What is a real estate survey and why should you spend the money to get one? It determines a property’s boundaries and identifies other conditions that affect its legal description.  

  • The purpose of a real estate survey is to determine boundaries and other conditions that affect its legal description. 
  • You need a location or boundary survey for a mortgage. 
  • It is usually worth it to get a survey when you buy a new home. 
  • Property surveys are public records. 

Surveys are important beyond just establishing boundaries. A thorough professional may uncover many issues that can arise easements, rights of way and setbacks.  

Purpose of a Real Estate Survey 

A real estate survey serves two purposes. It defines the legal boundaries, and it finds conditions and restrictions on the property that may affect its lawful description. Here are some of the issues that surveys help clear up: 

  • Boundary/property lines 
  • Rights-of-way and easements 
  • Bodies of water and wells 
  • Encroachments 
  • Utilities lines, poles, wires, cables, pipes, drains, etc. 

As you can see from this list, there are several issues that a survey can clear up. In short, a surveyor carefully shows the boundaries and any other conditions that affect a piece of land’s legal description.1  

What Will a Surveyor Check? 

A surveyor checks the land’s boundaries and any other conditions that impact its legal description. They use specialized equipment to precisely show the property’s boundaries.  In addition, surveyors check for other concerns, such as easements, rights of way, utility infrastructure, wells, and other potentially important conditions of the land.  

Not the Same as an Appraisal 

A survey is different from an appraisal. The latter investigates the value of the property focusing on the improvements (buildings). Usually, your lender orders one to make sure that the price you pay is in line with the value of the property. Appraisers usually check the condition of the house and compare it to similar houses that sold in the same area. Surveyors check the boundaries and condition of the land itself.  

Appraisals do not include surveys. However, title companies will often demand a new survey for a property if the latest one is old or if the neighborhood changed.  

Difference Between a Survey and Inspection 

A home inspection checks the physical condition of a structure, while a survey determines the boundaries and other conditions of the property. Surveys deal with the boundaries and conditions of the land, but home inspections deal with the condition of improvements on the land.  

What Type of Survey do I need for a Mortgage? 

  • Location survey – Simpler of the two; it shows the position of buildings on the property relative to its boundaries. 
  • Boundary survey – is more complicated. It shows the property boundary lines. 

The type of survey you need for a mortgage depends on the state you live in as well as the lender you use. In addition, it depends on what type of property you want to buy. All lenders will require one of these two types, though: 

Lenders and title companies order location surveys when the house is in a developed neighborhood, has a boundary survey attached to the deed, and the neighborhood has not changed much. On the other hand, they want boundary surveys for new construction, a rapidly changing neighborhood, or if you plan to make major renovations to the house.2  

Is it Worth Getting a Survey When Buying a House? 

It is worth it for you to get a survey when you buy a house. Surveys show many important characteristics of your land and can even uncover some problems. Some of the things a survey will do for you include: 

  • Show the physical details of the property 
  • Settle any boundary disputes 
  • Uncover rights to use and easements 
  • Make sure buildings are setback properly 

In all these ways, it protects the integrity of the deed. It is a legal document that guarantees the location and condition of the land. That is why banks and states often require surveys to close a real estate transaction.3  

Can I Buy a House Without a One? 

You can buy a house without a survey in some areas and under certain conditions. Many states require them for a transaction, and banks want a survey to get a mortgage. However, if you pay cash, you may not need to get a survey done, though we highly recommend that you do. 

Mortgage Lenders Requirements 

Your mortgage lender will require a survey. They have a few reasons to protect their investment: 

  • Show legal boundaries 
  • Show the setbacks 
  • Determine if there are any easements 
  • Clear up any disputes about rights of way or encroachments 

The survey protects the lender’s investment. They want to make sure that there are no problems with the property before they close the deal. 

States that Require a Property Survey 

States that require a property survey usually want a location survey for a home purchase. They may have different rules about refinancing.  

These states include Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada (for high liability purchases only), New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas (only for property that is not plotted land), Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  

As you can see it is a long list, and each state has its own rules about what elements a surveyor must include in their report.4  

How do I Select a Surveyor? 

Surveying land is a precise and meticulous job. You want to find a professional who pays attention to the details and really knows what they are doing. With that in mind, you should select a surveyor based on the following criteria: 

  • Only work with a licensed professional 
  • Verify their liability insurance 
  • Ask about their experience  
  • Interview 2 or 3 before deciding 

The quality of your surveyor’s work may have a big impact later. If you have a dispute with a neighbor, the utility company, or even the government you want the most precise, accurate, and detailed report possible.  

Are Surveys Public Records?

Surveys are a public record. In most cases local governments keep them with the county clerk, and they should be with the property deed. 

How to Get a Copy 

You can get a copy of your home survey by municipal records department.  Ask to find documents associated with your properties deed. It will be helpful if you know your house’s block and lot number.  

How to Find My Property Online 

Most municipal and county assessor’s offices are online now. They have maps of all the real estate in your area. In addition, you can find a copy of your property survey online by using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) maps.6  

Final Thoughts on What a Survey is in Real Estate 

A survey determines boundaries and looks for other issues with the condition of the land. It is a legal document that can help you a great deal if you have a dispute with a neighbor or other party. In most cases banks require a survey to close a mortgage, and they record it with your deed in the county clerk’s office. You should always get a survey when you buy real estate because it protects you from a variety of issues that can come up.  


  1. Find Law 
  2. Federal Title 
  3. Deeds.com 
  4. Meridian National Title 
  5. Moon Meeks 
  6. Rocket Homes