What do you do exactly?
January 8, 2013 11:16 AM   Subscribe

We are planning on getting our little .34 of an acre property surveyed & the boundaries staked. We are in an older neighborhood with basic lots & homes. I plan to do my due diligence and find a good surveyor at a reasonable price. What should I be asking and what should I be weary of when I call around? Also, how exactly do I find who to call? Is there a registry? Are surveyors licensed? I have already checked with the county- there are no existing surveys for our property other than the original 1950 plat map. Obviously I have no clue what I'm doing, but want to sound like I have a at least a little insight when I start getting quotes. Tips & tricks appreciated.
posted by MayNicholas to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you liked your realtor, or know one who's well-liked, you might ask them. I know that when my folks had their property surveyed it was pretty complex, so they asked around and got what was generally agreed to be the best team around. They were very glad of it. Yours sounds pretty straightforward, but personal recommendations are always best.
posted by ldthomps at 11:23 AM on January 8, 2013

Surveyors are licensed in most states - they are in my state. The best way is to ask around. Ask your realtor like ldthomps suggested, ask friends, etc. The best thing to do is get at least 3 quotes but don't always go with the cheapest. My suggestion is to ask what type of staking they will do. Concrete posts are the best but there is nothing wrong with wooden markers that are brightly colored particularly in rural areas. On your small property there's not too much to do unless it's oddly shaped. In my experience don't be surprised if your property lines are off due to the lack of survey for over 50 years. Many times the line is fluid after such a long period of time.
posted by lasamana at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2013

Wanted to add every surveyor should walk the lines with you and clear it if need be.
posted by lasamana at 11:39 AM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: I have already asked my realtor. They gave me a recommendation, but I take it with a grain of salt because I know they get kick backs from certain affiliations.

I know we want concrete or rebar stakes so they can not be moved if a neighbor doesn't like the results.

What does "Many times the line is fluid after such a long period of time." mean?

By the by we are in Virginia.
posted by MayNicholas at 11:41 AM on January 8, 2013

In my experience don't be surprised if your property lines are off due to the lack of survey for over 50 years. Many times the line is fluid after such a long period of time.

This. We had our property surveyed before a construction project and we were amazed to find the town's assessment map was way off, our neighbor's house was partially on our property and part of our driveway was on theirs (the same family previously owned both houses), and we owned a few Sq. feet on the other side of the road. They also found a few hundred year-old property markers when they dug around.

We used the same company that was used to plot out our septic system before we closed on the house. As others have said, ask your realtor or maybe a local property lawyer. If someone in the neighborhood has recently had some major construction they might know of one as well.
posted by bondcliff at 11:42 AM on January 8, 2013

I got a recommendation from my landscaper - we were putting in new fences. Then I checked them out on Angie's List, and they were well-rated there.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:43 AM on January 8, 2013

I've never been overly picky about getting the survey. I've never had a bad experience.

One thing to note, recently an 85ft tall pine tree fell from our neighbors yard into ours. This must have happened when we were all away from home because we didn't notice it for over 24 hours (I don't often go into our back yard.)

Turns out the neighbor put his fence on our property, his wife made a feeble attempt to say that it was OUR tree, but it was later cleared up with no hassle.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:58 AM on January 8, 2013

In one case I saw the line went through the newer house that was put in during the 70's. The original house had been built in the 40's and the lines had not been surveyed since. Many times old property lines don't follow what someone might assume is the line. That's how you get someone caring for a piece of property that isn't legally theirs. Also in some cases property is forfeited (adverse possession) if the neighbor can show that they have been caring for such as their own. Although that would be an extreme case. I am someone who deals with zoning issues but IANAL
posted by lasamana at 11:59 AM on January 8, 2013

The line can be fluid for many reasons. Our neighbor installed a 6" high fence and planted shrubs and flowers to enhance his yard. His fence does not follow the property line which is pretty obvious because the 2 water service boxes are quite visible. Silly. He 'gave' us a pie shaped strip because he would not see the obvious.
posted by Cranberry at 12:02 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: Still not sure what the term 'fluid' means in this context.
posted by MayNicholas at 12:09 PM on January 8, 2013

It has moved.
posted by lasamana at 12:13 PM on January 8, 2013

"Fluid" means that people's understanding of where the line is has changed over time from where the line actually is to where everyone thinks it is. The legal property boundary has not changed. However, the colloquial understanding of where the property boundary is has changed.

