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Before you buy a new home, a survey may be needed to determine the boundaries of the property. Lenders and title companies often require property surveys before they'll approve your application for a mortgage or issue title insurance for the property. You might also need to get a property survey before you begin construction on your land or to settle disputes with neighbors about property lines.
What Is a Property Survey?
There are several types of property surveys, but the types individuals are most likely to need are:
- A boundary survey: This determines the perimeter of a property to establish exactly how much land is included within it and to ensure the title is accurate. It may also identify whether any neighboring properties have encroached upon the property as well as any easements, or areas where access to the property is shared by others. For example, if you're buying a house near a beach, there may be an easement allowing the public to cross part of your property to reach the beach.
- An ALTA/ACSM survey: Also called a mortgage survey or Extended Title Insurance Coverage Survey, this may be required by your mortgage lender or title insurance company. It determines property lines, identifies any utilities on the property and notes improvements (such as outbuildings, garages or fences). ALTA/ACSM surveys comply with requirements of the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.
- An elevation or floodplain survey: This shows the various elevations of the land to reveal how great the risk of flooding is.
- A topographic survey: This type of survey identifies not only boundaries and man-made features of the land, such as buildings, but also natural features such as elevation, streams, lakes or hills.
For an additional cost, you can include boundary staking, which has surveyors put markers—typically concrete pillars or rebar—at the corners of the property and along property lines.
The cost of a property survey depends on:
- The type of property survey.
- The size, shape and terrain of the property. For instance, surveying acres of undeveloped mountain land with indistinct boundaries costs more than surveying a suburban home with a small fenced lot.
- The amount of research that's required to find previous property surveys, titles and other records regarding the property.
- Travel time, due to the fact that surveyors charge more for driving long distances.
The average cost of a property survey in the U.S. is $504, according to homeowner services company HomeAdvisor, with the cost to survey a one-fifth-acre lot (the average U.S. home property size) ranging from $400 to $700.
Costs also vary by location. Angi, another homeowner services company, estimates average costs for a property survey as follows:
- New York: $380 to $900
- South Carolina: $250 to $600
- Texas: $200 to $550
- Oregon: $375 to $1,500
- Illinois: $350 to $700
How to Get a Property Survey
You may not need a new property survey if the property has been surveyed in the past. Laws vary from state to state, but typically a survey done within the past 10 years will still be valid. Check with your local tax assessor's office or courthouse to see if any prior property surveys are on file. If you're buying a new property, your lender or title company may be able to help you find previous surveys.
When you buy or sell a home, lenders or title companies sometimes arrange for a property survey to be conducted and include the fee in closing costs, so all you need to do is pay. Depending on state laws, the homebuyer or seller might be responsible for paying, or the fee may be negotiable.
To arrange a property survey on your own, you'll want to start by researching land surveyors. Each state has a professional society for land surveyors, and you can visit the National Society of Professional Surveyors website to find your local society and find a surveyor that way. You can also ask local real estate agents, your title company or your lender for recommendations. No matter how you find a surveyor, make sure they're licensed, insured and able to perform the job on your property.
When getting estimates from surveyors, provide as much information as possible about the property and specify the kind of survey you need. Once you've selected your surveyor and schedule the survey, it typically takes a few weeks to complete the job. If you need one completed for a home purchase, schedule your survey as soon as possible.
Why a Property Survey Is Important
A property survey assures the lender and title company that the property you're buying is true to its description. For homeowners, doing a property survey before starting construction or improvements ensures you're building on your own land to hopefully prevent any future disputes with neighbors. Cities may also require property surveys before construction can be permitted. Check with your city to see if a survey is needed and, if so, what type.
Conducting a property survey is wise even if the boundaries of your property seem clear, such as a house with a fenced yard. If the fence you're replacing is really on your neighbor's property, it's better to make that discovery before starting the work.
Property surveys can also resolve disputes. Your neighbor may be upset that you're walking through his yard to get to the creek behind your homes. A property survey can prove you have the right to do so.
Property Surveys Are a Key Part of Home Purchasing
Conducting a property survey is one of many steps in buying a home. Before shopping for properties, it's important to get your credit ready for a mortgage. Get a free credit report from each of the three major consumer credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—at AnnualCreditReport.com and review them for the factors that may be affecting your credit. You can also get your Experian credit report and view your credit score for free directly through Experian.
A FICO® Score☉ of 670 or better is considered good and can help you qualify for lower mortgage interest rates and better loan terms. But why stop there? The higher your credit score, the more you could save on mortgage interest. Ways you can help improve your credit score include paying down debt, paying bills on time and avoiding new applications for credit.