The first step in the building and home improvement process is performing a land survey. A land survey provides homeowners and property buyers with essential information about their plots. It brings both design and construction together to form a structured plan.
From engineers to mortgage lenders to residential homeowners, everyone needs a land survey at some point. Land surveys can help with numerous tasks, from identifying plot sizes to avoiding encroachment of other properties. We have outlined the top reasons for land surveys below.
Making Permanent Property Upgrades
If you own a home, you’re going to perform improvements to it. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reports that homeowners performed over 114 million improvement projects between 2017 and 2019. And with each of those property improvement projects comes a land survey from qualified professionals.
One reason homeowners need land surveying is when installing permanent improvements on a plot of land. This includes:
- Sheds and pool houses
- Retaining walls
- Utilities (like water or sewage tanks)
A professional land survey provides a detailed snapshot of the property’s features. It locates current structures, so developers and engineers can determine if the renovations are a good fit. The survey also allows county officials to ensure the parcel adheres to local construction and building codes throughout the development process.
Adding or Demolishing Construction
Builders (or anyone involved with a construction plan) need to obtain a property survey before moving forward with a project. A land survey acts as a map for developers. It outlines the:
- Types of features on the property (artificial and natural)
- Elevation levels and contour lines
- Property lines and corners
In addition, a property survey also demonstrates how the project adheres to building codes and zoning regulations, making surveying an integral part of the development process.
While all construction projects should start with a survey, the type of land survey depends on the design plans. For example, site plans provide blueprints for new outdoor structures, while topographic surveys guide drainage and new building development plans.
Dividing a Plot of Land
Another reason you need a land survey is if you want to divide a parcel of land into separate lots. Similar to when making property upgrades, land surveying guides the subdivision process.
A survey maps out what is needed for a property subdivision, demonstrates how the property will be divided, and designates identifiers to the new lots and blocks. During the evaluation, a licensed land surveyor will:
- Assess the site and collect data using surveying equipment
- Check the land title and make a note of easements and other development restrictions
- Consult with design professionals (like civil engineers and architects)
- Draft a subdivision plan
Acquiring a Mortgage or Selling an Estate
A land survey is needed during a property sale so that both the buyer and seller are aware of the property’s exact dimensions, acreage, and plot size. It ensures the estate’s property lines match its legal description in the deed.
A mortgage or title company may also have a reason to require a survey to analyze the property’s risk. The survey information is collected as part of the sale’s due diligence and will be required to finalize the transaction.
Identifying Plot Size
Professionals can determine the size of a piece of land. A survey provides landowners with exact acreage and dimension information. A boundary survey, the most common type of survey, also defines lot lines and property corners.
Why do you need a land surveyor to determine boundary lines? When building permanent property features, you need to know where your estate ends, and the next one begins. You cannot allow fences, rooflines, and other permanent structures to encroach onto a neighboring chunk of land.
Staking property lines and land surveying ensures new construction remains on your property and helps you avoid a lawsuit. Likewise, a boundary survey can help you determine if a neighboring landowner is encroaching on your piece of property.
Classifying Property Zones
A land survey determines if a property is zoned for residential or industrial use. The surveyor verifies property classification and reports the property’s jurisdiction. From there, a professional can use zoning requirements to determine if they can legally run a business from their estate.
Reporting Visible Water Features
Reasons for land surveys also include locating and reporting visible surface water on a piece of land. Visible water features include:
- Streams and creeks
Visible bodies of water can impact and occasionally deter new construction. Therefore, it is necessary to map out all bodies of water before purchasing a property or starting new construction.
Locating Burial Sites
While uncommon, it is possible to find a cemetery or burial ground within your boundary lines. A professional land surveyor can locate the burial site. Technicians use survey data to estimate the size of the burial area and the number of graves on your parcel of land.
Obtaining Flood Insurance
If your property is in a flood zone, you need an elevation certificate to obtain flood insurance. To get an elevation certificate, you first need a land survey. Surveyors inspect a property and create a report that outlines the:
- Building characteristics
- Flood zone
- Lowest point of elevation
Insurance agents use this data to analyze flood risk and generate flood insurance rates.
If You Need a Land Survey, Professionals Can Help
There are a variety of reasons you may need a land surveyor. But the good news is there are plenty (over 48,000 professional surveyors, to be exact) of qualified property surveyors available to help.
When choosing a land surveying team, stick with professionals who understand local laws, are familiar with your terrain, and deliver accurate reports. Your land survey will not only help you better understand your property, but it will become an asset to developers when adding new improvements and construction to your estate.
Land Survey FAQs
Even by knowing all the reasons you need a land survey, you may still wonder why they’re so important for the design, development, and construction of projects. We answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about the importance of land surveys here.
- Why Is a Land Survey Necessary?
- Should You Have Your Land Surveyed?
- When Do You Need a Land Surveyor?
- What Are the Benefits of Surveys?
- Why Is Land Surveying Important?
- What Is the Importance of Land Surveying in the Construction Industry?
Why Is a Land Survey Necessary?
A land survey is necessary in New York whenever you are:
- Buying or selling property
- Adding or removing structures (fences, walls, room additions, etc.)
- Updating an outdated survey map
- Want to settle a boundary dispute
A land survey can tell you many things, and a professional surveyor can ensure it’s all accurate. Even if you don’t think you need one, it’s a smart idea to get one to protect your investment. Having incorrect information could lead to costly, time-consuming legal problems.
With a survey completed by a licensed, registered professional, you will better understand:
- Your property’s lines, boundaries, and features
- Undisclosed rights and easements
- Undiscovered encroachments
- Zoning classification
- Party walls, rights-of-way, and joint driveways
- The ingress and egress of the property
- Water, gas, and electrical lines
- Any surface water on the property (ponds, creeks, wells, etc.)
