What Is a Property Survey? How Do I Get One?

Property Surveyinig

Purchasing a home isn’t just about shaking hands once your offer gets the nod. There’s a behind-the-scenes checklist to tick off before you pop the champagne and move in. One key item? The property survey.

Think of a property survey as a map of your home’s territory. It sketches out the boundaries of your land, digs deep to spot things like wells or septic tanks, and even points out legal nuances like easements or potential oversteps onto a neighbor’s land.

So, a property survey is your go-to guide, whether you’re snagging a new home or planning to jazz up your current one with an extension. Discover its essence and the steps to snag one for yourself.

What’s a Property Survey?

Land Surveying

Imagine a property survey as a game of “This is mine, that’s yours.” Curtis Sumner, from the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), explains that these surveys often come into play when carving out new chunks of land.

But it’s not just about new territories. If you’ve ever thought about setting up a fence, you’d want to be sure you’re not accidentally encroaching on your neighbor’s tulip bed. That’s where a property survey steps in, drawing the line between your space and theirs.

In some places, before you can call a house your home, a survey is essential. While many financial and title firms ask for a survey before sealing the deal, it’s not a universal rule. And sometimes, if you have an older survey that’s still relevant, you might just skip the step of getting a fresh one.

Why Should You Care About Them?

Property Surveys

Think of property surveys as the rulebook of your land’s game. Instead of playing a guessing game of “Is this tree on my side or theirs?”, a survey gives you a clear, legal blueprint of your territory.

Emory Wooll, a bigwig from Elite Choice Title and Escrow Corp. in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida, sheds light on another crucial aspect. These surveys are the golden ticket for lender title insurance policies.

Wooll explains, “Before we hand over a title insurance policy, we need to ensure no one’s sneaking a piece of your property pie.” This means checking for any overlaps or intrusions before you seal the deal on your home.

Planning a splashy new pool or a white picket fence? Wooll emphasizes that before you dive into major home makeovers, many local governments or builders will ask for this rulebook.

Got an old survey tucked away? It might save the day, but sometimes it’s like using an old map for a changed city. Depending on your location and project size, it might be wise to get a shiny, updated survey.

How to Hunt Down Your Property’s Survey?

  1. From the Seller: If you’re in the process of buying, the first stop should be the current homeowner. They might have it stashed with their lender or title company documents.
  2. Tax Assessor’s Office: Your local tax assessor’s office is like a library for property-related documents. They might just have a copy of your property survey.
  3. Property Records or Engineering Department: If you’re already cozied up in your home but never got your hands on a survey, these local departments could be your treasure trove. They often keep such records, though there’s a catch. If they hand you an old, dusty survey, tread with caution. While these ancient maps might be spot-on for city properties, they can be off the mark for lands that have morphed from rural to suburban.
  4. Neighborly Advice: Sometimes, the best resources are right next door. Your neighbors might have recently gotten a survey and can point you to where they found theirs.

What are the different types of property surveys?

Because there are many reasons to have a survey done, there are many different types of surveys as well. They include:

Land surveys These detail the boundaries of a parcel of land.
Topographic surveys These illustrate the plane and elevation of the land. They’re often required for site work such as road improvements.
Monumentation surveys These are done if you want to add a fence to your property.
As-built surveys These determine property lines, but also where improvements or additions can be made, like driveways and sidewalks.
Mortgage surveys Like as-built surveys, mortgage surveys show property boundaries for an entire property that will be mortgaged.
Floodplain surveys These show flood hazard areas.

When you’re requesting a property survey, be specific about why you need it. That way, when you get an estimate for the work, it’s accurate in relation to what you need done.

Once your survey is completed, it’s smart to place permanent markers in the ground at the property’s boundaries. Keep several copies of the survey in a safe place — and preferably at least one with your bank, in case of fire or other disaster.

The Price Tag on Property Surveys:

Topographic Surveys

How Much?

