The word “survey” is sometimes used to mean the act of surveying property as well as the written result of that activity. The written result of a survey is also sometimes called a “plat of survey” or simply a “plat”. Lenders financing the purchase of a home will almost always require the purchaser/borrower to provide them with a current survey of the property.
There are two basic types of surveys — a “house location survey” and a “boundary survey”. What lenders normally require is a “house location survey” which reflects the outlines of the lot, itself, the location of any improvements on the lot (such as the house, any outbuildings like garages or sheds, driveways, fences, etc.), building restriction lines (minimum distances between improvements and lot lines), easements and rights of way that are reflected in the chain of title and a wide variety of other types of information. House location surveys will normally reveal problems such as encroachments and violations of building restriction lines.
For an additional charge, the surveyor will provide a “boundary survey” which means that, in addition to providing a plat of the survey, the surveyor will also drive spikes or stakes into the ground at the corners of the lot lines.
Obviously, a survey cannot reflect improvements constructed after the date of the survey. Therefore, when a survey is more than a few months old, the lender will usually require that a new survey be prepared. Sometimes, a lender will accept an affidavit from the homeowner stating that there have been no improvements constructed since the date of a survey provided to the lender.
Surveys also cannot reveal the location of easements or rights of way which are not reflected in the chain of title or which, even if reflected in the chain of title, are not sufficiently described verbally to permit the surveyor to locate them on the plat of survey.
If you do not know how to read and understand a survey, you would be well advised to have someone who does know how to read one review it and explain it to you before settlement on the property. Frequently, matters revealed by a survey which may present problems to a purchaser in the future are not covered by the purchaser’s title insurance policy even where a lender has obtained coverage for the same problem in the lender’s title insurance policy (see Big Mistake #14).