- Any existing improvements made to the property
Should You Have Your Land Surveyed?
Wondering if you should have your land surveyed isn’t a typical thought for most homeowners. It isn’t a primary concern for many. However, there are times where surveys are required. For example, the most ideal time to get your land surveyed is when you’re buying or selling a house.
Mortgage companies will require a survey before they even authorize any funding. Some will have one done themselves but then request that you get an independent one completed to verify their findings. Professional surveys benefit both buyers and sellers because they ensure proper deed information and avoid boundary disputes or negated contracts.
In the event of a boundary dispute with a neighbor, getting a new survey done will be critical. Not only will you find out the truth and resolve the matter with your neighbor, you’ll also avoid costly, time-consuming litigation in court.
New construction will also require a survey. If you own a subdivision plot and are ready to build your dream home, or if you just acquired several acres of land for a commercial or agricultural operation and are ready to build, legal requirements will obligate you to get a survey done.
Even if you just want to make additions to an existing property, like put up a fence, build a wall, or add a stable, barn, shed, mother-in-law suite, or a guest house, you will need a survey done.
When Do You Need a Land Surveyor?
New York surveying laws are varied and complex. By law, land surveyors in the state must be registered and certified. Which means if you need a survey done, you can’t just do it yourself. The survey must also be signed and verified by a professional surveyor before being submitted.
You will need a licensed, registered surveyor any time you need a survey done. So, when might you need a survey done? Whenever you’re buying, selling, or making additions to a property, a survey will be required. You will also need a survey any time you want to:
- Find property lines
- Build a house or other structure
- Locate utilities
- Locate easements
- Settle a boundary dispute
- Know what you’re buying
- Meet mortgage requirements
- Get title insurance
- Update an outdated survey
What Are the Benefits of Surveys?
Surveys are of vital importance to land ownership. Whether you’ve purchased a residential lot in a new development or you’ve got hundreds of acres prepared for agricultural, commercial, or industrial uses—or even to develop an entire subdivision!—land surveys benefit you by:
- Having accurate, legally recognized boundaries: With these in place, a construction plan can be devised within the land’s parameters that will save you from legal troubles and boundary disputes with neighbors.
- Preparing for construction: Before you build anything, you need a survey done to know the lay of the land. A survey will reveal boundary lines, elevation, electrical and gas lines, surface water, easements, encroachments, ingress and egress, and much more.
- Identifying your land’s true value: Improper surveys or self-done surveys will likely be inaccurate and not reflect the true value of your investment. You’ll better understand how much your land is worth through a survey that measures the landscape, hardscape, and location as factors.
- Revealing topographical details: A survey will let you know about soil and structural issues, flood-prone areas, slopes, geographical features, and intricate plot details. You don’t want to find out mid-construction that your structure is vulnerable to disaster and cause massive delays or demolition to start over.
- Establishing specific locations: Your land might already have existing structures on it that need to be identified. Or maybe that structure has had improvements or additions made to it. A survey can provide more details about what’s already on your land.
- Understanding its zoning classification: Not all types of land can be used for your intentions. Land must be zoned residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or even mixed use. Knowing your land’s zoning classification can help you decide if you want to parcel the plot out and divide it into predetermined sections.
Why Is Land Surveying Important?
In the grand scheme of things, surveyors are responsible for mapping the geography and topography of the world. They measure anything above and below ground, including in the sky and at the bottom of the ocean. They even measure polar ice caps!
Using mathematics, advanced software, and equipment with the latest technology (like a GPS and terrestrial and aerial scanners), surveyors photograph, map, and compute evidence. Their work helps to develop land, discover mines, build tunnels, and implement major construction projects.
Ultimately, surveyors play an integral role in helping architects, developers, designers, and engineers to do their work. Whether planning a subdivision or setting the groundwork for a high-rise, surveying will identify numerous details about the land to calculate and chart any construction site safely and efficiently.
Most importantly, land surveying identifies legally recognized boundary lines, zoning classification, and other property details to ensure that any construction done on the property is within its legal parameters.
What Is the Importance of Land Surveying in the Construction Industry?
There are many steps required before structures can be erected on land. The construction industry is often dangerous, and safety is critical at each stage of the process. To ensure safety, construction crews rely upon civil engineers for guidance. And civil engineers rely on land surveyors to reveal the information they need to move forward with the project.
Whether it’s building a house, office building, bridge, pipeline, or an entire subdivision community, a land surveyor will inform the civil engineer of the measurements they need to implement safe, efficient construction. Land surveying in the construction industry also:
- Identifies which area of land is meant for construction, which can save time and money
- Records all vital features and measurements
- Ensures the building’s sustainability
- Marks areas of sewage, drainage, water lines, road levels, curb levels, and other identifying characteristics
- Reveals vertical references for walls, columns, and fences
- Clarifies whether there might be any obstructions, such as uneven ground, elevated land, and slopes
While all these details are critical to the planning phase, surveys ought to be completed during other various stages of the construction process as well. For example, you should have a survey done during the:
- Design phase: To give details about the topography, utilities, street and sidewalk conditions, and other elements to engineers so that they understand the land and determine if the site is suitable for the intended purposes.
- Pre-construction phase: To give site and boundary analyses, topographic surveys, plats, and map information to project managers, owners, and contractors to turn the construction concept into a reality.
- Construction phase: To lay out project features and components in accordance with the plans, ensuring the project is accurate, compliant, on time, and on budget
- Post-construction phase: Also known as an “as-built survey,” these surveys are done to evaluate a finished project by comparing it to its initial plans and look for any damage that may have occurred during construction. They also serve to document regulatory records for the owner and any agency overseeing the project.