Below are answers to some of the most common questions people ask us about land surveying.
Q. When would I want (or need) to have my lot surveyed?
A. There are several answers to this (some more obvious than others). Here are a some examples:
- The owner doesn’t know where the lot lines are.
- Adjoining owners disagree on where the lot lines are.
- A survey may be required for a building permit to ensure compliance with zoning ordinances.
- A lender may require a survey for a mortgage, refinance or construction loan.
- It is a good idea to order a survey whenever you are buying a piece of property. You have probably heard the phrase “Good fences make good neighbors”. A survey will show any differences between what is described on your deed and what is really on the ground. It will also disclose any encroachments. These are things such as buildings, fences or other evidence of occupation that cross over the lot line. This is something a prospective buyer would want to be aware of before purchasing the property as it may affect actual title to the property. For example, if an old fence that is ten feet off the true lot line has been used by the previous owners as the acknowledged lot line for many years, the fence could carry a lot of weight in a court of law if there were ever a lot line dispute.
Q. How does a surveyor figure out where my lot lines are?
A. Circumstances vary from survey to survey but here is the general process for determining boundaries. We will first need a copy of your land description. If you have a title policy, your description will be in there. Also, if you supply us with a copy of the title policy we can plot any easements of record that are listed in the policy on the survey map. If you don’t have a title policy or a copy of your deed, we will get a copy of your deed from the courthouse. We will also get copies of your neighbors’ deeds to check for any gaps or overlaps in the record documents. We will also gather records of any previous survey work done in the area. This will help us as we search for existing lot markers in the field. Keep in mind that as we are doing field work we need to look for property markers not only on your lot but on other lots near yours to help verify what we find. So you may see us working on the other end of the block in the course of surveying your lot. Likewise, your neighbors may come out and ask why we are looking for their lot corners if the lot we are surveying is five houses away. It is all part of the process of gathering field evidence. We will also measure the buildings on your property, any encroachments and lines of possession (things that people are using as the lot line but may not actually be the lot line, such as a hedge row or fence). We then analyze the field evidence, measurements and record research to determine the boundary location. We will set any lot corners that are missing on your lot and prepare the property survey map. The map is a graphic representation of the results of the survey and shows boundary location, any encroachments and any differences between what was found and what is on record. A property survey is the land surveyor’s professional opinion as to the location of your lot lines based on analysis of the field evidence, recorded documentation and common and statutory law. A copy of the survey is given to the customer and a copy sent to the local unit of government that maintains survey records (state statute). The whole process can take anywhere from a 1/2 day to several days depending on the complexity of the survey.
Q. What does the surveyor need to know?
A. The surveyor will need to know why you want your land surveyed and he should ask you. Be honest. If you are arguing with your neighbor about a fence, let the surveyor know. If you want to keep trespassers off your hunting land, mention it. The surveyor needs to know what your needs are in order to best serve you. Also, the surveyor can suggest remedies or point you in the right direction if you need additional help. Although we cannot give you legal advice we can explain to you how the law affects your land and give you some options if you do have a property line issue that may require legal attention.
Q. What do I need to ask the surveyor?
A. You should ask the surveyor if he or she has experience with the type of survey you require. Ask if the surveyor is licensed. It is illegal to practice land surveying without a license. There are unlicensed surveyors around that will claim to do a cheap survey for you. They will not provide you with a survey map (required by statute) and if you need them to defend their work in court if you ever have a lot line issue, that unlicensed surveyor will not be allowed to testify and most likely will be fined for surveying without a license. Don’t be afraid to ask for references. You should also ask what the survey is going to cost and what that cost includes. Be wary of “estimates” that seem to be significantly lower than other quotes you received. You get what you pay for. If your survey is for a land division it will require approvals from state and/or local authorities. Will your surveyor submit the applications and attend the approval meetings? Many don’t. Jacob Land Surveying handles the approval process for you.
