Do I Need a Survey When Buying Property?

Posted on Nov 1, 2019

When buying a home or any type of property, such as raw land or commercial property, you might ask: Do I really need a survey?  The tried and true real estate lawyer answer, “it depends,” comes to mind, but, you really should consider purchasing (or asking the seller to purchase) a survey when buying real property.

Three Reasons to Purchase a Real Estate Survey:

    1.  You Need to Know Exactly What You Are Buying.
      Are you buying your dream home with a big backyard which just so happens to include the right for the electric company to run power lines over and across your backyard? While that electric wire across the backyard might provide bird-watching opportunities, it will also serve as a constant reminder that someone who owned the property before you sold the rights to run those lines across your yard to the electric company. Their profit; your eye-sore, and there is nothing you can do about it.  A survey will identify such issues as a utility easement prior to purchasing the property and help avoid an electric wire hanging across your otherwise beautiful backyard. Surprises are nice, but who wants this kind of surprise?
    2. You Want Title Insurance to Better Protect You.
      While you can obtain title insurance without a survey, you might not be getting the best protection you can without a survey.  Title insurance companies will not provide coverage for matters that would be disclosed on an accurate, recent survey.  In other words, when you realize your neighbor has fenced in 40 feet of your yard and now claims ownership, title insurance will not fix the issue for you (either by paying for the loss or suing to recover the land).  An accurate survey would have identified the boundary lines and shown whether the fence is over those boundary lines prior to you purchasing the property and title insurance issuing a title policy. By not getting a survey prior to purchasing your property, you are allowing title insurance to deny coverage on any item that would have been discovered by a survey such as your neighbor’s fence.
    3.  You Need to Get What You’re Paying For:
      Are you paying for 25 acres when in reality you actually purchased only 22 acres? A survey would have likely identified the correct acreage contained within the property prior to you purchasing the property.  Relying on old property descriptions, the appraisal district’s records, or the seller’s word might result in acquiring less property than thought you were purchasing.  An accurate survey will eliminate that concern so you can be certain you are receiving exactly what you are paying for. If the acreage is less than you anticipated, ask for a discount on the purchase price, and if the acreage is more, the purchase price might be more than you expected, but you will have that information prior to purchasing the property.

There are other reasons to purchase a survey when buying real property, but these are a few immediate concerns that should considered during contract negotiations.  Hiring a real estate lawyer to help you review the survey, identify issues shown on the survey, object to issues shown on the survey, and point out potential risks prior to you putting your money on the table will further protect you and give you peace of mind knowing that as far as surprises are concerned, there should be very little.  Otherwise, enjoy the birds!

If you have questions concerning this topic or other matters related to real property, please contact Aaron Barton, real estate lawyer with Branscomb Law, at or (210) 598-5400.