Property Survey Basics

Dated: 12/10/2019

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When buying or selling a home, you’ll be asked about a survey map. What is that? Where do you get one? And do you even need one? We’ve got the details below to help you decide which option is best for your situation.

What is a survey? 

No, it’s not a questionnaire asking how much you like your home or neighborhood. A survey is actually a process during which a professional surveyor comes to measure your property boundaries, encroachments, easements, and setback lines, as well as where on the property the buildings (your home, shed, etc.) and any pools or other bodies of water sit on the land. What’s often meant when people are asking for your survey is the surveyor’s drawing showing all of the above information and measurements. Their drawing will also include a legal description of the property, a key or legend, and the surveyor’s contact information with an official seal.

What do all of those words mean? An encroachment is an unauthorized use of your land. Let’s say your neighbor’s fence blew down in a storm. (This is Texas after all!) When the neighbor’s fence crew came out to replace it, they did one of 2 things- remove the existing fence post footings (the concrete anchors) or they put in new ones somewhere near the old ones to save time and labor. If they’re putting in new posts with new footings, they may not be checking to make sure they are within the property lines since most are not physically marked on the lot. By doing so, it’s possible that the neighbor’s new fence could be an inch or 2 over their property line, encroaching on your land. 

Another common type of encroachment is a home that was built beyond the setback line. Setback lines, often referred to as building lines, are boundary standards set by city zoning rules, HOAs, or other entities and then recorded with the county as a deed restriction. No structure- house, porch, shed, etc. can be built outside of the specified setback or building line. Setbacks are usually established to allow for sight lines (especially near intersections) and to create a consistent look, but also to minimize the spread of fires, or prevent homes from blocking all of the light on a neighboring property. 

An easement, sometimes called a right of way, is an interest or right given to someone else to use a portion of your land. Almost every piece of land will have at least one, and they’re passed from one owner to the next in most cases. So why would you want to grant someone else the right to access your land? Utilities are the #1 reason. If live in a home built on your land, you’ve most likely got utility lines somewhere on your property to supply power, water, gas, cable, internet, etc. and to remove wastewater. Even if you own land without a building, there may be utility lines underground that provide service to others. Should there be an issue with a utility line on, above, or underneath your property, the provider may need to have one of their workers step on your land for maintenance or repairs. This type of easement must be in writing, filed with the county, and will establish a deed restriction that will stay with the property whenever it is sold. Other types of easements include specific, defined paths to access to neighboring bodies of water or land-locked properties and even the rights to fly over the property below certain altitudes. So, sorry, but if the cable company is digging in a portion of your front yard to install lines without telling you, they may have already had permission to do so, granted by an easement. It wouldn’t hurt them to give you the courtesy of a little warning, but they don’t need to ask your permission. 

Do I need a survey?

The short answer is yes. When you buy a property with a mortgage loan, the bank will require a survey in order to verify what they’re lending you their money to buy. If you are purchasing without a loan, a survey will be optional, but is still highly recommended. Just like the banks, it is wise to fully verify what you’re buying, since all real estate sales in Texas are considered “as-is.” After the purchase, you may need to refer to the survey map if you plan to build on the property at any point, add a pool, plant a tree, etc. so that you know where utility easements and building or setback lines are located. 

When you go to sell your property in the future, count on being asked to provide a survey of the property at that time. It’s not uncommon for prospective buyers to want to look at the survey map before making an offer. A prior survey map from your purchase may be able to be reused, saving you some money. More on this shortly. 

Can I Re-use an Old Survey?

Maybe. Sellers can offer up the survey from their purchase, or any surveys done after that as long as there have been no changes, the survey map is complete and legible, and the survey isn’t too old. The seller will need to fill out a T-47 affidavit and have it notarized, either noting anything that has changed or affirming that there have been no changes. The title company and bank (if financing) will then review both and either approve the survey for re-use or require that a new one be ordered for the sale. If the current survey map is 7-10 years old or more, some title companies and banks will call for a new one even if there have been no changes. 

If you intend to install a swimming pool, add on to the property, or purchasing a large amount of land.  if the current survey map was supplied by an owner prior to the current seller, it might be wise to request a new survey even if there are no changes. The current seller can only be certain of any changes made during the time they owned the property. And, underground lines can be installed without being visible above ground, thanks to horizontal drilling practices. When in doubt, a new survey is a worthwhile investment. Prices for an average subdivision lot are usually between $400-500, expect to pay a couple thousand for larger properties with 10 or more acres.


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Lisa Ellard

With a background in marketing and journalism, Lisa Ellard is well-equipped to offer each of her clients savvy business advice, while always keeping their lifestyle needs a priority. She is a detail-....

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