Why Getting A Survey Is Important Before You Close On A Home

Dated: September 26 2023

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Why Getting a Survey is Important Before You Close on a Home 

Why Getting a Survey is Important Before You Close on a Home

For many first-time home buyers and even folks who have purchased homes in the past, the reasons for needing a land survey before a real estate closing can be confusing. Whether you’re buying a piece of vacant land or a single-family home, getting a land survey is something we recommend doing before you close on a property. In some instances a survey will be required before the closing (at the buyer’s expense) and in other situations, it will be optional. Keep reading below to get more details on why a survey is important and why you’ll want to consider getting one, even when it's not required.

 What is a Land Survey?

A land survey will detail every structure and landmark on a piece of land. This includes buildings, fences, utility easements, ingress and egress points (access to the property), roads, lakes, and more. It will also show boundary lines between a property and neighboring properties. 

 When You Must Get a Survey: You’re Getting a Mortgage to Buy Your Home 

If you’re buying a single-family home with a conventional, FHA, or VA mortgage loan, you’ve probably been told by your lender that a land survey will be required before you’re allowed to close on your mortgage. This is because your lender needs to make sure that the property they are lending on is the same as what’s described in the legal description on your purchase contract. For example, if the tax record and legal description indicate the home is located on 1-acre of land and the survey shows it’s really on just ½ an acre of land, because the seller sold off some of the land at some point, the lender may decide the home is not worth as much as they thought and may not lend on it. 

It’s also important to note that a new survey is not always required. In some cases, lenders will accept a prior survey that was done on the property, as long as it’s considered “current,” meaning nothing has changed on the property. Sometimes homeowners have an old survey from a prior closing, especially if they’ve only owned the property for a few years. However, for the lender to accept the prior survey, they will often require that the homeowner verify that no changes have been made to the property that would affect the land survey if it were re-done today. The homeowner will have to attest to this by signing the survey they provide to the buyer or by signing a separate legal document at closing. (The lender and title company will usually make this decision)

Common reasons why a survey wouldn’t be considered “current” are if the homeowner has added or changed a fence, completed an addition on the existing home, added a pool, added a patio or outdoor structure, or made any other changes to the property that would affect the land. In those cases, the old survey will no longer be considered current and a new one will be required. It's always best to submit any older surveys to the lender and title company well in advance of a closing to make sure it's approved. 

Reasons to Get a Survey, Other Than When It’s Required By a Lender: 

Cash buyers may want to get a survey as well, even though there’s no lender requiring it. Why? Because it’s a way for buyers to verify that there are no encroachments on the property from other neighbors or utility easements in odd areas of the property that may cause problems down the road. Surveys also show building setbacks and where underground pipes and drains are located. 

For example, if a survey shows that there’s a utility easement that goes through the middle of the backyard, that could prevent a buyer who wants to add a future pool from being able to add it when the time comes. The survey could also show that a neighbor has a fence too far over the property line or a driveway that is encroaching. When this happens, it’s up to the buyer to decide if this is a problem for them. If so, the seller will need to remedy it before closing can happen. Surveys can also show which trees and hedges are on the property, so the homeowner knows which ones they’re responsible for maintaining. As mentioned above, it also verifies the boundaries of the property and true square footage of the land. These are just a few reasons we recommend getting a land survey. 

 Who Orders a Survey? 

Any homeowner can order a survey from a land surveying company. However, in Pinellas County, when a home is under contract, the title company  will often order the survey on the buyer's behalf. Once received, the title company will review the survey for any encroachments, easements, or anything that might negatively affect the property. Title companies and law firms should then notify all parties if the survey looks clear of any deficiencies or if there is an issue. The buyer will be provided a copy of the survey at closing. 

 What is an Encroachment? What’s an Easement? 

What is a utility easement? A good example of a utility easement is where a utility pole or underground pipe is located. These are often owned by the state or county. If they need maintenance, homeowners will be required to allow access to their property. Digging, paving, and re-wiring or replacing damaged structures are often allowed by the local governing body along utility easements.

What is an encroachment? This is when a neighbor violates another neighbor's land rights by constructing a fence or other structure onto the neighboring property without the land owner's permission. While some land owner's may even allow this, it can lead to future liability issues, damage to the property, land disputes, and problems when it comes time to sell the property in question. 

As a reminder, a home is one of the biggest investments most folks will ever make. Spending a few hundred more dollars to ensure you know what you’re really getting in terms of use and land area is always a good idea. For more information on surveys, buying or selling a home, or what’s happening in the Pinellas County real estate market, feel free to contact us by clicking HERE or call us at (727) 400-3315.

The Sandy Hartmann Group

Christie's International Real Estate

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Andrea Hartmann

Andrea is the Managing Partner of The Sandy Hartmann Group and runs the team alongside Sandy Hartmann. She would love to talk to you about real estate! Andrea was born and raised in the Tampa Bay a....

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