Q. My bank says I need a “certified survey”. What do they mean?
A. In Wisconsin, all property surveys must be performed by a professional land surveyor licensed by the state of Wisconsin. The surveyor must sign and seal the survey map and certify to the correctness of the survey. With that said, there is a particular type of survey map in Wisconsin called a “Certified Survey Map” or “CSM”. A CSM is typically used for dividing lots into smaller lots or for changing lot lines. The terms can be confusing but if you are not dividing your lot then nine times out of ten what they are really asking for is a property survey.
(click the “TYPES OF SURVEYS” link for more details.)
Q. My lender told me I need flood insurance. I don’t think I’m in the floodplain. What can I do?
A. Most banks will order a floodplain determination when you apply for a mortgage or refinance. Additionally, a lender may periodically have a new determination done on your property if a new flood insurance map was issued for the area. These determinations are usually performed by an out of state company that relies solely on these flood insurance maps. The problem is that these flood maps (issued by FEMA) cover large geographic areas at a very small scale and have very little detail on them. The location of your home may not be shown on these maps. The company doing the determination will try to plot the location of your lot on the map to see if it is in the shaded floodplain area. Of course, if your lot is on the border line of being in or out they will typically error on the side of caution and conclude that you are in the floodplain. The bank will then contact you and require the flood insurance unless you can prove to them that you are not in the floodplain. This is where the surveyor comes in. We can make a more accurate determination of your floodplain status by actually comparing the floodplain data (i.e. published flood elevation) to the actual grades on the ground and the location of your home. If we can confirm through our field measurements that your house isn’t in the floodplain, we will prepare the required forms and submit them to FEMA. FEMA will then issue what is called a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA). In most cases the lender will waive the flood insurance requirement at that point. (click the “TYPES OF SURVEYS” link for more details.)
Q. How much does a survey cost?
A. There are many factors that determine the cost of a survey. One factor is the type of survey you are requesting. For example, an ALTA survey (typically required by commercial lenders) is very comprehensive and more time consuming than a standard property survey. Therefore, the cost is much greater. Another factor is the location of the survey. Performing a survey for the construction of a new home in a newer subdivision where the lot corner markers have been recently set will usually cost less than doing a survey in an older part of town where the subdivision may have been recorded over a hundred years ago and many of the lot corner markers are missing or in some cases were never set. Terrain can be another factor in the cost of a survey. This is especially true for rural surveys where we may be dealing with 40 acre tracts or larger. These types of surveys often require measuring monuments over a mile away from the subject property. Thick woods or swamps make access more difficult and marking lines more time consuming. Sometimes a landowner may want additional line stakes set between lot corners or they may want additional features (eg. trees, bushes) shown on a survey. These things take more time and increase the cost of the survey. In general, the cost of a survey is based on the time and effort required to perform the job.
Q. Do you work on a flat fee basis or charge by the hour?
A. As a general rule, we gather as much information as we can about the needs of a particular customer so we can give then a solid quote for the project. This way we know exactly what the customer wants and the customer knows exactly what the bill will be without any surprises when the work is finished. The only time this would change is if the customer asks for additional work outside of the original scope and agreement in which case we would discuss the price difference before performing the added work. There are companies (not just in the surveying business) that will lure a customer in with a low “estimate” and then run the bill up through the course of the job based on their hourly rates only to send the customer a bill that is two to three times higher than their original ”estimate”. We feel that the customer needs to know what the work will cost upfront and not be shocked when they get their invoice. We also feel that a surveyor with a good amount of experience should have the ability to foresee the time and expenses required to perform a particular job and their quote should reflect that. With that said, there are a few instances where the scope of the work cannot be predicted and a flat fee can’t be given. One such scenario would be construction staking on a large development with street and utility layout. This type of work often requires staking and re-staking several times due to contractors not protecting survey stakes, changes on the job site or weather conditions. In this instance we generally give a quote for one-time staking and an hourly rate or per stake rate for re-staking.