    • Nikki


      26 June 2017 at 10:30 | #

      Hi Leslie,
      It will really depend on what your town requires for the permit. They might only require a location survey, which will be significantly less expensive, but permits often do require markers to be placed.
      Nikki Lyon


  • Teah


    20 July 2017 at 19:28 | #

    My husband and I are looking to purchase several acres of land off our neighbor. His property butts up to ours so we basically want to expand our property lines. What type of surveying would we need to have done?
    Thanks in Advance.


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