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A property survey is an evaluation completed by a property surveyor that determines the boundaries of a property. In addition to noting the boundaries of a property, the surveyor will note features like wells, areas that shouldn’t be built on, and easements (which allow others access to your property). 

Property surveys are an important final step in the homebuying process. Not only do they inform you about your new property (including the exact area you are responsible for and any restrictions), but they are often required by mortgage lenders and title companies before you are approved for your mortgage and title insurance.

What are the different types of property surveys? 

There are several types of property surveys, each serving a slightly different purpose and noting different features of a property. For this reason, they are each required in different scenarios. Review the most common types and what they are used for:

  • ALTA/ACSM survey: This survey may be required by lenders in order to get the required property information for an ALTA insurance policy. It includes information on property lines, structures (like fences), and utility lines. 
  • As-built survey: The purpose of an as-built survey is to show what the property was like at the time of the build. Per it’s name, the survey details the property boundary and any improvements made during the build (such as additional structures, garages, and driveways). 
  • Boundary survey: This is the most common type of property survey and is most likely the one your lender will require (if they don’t require an ALTA survey). A boundary survey (also called a mortgage survey) outlines the boundaries of your property and identifies any encroachments (areas where neighbors have encroached on your land) and easements.
  • Construction survey: This survey details the structures located on a property. It’s required if you want to build any additional structures.
  • Location survey: Location surveys identify site improvements (also called internal improvements) such as wells, roads, and railroads. Location surveys are typically required for zoning permits.
  • Subdivision survey: Subdivision surveys are used when a larger piece of land is divided into smaller lots. The survey marks where each lot will begin and end.
  • Topographic survey: A topographic survey outlines all features of the land, including elevation. It notes both natural and manmade features, such as buildings, fences, streams, and rivers. 

When do you need a property survey?

Most homeowners only need a property survey during the homebuying process. It is often required by mortgage lenders (although depending on your state, it may not be legally required) before closing on your new home

Mortgage lenders require property surveys for two main reasons. A property survey documents important information in the event of a foreclosure (such as the size, exact location, and features of the property). It’s important for the lender to have this detailed documentation of the property should you default on your mortgage. 

A property survey also verifies that the property’s legal description is correct. A legal description is a summary (that includes the location and size of the property) used in mortgage documents, the deed, and the title of the home. If the survey differs from the recorded legal description, the description can be updated to match.

The other reasons for a property survey are less common, but you may run into them during your time as a homeowner, and they include:

  • Building additional structures
  • Installing or locating utilities
  • Resolving disputes with neighbors about boundary lines

In these cases, you may also be able to reference the legal description of the property, rather than having to complete an entirely new property survey.

How do you get a property survey? 

To have a property survey completed, you’ll need to contact a property surveyor (also called a land surveyor) to schedule a visit. 

Finding a survey in public records

Property surveys are public record, so before you request a new survey, check to see when the most recent survey was conducted on your property. If the latest property survey on your new house was conducted within the time period that your mortgage lender accepts (typically in the last 5 to 10 years), you can use it. Surveys are stored both online and in-person at your county’s tax assessor office. You can request the form online or in person.

Getting a new survey 

If you need a new survey, check with your lender before scheduling it because they may be able to arrange it on your behalf. If not, search online for a licensed land surveyor in your state. 

Many licensed surveyors belong to the NSPS (National Society of Professional Surveyors). There are NSPS affiliate groups in every state, so you can look up your state’s society for a list of licensed surveyors. Narrow your search by looking at the reviews of licensed surveyors in your area. You can also search for the surveyor who previously completed a survey on your property (or neighboring properties) since they will be familiar with the land. Your real estate agent can also provide recommendations for a local, licensed surveyor.

Once you have researched a few surveyors, contact them to explain the type of survey you need. Ask for a quote and their availability (some surveyors will not be able to schedule your survey for several weeks).

How long does it take?

The actual survey will take anywhere from one day to several weeks (or even months) depending on the size and complexity of your property. The surveyor will document their findings in a report and call you to explain what they found. Feel free to use this time to ask clarifying questions, especially if they found unique features like easements or encroachments. 

If the land survey was organized through your mortgage company, the surveyor may be able to submit the report directly to the lender and your local government. If you organized it, follow the instructions provided by your lender to submit the report (you will likely upload it to your online account). You should also contact your local tax assessor’s office for instructions on providing the survey to be included in public records (if your surveyor does not provide this service).

If you are concerned by the survey results (such as a significant encroachment by neighbors), promptly contact your real estate agent to discuss renegotiation before closing.

How much does a property survey cost?

The cost of a property survey depends on several factors, including: 

  • How long the surveyor has to travel
  • Size of your property
  • Terrain of your property
  • State you live in 

For example, if a surveyor has to drive an hour to your property and survey complicated terrain (such as a river, public beach access, or hills), your survey will cost more than a small urban lot located near the surveyor’s office.

The average property survey in the United States costs between $600 to $700, but your property surveyor will provide a more accurate estimate. In some states, the seller covers the cost of the property survey, so be sure to research your local regulations before starting the process.

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