Man performing survey for title insurance

Frequently Asked Questions about Surveys

Jun 25, 2024 Realtor Resources Share:

Surveys play a significant role in real estate transactions. While they're sometimes required by lenders or title companies, not every transaction needs one.

Understanding when and why a survey is necessary can help smooth the process for both realtors and homebuyers. We’re tackling your most frequently asked questions about surveys.

What is a survey and what does it reveal?

A survey is a detailed measurement and mapping of a property's boundaries and features. It reveals essential information such as property lines, structures, easements, and encroachments. Surveys can also identify any zoning violations or restrictions, which could impact the future use or marketability of the property.

Understanding the full extent of a property, including any limitations or potential issues, is crucial for making informed decisions during a real estate transaction. This information gives all parties a clear understanding of the property’s physical and legal boundaries.

Are surveys required for every real estate transaction?

Not all real estate transactions require a survey. Surveys are typically only necessary if there are issues with the legal description of the property or if the lender mandates it. The need for a survey depends on the type of property and the specific requirements of the involved parties.

For instance, properties described by metes and bounds, often found in rural or undeveloped areas, may require surveys more frequently due to their less-defined boundaries. In contrast, properties within subdivisions, described by lot and block, might not need a survey unless there are specific concerns. The decision to require a survey is often influenced by the type of loan, the lender's policies, and the title insurance requirements.

What is the role of the surveyor?

Surveyors measure land and create detailed maps and reports of the property. They identify and document the exact boundaries and any features within those boundaries. Their work ensures that all parties have a clear and accurate understanding of the property lines and any potential issues.

Surveyors also verify that existing structures comply with zoning laws and do not encroach on neighboring properties. This verification process can uncover problems such as illegal extensions or unrecorded easements that could affect property value or usability.

Surveyors are neutral third parties in a real estate transaction. They provide an unbiased and objective assessment of a property's boundaries and features. The responsibility for hiring a surveyor typically falls on the buyer, especially if the survey is required by the lender or title company. However, in some cases, the seller may already have a recent survey available, or the responsibility can be negotiated as part of the purchase agreement.

What is the difference between a title search and a survey?

A title search and a survey serve different but complementary purposes in a real estate transaction. A title search examines the property's history to ensure there are no legal issues such as liens, claims, or disputes. This process involves reviewing public records to confirm the property's legal ownership and uncover any encumbrances that could affect the sale.

On the other hand, a survey provides a physical and legal description of the property’s boundaries and features. It includes a detailed map showing property lines, structures, and any encroachments or easements. While the title search deals with legal aspects, ensuring the title is clear, the survey focuses on the physical layout and any potential boundary issues.

Will ordering a survey delay my closing?

Ordering a survey late in the transaction can potentially delay closing, especially if surveyors are backlogged. During the pandemic, surveyors were particularly busy, leading to significant delays. It's essential to order a survey as early as possible to avoid last-minute issues. The time it takes to complete a survey can vary depending on the availability of surveyors and the complexity of the property.

Properties with intricate boundaries or multiple encroachments may require more time for accurate measurement and documentation. Scheduling a survey promptly can help ensure it is completed without causing delays in the closing process. Being proactive in this aspect can save time and prevent potential frustrations as the closing date approaches.

What impact do surveys have on the ability to issue title insurance?

Title companies may require a survey to identify any encroachments, boundary disputes, or other issues before issuing a policy. Without a survey, the title company may include exceptions in the policy for any unknown encroachments or boundary disputes, which could leave the property owner unprotected against certain claims.

The detailed information provided by a survey helps title companies assess the risk more accurately and determine the appropriate coverage. By identifying and addressing any potential problems early, surveys help to ensure that title insurance can be issued with fewer exceptions, providing more comprehensive protection for the property owner.

Can title insurance cover issues revealed in a survey?

Title insurance can cover issues revealed in a survey, but only if those issues are known at the time the policy is issued. If a survey reveals encroachments, easements, or other boundary problems, they can be addressed.

For instance, a survey might show that a neighbor's fence or building extends onto the property being purchased. This encroachment could create a legal dispute over property boundaries and would need to be addressed to have a clear title for closing.

However, if a survey is not conducted, undisclosed issues may not be covered by the title insurance, potentially leaving the property owner at risk.

Can I use an old survey, or do I need to get a new one?

You can use an old survey if there have been no changes to the property. For example, if no new structures have been built and no boundary lines have been altered since the last survey, using the old one can be sufficient. The risk is limited if there are no changes and the property's description remains clear and accurate.

However, you should get a new survey if there have been any changes or potential alterations. For instance, if a neighbor has built a new fence or if there have been recent modifications to the property's layout, a new survey is necessary to ensure all current details are accurately documented.

Are surveys ever waived?

Surveys can sometimes be waived, especially if the lender or title company determines there are no significant risks. In such cases, a survey affidavit may be signed, waiving the right to a new survey and affirming that no changes have occurred since the last survey. This waiver process is typically reserved for properties with a clear and uncontested history, where the risk of boundary issues or encroachments is minimal.

Surveys are a critical component of many real estate transactions, providing essential information about property boundaries and features. While not always required, they can prevent future disputes and ensure a smoother transaction.

At South Oak, we’re here to support realtors and homebuyers throughout the entire real estate transaction. Whether you’ve got questions about surveys, title insurance, or any other aspect of the transaction, we’ve got your back. Contact us today to learn more, or order a title and schedule a closing.