That said, having a survey done will help to clarify where the actual legal property boundary is, and therefore reset the general neighborhood understanding of where the actual legal property boundary lies.

However, if you have a house that half sits on your legal property, I have no idea how you remedy that.
posted by RogueTech at 12:15 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh. Thank you!
posted by MayNicholas at 12:16 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or, as others have illustrated, you're in a situation of adverse possession.
posted by LionIndex at 12:17 PM on January 8, 2013

Regarding "fluid" see adverse possession.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:18 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: I hope we don't have any adverse possession going on! The houses are all original to the sub-division. The only potential issue would probably be existing fences or driveways.

When I start calling do I just say I want a property survey? Will they ask me anything complicated?

I found a fencing company that also does surveys for $150 with the purchase of a fence, but something about that sounds a little too cheap for such a 'legal' endeavor.
posted by MayNicholas at 12:34 PM on January 8, 2013

With anyone you hire, always check the Better Business Bureau web site.
posted by Ostara at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2013

$150 sounds ridiculously (and unbelievably) cheap. Everyone I checked with for my survey (Massachusetts) had a range of $1,000-1,500 (1/4 acre, residential)

To do it right takes training, and time, and at the end of it, they should both walk to land with you, pointing out everything along the way, all the stakes, etc., and provide you with copies of the professional survey they created on your behalf.

If you have particular questions about things you think might be on or off your property, make a list of them, so you can be sure to let them know in advance what your concerns are, and so you can look over those particular spots with them when you walk the land at the end.
posted by instead of three wishes at 12:58 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: Do I ask for a mortgage survey, house staking, boundary survey, or plot plan? Is it easier if I just tell them what I want and they will tell me what kind of survey I need?
posted by MayNicholas at 1:00 PM on January 8, 2013

What is your goal here? Are you planning on putting up a fence? From your description of wanting stakes & rebars, I assumed you were going with the more costly survey to determine exact borders. A simple $150 plot plan is not going to get you that.
posted by instead of three wishes at 1:08 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: The goal is to add additional fencing. The back yard is currently fully fenced (7ft tall-came that way when we bought the house). The houses are pretty close together and our neighbor on the bedroom side has their trash bins and other unattractive storage/ junk right there. We plan to extend the back yard fence up to the front of the house (currently it stops at the back of the house) so that at least when we look outside or of we want to put up the blinds from time to time we will see the fence and not our neighbors house/ junk & will have a little more privacy. Bonus that it makes our back yard a little bigger and gives me an additional garden nook. Then we plan to put in a picket fence around the front yard. Hopefully it will help in keeping the neighbors dogs from using our lawn as a toilet.

The lines in which we want these new additional fences are not obvious. There are no markers or garden beds that might hint to where one begins and the other ends. I looked online at the county's tax map parcel viewer and it looks like we have more space than we think on that side, but I don't know how scale it is. The back yard and the other side of the property look exactly right (as they do in person)on the overlay from the parcel viewer.

So the survey is mainly for fencing purposes, but it can't hurt to have one on record. That is why I'm not sure exactly what to ask for.
posted by MayNicholas at 1:41 PM on January 8, 2013

So, this is pretty much the same reason I had a survey done recently (new fencing). I found recommendations online, and from my workplace (they have surveys done on a regular basis for various real estate reasons). I wrote an email to each company I was interested in, telling them my address, and what I wanted done, and why.

They sent back formal proposals. They listed exactly what they would do for me (professional survey, staking, documentation, walking the land with me at the end) and the time frame they would need, along with a price. I sent back a couple questions, and then picked the company I liked the best. There will be a contract you have to sign, generally. My company required half the money up front, half when they walked the land with me at the end.

You are looking at around a $1,000 price tag here, give or take 2-3 hundred, I think.

Make up a list of the questions you have about the property, and either email it to them to be answered by the survey, or have it with you when you walk the land, or both, so you're comfortable with the answers.

As people have mentioned, property lines wander when no one bothers to double check things for decades. In my case, I did have very clear indicators of what looked like property lines, and everyone had treated them as such for quite a while. They were wrong. A loss of 1-2 feet along one side of the house, and a gain of 6-10 feet at the back of the yard (boggling!). So, be prepared for this type of possibility.

