Does anyone require a survey in a real estate transaction? The answer, like many in real estate, is it depends. Local laws may require a survey in some areas but not in others. The mortgage company may determine a survey is necessary for mortgage underwriting. Finally, the changes in the land or improvements on the property may necessitate a survey. Here are some things to keep in mind about surveys:
- There are good reasons to get a current survey when a house changes ownership.
- A title company may not require a survey, but they won’t insure boundary issues without one.
- Some states require a survey, but others do not.
Whether the government, lender, or title company require a survey for your transaction there are compelling reasons why it is a good idea to get a current survey.
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Should You Always Get a Survey When Buying a House?
You should usually get one. It is one of the most overlooked pieces of your due diligence because most of the time the seller has an affidavit of a survey that was done years ago. Often, neither the state nor mortgage company requires a survey. However, when you buy a house, you may need to get one if there is not a current one. Surveys tell you some very important things about the property:
- History of the deed to the property
- Sketch of the land, boundaries, and physical elements of the property
- A map detailing the boundaries
- A written description of the location, address, improvements, and adjacent properties
It will also tell you about the right of ways and easements. These are details about the property that a title search won’t cover because they don’t cloud the title. However, they can determine if you want to buy the house. You may want to back out if the survey reveals a major problem.
Sometimes the seller provides a survey, but the buyer should be careful to make sure that it is current. Any improvements to the land or even the neighbors’ properties around it may affect the property you are buying.1
How Much Does a Survey Cost?
For most people wanting to buy or sell a house, the survey will cost between $400 – $500, but this estimate depends on several factors:
- The size of the property
- How long it takes to do the work
- How many corners need to be marked
- Terrain complexities
There are different types of surveys for different projects. Mortgage companies want to know square footage, zoning, and building code issues. Landowners wanting to put up a fence will want a boundary survey. A developer looking to build will want a plat survey.2
I am a Cash Buyer: Does Anyone Require a Survey?
You should get a survey if you are a cash buyer most of the time. Even if you don’t have a mortgage company that requires you to get one, you may live in a state where the law does. Here are some things to consider when you decide whether you should get a survey or not:
- Is there a current survey, less than 10 years old?
- Has the owner made any improvements to the property since the last one was made?
- Have the neighbors done any work on their land around the property boundaries?
- Do you think there may be an easement or other property rights issue?
There are very good reasons to get a property survey, even if one is not required. It may show some hidden problem with the land that you did not anticipate.
Does a Title Company Require a Survey?
In some states, the law demands a survey, but even in other states mortgage companies may require one for a home loan. Therefore, a title company may not require a survey, but if they don’t, they have a clause in their policy that they will not insure any boundary disputes.
Boundary disputes, easements, zoning problems, and building permit issues won’t cloud the title, but they can cause you a lot of problems. That’s why title companies almost always have survey clauses in their policies. With a valid, current survey they will remove that clause and you will be protected from those issues.
States that Require a Survey
All states require either a survey or affidavit for buying or refinancing a house. Half of the states do require a property survey when you purchase a house, but only one, New Mexico requires a survey for both purchase and refinance.
The states that require you to get a survey when purchasing a home are Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
State regulations change constantly, so ask a local real estate agent, title agent, or attorney in the area for the most accurate information.
Final Thoughts on Are Surveys Required
Half of the states and many mortgage companies demand surveys because issues with zoning, easements, encroachments, and boundaries can happen even with older houses in well-defined developments.
Even if it is not required it is still a good idea to get one made, especially if the one you have is old or your or your neighbors have done work on your homes.