To Survey or Not To Survey

One of the most important parts of a real estate transaction is determining the correct legal description of the property. Can you imagine purchasing a piece of property because you love the spacious backyard only to discover a few years later that you actually only own half of the yard? That is exactly what happened to one of my new clients a few months ago. After a title search was completed, it was determined that only half of the back yard had been conveyed when he purchased the property because of an error in the legal description. In his frustration, he asked what could have been done to avoid this issue and wanted to know why his previous attorney had not noticed the discrepancy. I explained to him that the only way to truly know exactly what you are purchasing is to have the property surveyed.

A survey is basically a graphic outline of the legal boundaries of a piece of property. It shows both the physical boundary lines of the property and any improvements, such as buildings, fences, and driveways, made to the property. Surveys also identify easements and other restrictions on the property that affect your use and future development of the property and determine whether or not your property is located on a floodplain. Even more important, a survey can reveal title issues, such as property line encroachments, setback violations, and as in our case above, errors contained in the legal description on the deed of conveyance.

In North Carolina, it is not required for a purchaser of real property to obtain a survey. In fact, most people believe that there are only a few reasons why they should consider having a survey of their property. These reasons include resolving boundary disputes with their neighbor or when building a new home. However, there are multiple reasons why a buyer should choose to obtain a survey before purchasing property.

One reason a buyer should choose to have survey before they purchase property is your owner’s title insurance policy. An owner’s title insurance policy is usually purchased when you purchase property. The policy insures your interest in the property if there is ever a dispute concerning your ownership of the property. One thing that some buyers do not understand is that when you purchase real property and obtain an owner’s title insurance policy the insurance policy will not automatically cover or “insure” any issue that could have been discovered by a survey of the property. For an example let’s go back to my client’s issue above. When the issue was first discovered, my client’s first response was that he had an owner’s title insurance policy. After reviewing his policy, he was devastated when I explained to him that his insurance policy would be of no help in this situation. The reason was because his policy listed any issue that a survey could have discovered as an exception. If my client would have had a survey before he purchased the property and if that survey would have been provided to the title insurance company, then that exception would have been removed and his policy would have covered this situation. Better yet, a survey would have discovered the flaw in the legal description and the issue would have been resolved before he even purchased the property.

This alone is a good enough reason to obtain a survey, but if you need more below are seven (7) other reasons why you will want to consider obtaining a survey:

  1. Boundary Lines: Thinking of installing a fence, driveway, pool, or an addition on your home? The location of boundary lines is critical to insuring that these improvements are being erected on your property and not your neighbor’s.
  2. Rights-of-Way, Easements, and Abandoned Roads: Is your neighbor provided access to their property through yours? A survey will show any conditions imposed on your property based on any recorded agreements, such as easements.
  3. Joint Driveways, Party Walls, Encroachments: Do you have an obligation to support your neighbor’s driveway by maintaining yours? Or does your driveway slightly run onto your neighbor’s property? A survey will highlight these issues for you.
  4. Water, Electric, Gas, Telephone and Telegraph Pipes, Drains, Wires, Cables, Vaults, Manhole Covers, Catchbasins, Lines, and Poles: A survey will usually report the existence of some underground cables and drains. This is especially important because utility companies will usually have the right, or an easement, to use part of your property to maintain and upkeep the utility lines. Knowledge of these easements is also important when determining where you would like to install your pool.
  5. Cemeteries: A survey will show the exact location of any old cemetery lines.
  6. Access, Ingress and Egress: Is there access to your property by way of a public road or private easement? A survey will state if there is physical ingress and egress to a public road.
  7. Zoning Classification: A survey will tell you any specific restrictions on how you can use your property.

If you have any questions in regards to whether or not you should obtain a survey contact a real estate attorney and remember that the only way to truly know exactly what you are purchasing is to obtain a survey of the property.

Published by Cynthia Pela on April 29, 2019.