R. L. Galloway Surveying, Licensed Virginia Land Surveyors
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Purchasing a Home

The Importance Of A Land Survey BEFORE Purchasing Land.

If you are interested in purchasing real estate, the wrong way to go about it is to simply find a lot or house that you like, and then make an offer. There are several often-forgotten steps that you should take before this point. Many people often overlook the land survey step of buying land. The best time to have a land survey undertaken is before you complete the process of purchasing the land.  For some reason lending companies aren't requiring land surveying as they have in the past.  This is detrimental to your future and could result in costly litigation.

Land surveyors can determine the boundary line measurements to make sure that the plot of land you think you are buying is actually what you are buying. The land surveyor can tell you whether the trees, building ,fences, sidewalks, driveways, and other features of the land actually lie on the property, and also whether anyone else’s buildings or other features encroach onto the property you wish to buy.

They will also be familiar with building regulations, wetland regulations, and zoning. Land surveys are particularly helpful when purchasing a piece of real estate that you hope to eventually build on, as they can catch potential problems with this plan before you purchase the land. If you are purchasing mountainous land, land that may be considered wetlands, or land in other areas that may be difficult to build on, a land surveyor can help you evaluate the possibilities for building upon the land. If you plan to develop the land or subdivide it, a survey can help you determine whether this is possible or even legal.

Do not go off an old land survey provided by the current landowner. It may not describe recent changes to the land. The land surveyor you hire can place permanent markers on the corners of your property so that you are well-aware of the boundaries of the land that you will soon own. Before contacting a land surveyor, you may want to ask your real estate agent for a property profile, which will list the ownership information, legal description, tax map, tax information, and other characteristics. This is an excellent place to start when evaluating a potential real estate purchase. Alot of of this information may also be available online. Then, be sure that you visit the property and walk the entire site, even if it is several acres, to see what it looks like with your own eyes.

Having a land survey conducted before the land changes hands is simply due diligence. Do not rely on anyone else’s word, such as the landowner’s, or a real estate agent’s, when purchasing land. This is a big purchase, possible the biggest you will ever make and it should not be done unless you know exactly what you are buying. If you cannot get a land survey before placing a formal offer, at least have one done before the deal closes. The land surveyor will give you the best information possible to determine whether the piece of real estate will meet your needs. If any red flags come up, be sure that they are resolved to your satisfaction before closing on this real estate deal.

You do not want to make the mistake of buying land that is of no use to you, or buying land that is not what you thought it was. Although it’s especially important to have a land survey conducted when you are buying acreage or plan to develop the land, a land survey even of a small lot with a house can still catch potential problems before it’s too late.

You may be surprised at the relatively small cost of a Survey as compared to the possible implications of encroaching onto someone elses property or operating under a false assumption as to where your lines are.

A Physical Survey is a survey of your property that shows the existing condition and improvements.  If your property has been surveyed in the past, it is possible that there may be a plat recorded in the courthouse.  Often times, these previously recorded plats do not show all information about your property like recent changes.  If there has been an addition, new driveway, sidewalk, shed, garage or any change to the property, the recorded plat will not reflect this.


 Survey—do I need one?

 

The most common mistake made by home buyers is not having a survey done prior to purchasing a property.

Why is this a mistake? Without a survey you have no recourse if at a later date it is found that your fences encroach on a neighbor’s land or that there are rights to easement by one of the service companies (this means that an electric, sewerage or water company has access rights to your property to carry out maintenance and repair).  Consider the examples where a property owner has built a garage over part of the access rights, these service companies have then been known to remove the garage to carry out maintenance if required.

However, most problems arise when improvements done to the property such as patios, pools, drives, garages and building additions are either outside the building limits or encroach on a neighbor’s property. A Physical Survey would DEFINE the dimensions of the lot and the POSITIONS of platted easements and building limits. Very importantly, they OUTLINE any improvements (garage, pool, patios, house, drive, etc.) and show whether they encroach upon a neighbor’s property, outside building limits or create a barrier to access.

Physical Survey— why doesn’t the Bank, Mortgage/Lender company request one?

Simply put, they insure themselves against any future problems that arise due to no survey being done prior to purchase. Look at the small print of the Buyer’s Title Insurance and exceptions are found in every title policy.

 

These are the standard exceptions:
• Survey matters
• Taxes or assessments
• Rights or claims of parties in possession not shown by public record
• Mechanic's liens not shown by public record

 

So, if the title insurance excludes protection against Survey matters, (boundaries, access rights, building limits), who is responsible for these if a problem arises after you purchase the property? YOU! That’s right, those clever Mortgage companies who lend to thousands of home purchasers every year know the value of excluding Survey matters in any title insurance policy.

Before 1997, every Mortgage/Lender required a mortgage inspection, a survey on a property before they would provide a loan. The Lenders wanted to make sure that their investment was protected from claims made as a result of access rights or encroachments.  You do as well, right?

Then, the title companies granted insurance to the lender even without a survey because the insurance protected the lender’s interest in the event of a claim being made that a prior survey would have shown. But, it does not protect the buyer’s interest because the Buyer’s Title Insurance policy has the exclusions shown above. Therefore the buyer has no protection against the forced removal of a garage or the neighbor claiming increased boundary rights. Effectively the risk was passed to the buyer, YOU!

 

Why did this change happen? Simply put, to speed up the process of buying and selling houses as it is in everyone’s interest, except the buyer, to cut corners where possible. Consider the Real Estate agent who wants a quick sell to get his commission, the lender who wants the buyer paying interest on a loan as soon as possible, the Title Insurance company who wants payment for insurance cover as quickly as possible and the seller who wants the funds. So, this small change in the insurance policy accelerates the process to the benefit of everyone except the buyer.

The best advice we can give is, for a very minimal cost, a Land Surveyor is an immeasurable asset.  A proper land survey is your first line of defense in what could be a nightmare purchase. If defects are found you can use these findings as leverage to lower the purchase price, to make a more informed decision protecting your investment or purchase another more suitable property.

If you cannot afford a Physical Survey we suggest
 contacting us  for a payment option or some other way to cover your cost.

Call us today and we would be more than happy to assist you with your land purchasing needs.


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