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How to Read a Property Survey

Nicki & Karen » September 10, 2018

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Villa del Lago estate in Lake Sherwood, CA

When you are currently considering buying a home or a parcel of land,property survey is an essential aspect of the buying process that you’ll likely want to complete before buying a new home. This type of survey is designed to identify and detail a wide range of information about the property that you’re attempting to buy, which extends from any underground utilities to the boundary lines and specific zoning information.

In many cases, mortgage companies will require you to obtain a property survey before they provide you with a loan, which is aimed at making sure that the property is worth the amount of money that they’re giving you. Although a property survey can be used in numerous situations, a home buyer will typically request one so that they and the mortgage company can know more about the property.

Both the deed and title of the property will be researched before an actual surveyor goes to the property and completes a comprehensive sketch of the land. You will then be provided with a map of the property boundaries as well as a street address and property description, all of which are created by the surveyor. Once you’ve obtained this information, you will be ready to move forward with the purchase of your dream home!

Reviewing the Survey and Identify Key Parts

While the surveyor who has created the property survey will likely be able to provide you with some assistance, you’ll likely want to address the document for days and weeks after you’ve received it, which is why it’s important that you understand exactly how to read it. Once you’ve received the survey, you’ll want to perform a quick review of it in order to identify key parts. A standard property survey is comprised of a detailed illustration and a written report, both of which are essential towards identifying every detail of the property.

The illustration that you’re provided with is referred to as a survey plat. Along with the basic illustration of the property, the plat will also provide you with information about the surveyor, data that pertains to how the plat was prepared, a legend that highlights specific symbols found on the illustration, and a detailed description of the land and its boundaries. Once you’ve identified the core aspects of the property survey, make sure that you place the illustration on a sizable surface that’s flat and easy to get to. Depending on the size of the property, the document can be very large. When you start to focus on the elements of the illustration, it’s important that the written report is on hand as well.

Villa del Lago Site Plan
Villa del Lago Site Plan – Property represented by Nicki & Karen Southern California Luxury Real Estate

Understanding the Survey Legend

Property surveys are designed to be as extensive and detailed as possible, which is why the illustrations within can be very difficult to read. They will oftentimes include a large number of different symbols and objects that you won’t have any idea how to understand without a guide. The guide that’s used for one of these illustrations is referred to as a legend, which will include names for all of the symbols found on the illustration. Without a legend for the survey, it’s possible that only the surveyor will be able to read the illustration that they’ve made.

The legend will almost always be placed in one corner of the illustration, which will usually be the top right corner. The icons and symbols that are listed on this legend will typically indicate some of the more important elements of a property such as structures, borders, utility lines, and wells. The names and symbols used on the legend can differ with each surveyor. If ever you need guidance about what one or more of the symbols means, you should contact the surveyor immediately. If done properly, the symbols on the legend will be described in a way that you should understand. Larger properties will come with more complicated legends.

Now that you understand what the survey legend entails, it’s important that you find the surveyor’s certificate, which should be located somewhere on the illustration. This certificate will be signed and properly dated with the usage of an embossed seal. You can be confident that the document is legal as long as you can find the surveyor’s certificate somewhere on the plat. If it’s proving difficult to find, it’s usually located along the right portion of the illustration.

Identifying important Property Attributes, Features and Boundaries

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the main aspects of the illustration as well as the legend, you can then focus on learning more about the details. As mentioned previously, you need to place the illustration on a flat surface. Make sure that the illustration is positioned properly in accordance with the rest of the property. A compass should be located just beside the legend. Use this compass to identify the northern portion of the property. When you’ve done so, you’ll be able to better outline the boundaries of your property.

The boundaries on the property are listed in distance and bearing, the latter of which is displayed as a series of minutes, seconds, and degrees with directions like north or south on both sides. The distance refers to the length of a boundary line. The distance of a boundary line is usually displayed in feet and is listed right around the bearing. When looking at the bearing, it will read as something like N 45° 04′ 08″ E. If you measured this angle on your illustration of 45 degrees, four feet, and eight inches, the measurement would represent one of the boundary lines on your property.

Some of the most important features of a property survey include physical boundaries, any water structures on the property, any sidewalks and fences that are shared with another property, and any nearby driveways and roads. Other features that will likely be listed include any points of entry into the property, the location of certain utilities, and any modifications or repairs that have recently occurred on the property. Another aspect of the survey that might help you when reading it is the illustration scale. This scale can usually be found just under the main illustration and will show distances that are displayed on the actual map. For instance, one inch on the scale might represent 100 feet on the property.

Survey Written Report

Investigating the Written Survey Report

Now that you know more about the illustration on a property survey, it’s time to investigate the written survey report, which will typically detail many of the visual aspects of the illustration. First, you should focus on reading all of the notes that are usually found beside the illustration. These notes can provide you with important information about any past owners of the property that has been surveyed as well as your neighbors. A more comprehensive analysis of this information can be found in the written report.

The written report is just as important as the illustration and will include a large amount of essential legal information as well as comments that have been made by the surveyor in question. The report will list whether the property is a commercial one or residential one. It will also provide you with information about any noteworthy improvements that have been made to the property since the previous survey was taken. This information can help you during negotiations on the price of the property!

The official measurements of the property will also be listed in the written report for you to reference whenever necessary. Make sure that you also look for any easements within the written report. An easement refers to legal access that the current owner of the home has given to a third party, which can be anything from a neighbor being able to use your driveway or a cable company being able to place certain lines on your property. Identifying these easements before you buy the property will allow you to avoid frustrations later on.

Applying your Property Survey Findings

Before you fully apply the findings of your property survey, make sure that you write down notes about any aspects of the survey that you are confused about or need more information on. You want to understand every portion of the written report and illustration before you apply the findings. When you are thinking of buying a property, you may need to consult this survey on a regular basis. A copy of the survey should also be provided to your mortgage company so that they can give you a reasonable loan that matches the value of the property in question.

These surveys can be useful in a wide variety of situations when you’re buying your new home. This survey will tell you if larger appliances like the HVAC unit or roof haven’t been repaired in years, which is information that will help you negotiate a better price for the home. If ever you have any questions about the previous owner of the property or any neighbors, the survey should provide you with everything you need to answer these questions. Many of the issues that can arise during the process of buying a home can typically be solved with the information found in a property survey.

How to Read a Property Survey: Conclusion

Properly assessing a property survey can be challenging, which is why it’s important that you take note of the written report and illustration of a property survey when considering your next property or new home. While these guidelines should help you better understand how to read a property survey, it’s possible that you might remain unclear about some aspects of the survey. If you need guidance in assessing the property survey, feel free to reach out to our team of luxury real estate professionals at Nicki & Karen Southern California Real Estate and we’ll be more than happy to assist you with the process!

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