The cost of a property survey isn’t one-size-fits-all. Factors like the kind of survey, property size, its location, and its historical records play a role. A basic boundary survey might set you back between $100 to $600.

On the other hand, a mortgage survey averages around $500, as per HomeAdvisor’s data. If your property is like a mystery novel with intricate features and a long history, expect the surveyor’s bill to reflect that complexity.

Who Foots the Bill?

If you’re on the hunt for a new home and need a survey to draw the lines or check if you’ll need an ark during heavy rains (i.e., if it’s in a floodplain), or if your lender asks for one, the expense is on you.

Finding the Right Surveyor:

  1. Online Search: The digital age makes it easy. A quick online search can lead you to local property surveyors ready to get to work.
  2. Surveying Societies: Curtis Sumner points out that each state has its surveying society linked with the NSPS. These societies often have handy “Find A Surveyor” sections on their websites.
  3. Previous Surveyor Advantage: If you can, try to rope in the surveyor who previously worked on the property. They’ll have a head start with existing maps and records, which might be lighter on your wallet.
  4. Neighbor’s Recommendations: If the previous surveyor is a no-show, the ones who worked on neighboring properties might be your next best bet. Also, your title company or lender might have some names up their sleeves.
  5. License & Chat: Sumner emphasizes the importance of ensuring your surveyor has a valid license for your state. And don’t shy away from a good old chat. Discuss your needs and ensure they’re up to the task before diving in.

Timeframe for a Property Survey:

It’s Not Set in Stone: According to Sumner, pinning down an exact duration for a property survey is like trying to predict the weather a month in advance. There are just too many factors at play, especially when it comes to the quality and accessibility of property records like deeds.

Typical Duration: Wooll gives a ballpark figure, suggesting that most surveys can be wrapped up within a week. However, don’t be surprised if it stretches to three weeks or even more. The company’s workload plays a role here.

Current Climate: A notable mention is the post-pandemic world we’re navigating. Just like many other professionals, surveyors are in high demand. This surge can lead to longer wait times compared to the pre-pandemic era.


1. What does a full survey include?

A full survey, often referred to as a comprehensive survey, provides a detailed examination of a property’s condition. It covers all accessible parts of the property, identifies any structural problems, defects, or maintenance issues, and often provides recommendations for repairs.

2. What does a building survey do?

A building survey is a thorough inspection of a property’s structure and condition. It delves deep into potential problems, defects, or issues with the building and provides advice on repairs and maintenance.

3. Is a survey the same as an appraisal?

No, they serve different purposes. A survey determines the boundaries and features of a property, while an appraisal determines the property’s market value based on factors like location, condition, and recent sales of similar properties.

4. What is the difference between a survey and a boundary survey?

While both are types of surveys, a general survey can cover various aspects of a property, including structures, features, and topography. In contrast, a boundary survey specifically focuses on establishing the exact boundaries of a property.

5. Who fills in?

A licensed or certified land surveyor conducts and completes a property survey. They use specialized equipment and tools to measure and record the property’s features and boundaries.

6. What are the 3 parts of a survey?

The three main parts of a survey are:

  • Introduction: Explains the purpose and importance of the survey.
  • Body: Contains the main questions or measurements.
  • Conclusion: Often includes demographic questions and a space for additional comments.

7. Is a survey a valuation?

No, a survey assesses the physical aspects and boundaries of a property, while a valuation determines its monetary worth in the current market.

8. How accurate is it?

When conducted by a licensed professional using modern equipment, surveys are highly accurate. They provide precise measurements and details about a property.

9. Do you get a valuation?

Not always. While some comprehensive building surveys might include a valuation, it’s not a standard feature of all surveys. If you need a valuation, it’s essential to specify this when commissioning a survey or consider getting a separate appraisal.

Bottom line

You might not need a property survey done before buying a home. But in some cases, your lender or title company might require one, so make sure you’re prepared.

Whether you’re closing on a home or planning a major addition, knowing your property’s precise boundary lines can help avoid costly headaches and disputes with neighbors later on.

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