What is a land survey?
A land survey is one of several property assessments that may be performed before you buy a property. It establishes the precise property line, location of any structures, important geographic features, and more. Many lenders require a land survey before issuing a mortgage. But even if you’re buying the property with cash, a land survey may be useful when settling disputes or improving the property.
How much does a land survey cost?
Land surveys have an average cost of about $525 nationwide as of June 2022, according to HomeAdvisor, but prices can vary significantly. Factors that affect how much a land survey costs include the property's location, size, and accessibility, as well as the time needed to research the property history.
Properties that are large, difficult to reach, have complicated or challenging terrain, or require extensive research may cost more to survey. More expensive locations may have elevated land survey costs, too. In extreme cases, a land survey — even a residential land survey — can cost up to $1,000 or more for a large or remote property in an expensive city. Learn more about property surveys and why they are important.
What does a land survey include?
A land survey looks like a topographical map of the property. It contains details that help establish the property's value, potential uses, and hazards. These details include precise property lines and the size and location of existing structures or other improvements. The information gathered helps justify the property's current valuation. That's an important part of getting a mortgage approved since a bank will want to see that the land is worth the money they're lending.
A land survey also includes information that will help you decide whether it's a good fit for your needs and future plans. A land survey may include:
An easement is a legal agreement that gives another party the right to freely access the property for specific reasons. This is often standard practice — like allowing utility companies access to the property to service power lines or water supply issues — and is beneficial for the homeowner. However, if a previous owner took out private easements with neighbors or anyone else, they might affect you and what you can do with the property.
For example, suppose you buy a country or suburban property with a private easement allowing a local farmer to move livestock across the property. In that case, you may not be allowed to build a fence on the property since it would violate the farmer's easement.
The land survey includes information about slopes or important physical features of the property. Depending on what you want to do on the property, this can be important to know. For instance, the size and degree of slope can affect what kinds of plants will do well on the property, affecting gardening or farming. Extreme slopes or uneven terrain may also limit what improvements can be made to the property and increase the cost of building structures.
The topography and elevation of the property also determine whether it's in a floodplain or base flood elevation, how likely it is to flood, and whether you'll be required to purchase flood insurance to protect your home.
How long is a land survey good for?
According to Millman National Land Services, land surveys are typically valid for five to ten years, depending on where you live. Buying land without a survey is risky, as you won't know if changes have been made since the previous survey. If the seller has recently signed a private easement or altered the property lines, it wouldn't be on their old survey, but it might affect whether or not you want to buy the property.
The details in a land survey can be even more important if you're buying an empty lot to build a home. Suppose you're looking at properties to buy a second home where the previous owners weren't always present, such as a beach house or cabin. In that case, they may not be aware of geographical changes or developed environmental hazards. Learn more about insurance for a second home.