There is no rule designating who orders the survey in a real estate transaction. For most residential transactions, though, the title company orders it and the buyer pays for it as part of closing costs.
- There are many reasons people order them
- They are legal documents and a public record
- They usually cost between $300 – $800 for most houses
It provides valuable information about a property, whether you buy, sell, improve the land, or even settle a dispute.
Why Survey Property?
People survey the property for many reasons. Facts about your home may surprise you, even if you live in an urban area with seemingly set boundaries. Here are some things it tells you about:
- Boundary lines – Ensures you won’t encroach on your neighbor’s land if you make an improvement
- Joint driveways, party walls, rights of support, encroachments, overhangs, and projections.
- Existing improvements – Ensures that any improvements don’t violate any laws or other restrictions
- Pipes and cables – Shows where above ground and underground utility infrastructures
- Zoning classification
Most people get one done when they want to make a major improvement on their property, like adding a fence, expanding a driveway, or adding a room. Sellers order them to find out if there are any issues that may cause problems with a potential sale. Buyers also order them to make sure that there are no problems with the property they want to purchase.1
You can get a survey done before closing on a sale, but not always before making an offer. Either way, there are good reasons why you, as a buyer, should get your own for a vacant lot, large acreage, or any property with questionable boundaries or structures. As a buyer, you want a new one because it will tell you:
- Whether trees, building, fences, sidewalks, driveways, and other features are actually on the land
- Whether the neighbors’ features encroach on the property
- Building regulations and zoning violations
Even if the seller has one, you may want to get a new one if they added or changed improvements. Also, the larger and/or more complicated the lot the more important it is for you to get a new one.2
Negotiate Price After
You can negotiate a house price after the survey if it uncovers a major problem. Home sale contracts contain contingencies to protect the buyer from making a bad deal. One of those clauses is for the title search. It may show a cloud on title in one of several ways:
- Incorrect boundary line
- Zoning violation of improvements
All of these are major issues that allow you to renegotiate or cancel the deal.
Are Surveys Public Records?
Surveys are public records. Whether you are buying or selling a home or improving your property you may want to look at an existing one. Some places to look for it are:
- Your lender
- Your title insurance company
- The local property records or engineering department
These may be old and outdated, though. For urban and suburban developed land, they may still be accurate. For rural areas or land developed, rezoned, or improved later it may not be accurate.3
How Long is a Land Survey Valid?
How long a land survey is valid depends on its accuracy. Its accuracy depends on how old it is, and how active construction is in the area.
- In areas where there is little or no construction, it can remain accurate for many years.
- For high activity areas, they may be outdated after 3 – 6 months, or even less.
Even in areas that are developed and stable, you should get one before the house changes hands.4
Will a Land Survey Hold Up in Court?
It will hold up in court if a licensed surveyor did it. In fact, a licensed surveyor can act as an expert witness and assist attorneys in discovery.
How Much Does a Survey Cost?
Usually, it costs between $300 – $800. Surveyors usually charge by the size of the lot, but under some circumstances, they may charge hourly. Its cost depends on the type you need, the lot size, and the difficulty. Some common types and conditions are:
- Boundary plot exact boundary lines and cost between $220 – $700 for an average house.
- Topographic provide details about the elevation and contours of the land and usually cost around $800. You can often get this with a boundary type for around $900 together.
- Mortgage establishes structures and building square footage. It verifies that zoning and building codes are up to date. These usually cost between $300 – $600.
- Fence costs $250 – $800 depending on the size of the lot that needs to be fenced.
These are common, but there are many other types and conditions depending on what your need is.5
Who Orders the Survey in a Real Estate Transaction, and Who Pays for It?
Who pays for a land survey depends on the situation. Here are some examples where different people pay for it:
- Homeowners get them when they want to build an improvement on their property.
- A seller may get one when they put their house on the market, especially if they’ve had improvements made in the past
- A buyer may want to get one if they think there may be an issue with the property
- Title companies regularly require them to look for issues that cloud the title.
As you can see there are many reasons to get one. It depends on the situation who pays for it.
Part of Closing Costs
A survey is part of closing costs if the title company orders it. In other cases, it is an out of the pocket expense. A buyer or seller may want a more thorough or rigorous study done for a specific reason.
Final Thoughts on Who Orders the Survey in a Real Estate Transaction
For most residential deals the title company orders the survey and the buyer pays for it as part of closing costs. In situations where there may be a dispute or special circumstance with the land, the seller may order one before they put the house on the market. Likewise, a buyer may have a concern and want a special type for a particular property.