By: William J. Burke, III
You are about to sign an agreement to buy a home, a building lot in the country on which you plan to build your dream home, or maybe an investment property. Should you obtain a survey as part of your “due diligence”?
Professional developers almost always obtain a new survey when buying property for further development, yet consumers buying homes or building lots for personal use, and casual investors buying investment properties such as existing office buildings or apartments, get a survey infrequently. What do the developers know that you don’t? They know that a survey could reveal problems that could substantially undermine the value of your investment and that are not discoverable by other means.
Purchasers tend to focus their due diligence inspections on determining the structural integrity of buildings, utility systems, radon, mold. Maybe checking for zoning compliance and getting a Phase I environmental assessment. The desirability and value of a survey is often overlooked. This is surprising, because a survey can disclose issues that can be much more difficult and costly, sometimes even impossible, to rectify than most other problems that are discovered in the due diligence process.
Even if you have carefully reviewed the title report (see companion article “Read Your Title Report!”), a survey can still be essential to the whole picture. It can pinpoint the location of easements disclosed on the title report so you can tell where they are and what effect they may have. Surveys also disclose issues that are not disclosed in a title report because they are not evident from a public records search. Surveys can reveal (among other things) violations of zoning setback restrictions, evidence of unrecorded easements, boundary discrepancies with adjoining properties, property description errors, acreage content, and encroachments.
And, most if not all of these issues are excluded from coverage under ordinary Owners’ title insurance policies.
Even in suburban areas that are relatively fully developed, boundary disagreements are common. Privacy fences, hedges, tree lines and other indications of boundaries may or may not accurately reflect the true boundaries. Although sellers usually know the approximate location of their boundaries, we have encountered situations arise in which a seller and even the seller’s neighbors totally misunderstood where the boundaries were. But if you want to build an addition or a pool you need to know, and it is better to find out before the purchase than to be disappointed later.
Although it is not essential to get a new survey in every transaction, and sometimes relatively recent surveys are available that can serve your needs, it is always prudent to make an informed decision whether getting a survey should be part of your “due diligence”; and it is always prudent to make certain that the agreement you sign allows enough time to do so and permits you to get out of the deal if a survey discloses problems. We are very experienced in counseling our clients on when to get a survey, and reviewing and advising clients on what the survey discloses when it has been completed.