I will pm you the name of the company I used, as although they are out of state for you, they may be a starting point for referrals.
posted by instead of three wishes at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: I found several places online today. It didn't occur to me that I could email them. Would certainly be faster start and allow me to rule out flakes right away. That was about what we expect the cost to be.
posted by MayNicholas at 3:13 PM on January 8, 2013

I am a professional Engineer (not a surveyor but we share some common training) and I wanted to comment on the fluid thing. If everyone agrees that the new property line is here and not there as shown on an old survey map that was never updated than the new line has the force of law behind it without necessarily going through adverse possession. This varies state to state and always takes a long time to overcome the survey data (years and years really and changes of ownership in all affected parcels matter also) but it is up to the judge should it come to that.

You want a boundary survey, it will cost a minimum of 1500 or so and you will get a legal description, a drawing and a collection of all previous surveys and drawings that the surveyor can find. He (usually a he but can be a she) will put down corner markers on the legal lot corners and usually bury rebar markers that can be dug up later (usually found with metal detectors). You can also get a brass boundary marker put in for additional cost (they are pretty neat looking and when out hiking I have found several range/township markers by knowing what they look like and where they are put-here is an example). If you find a big descrepency on where the lot lines are compared to where everyone thinks they are, this is the time to talk to the neighbors and figure it out and sign new documents adjusting the lines (all counties have ways to do this usually not to expensively). Just because there was screw up 50 years ago doesn't mean you suddenly own your neighbors garage or kitchen or some such, see the fluid thing above.

And remember if it goes to the lawyers nobody but them is going to win.
posted by bartonlong at 3:43 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

As far as contacting people, you will get much farther with picking up the phone and calling than you will with e-mail.
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:45 PM on January 8, 2013

Maybe not relevant as I only have Australian experience - and as an engineer - not a surveyor.

Registered surveyors should be used to do a boundary definition. They will do a title search to locate the correct deposited plan, and then use that to accurately define the boundarys. They have the training to understand, locate and use notations like ROBFP or RMGIPFD on the Deposited plan to locate the boundaries.

Your county's (Local government?) Geographical information system is almost guaranteed to be incorrect, and normally comes with disclaimers that it is not be relied upon. Getting better than submeter accuracy substantially increases the cost of picking up information to populate the GIS - and the benefit isn't really there as there are normally other ways for the county to accurately locating their actual asset - "look a manhole" - so what if the GIS shows it in the next door neighbours yard?

When getting a registered surveyor to do a boundary definition, I have found that it is less expensive to engage the local surveyor - quite often they will have recovery pegs that an out of towner does not have access to.
posted by insomniax at 5:13 PM on January 8, 2013

Any registered surveyor can do this type of work. If they hold a valid license within your state (very easy to check) they will be fine. Surveyors are one of the few professions where you find next to no con-artists or flakes. I've worked for several and even if they are on the basic side they are good, honest people. They really have to be.

About all you need to say is that you want a property survey with iron pipe at all corners. Prices will vary only depending on the amount of work they need to do to get an accurate survey. If quarter-section or section corners are nearby and other information is easily accessed then it will make their job quicker and cheaper. If the company has done a recent survey in the same neighborhood that may make the cost lower. If your property is some weird shape other than a rectangle then it will make it more difficult and more expensive.

Get a few different prices and pick whomever can meet your schedule at a reasonable price. You could check references but it is not likely to matter as long as you checked the state licensing website.
posted by JJ86 at 6:07 PM on January 8, 2013

The surveyor may suggest this while fishing for business, but hey, it's true: Talk to your neighbors and see if they're interested in getting surveyed; most likely the surveyor can offer a lower per-lot rate if your neighbors on (or at least, the owners of) the contiguous plots of land also get surveyed at the same time.

A word of warning: my father hired a surveyor and worked with his neighbors, and in the process, his neighbors agreed, but one of them, previously friendly, stoppered down on contact shortly thereafter. Through a backchannel (wife-to-wife) he learned that the neighbor, a bit of a paranoid, was concerned that my Dad was making a move against some trees that acted as a screen between the houses-- though planted and tended by the neighbor, there was reasonable suspicion that they were on my father's lot. Once Dad communicated that he had no intention of acting against any neighbors or cutting down trees, friendly contact was resumed.

So, make sure you make them aware there's no adversarial intent, it's just good housekeeping.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:20 AM on January 9, 2013

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