Why You SHOULD Have a Land Survey Completed Before Purchasing Land?

The importance of land survey before purchasing land

land surveyBuying land, whether commercial or residential, is actually a costly endeavor, even though prices have eased somewhat lately. This is the reason locating a parcel you like and making a deal for it without performing a land survey within the area is likely to be the greatest mistake that you could make.

Here’s why it’s extremely important that you have a land survey done first:

Land surveyors can determine whether you’re actually getting what you’re going to pay for. Land surveying establishes whether or not the sidewalks, trees, driveways and even the bird bath are part of the property you’re planning to buy. Land surveying also determines whether the neighbors are encroaching onto your property, which would then mean you’re likely to have problems later on with your neighbors.

Getting a land surveyor doesn’t only mean you will know what you’re getting or not getting; land surveyors are the experts, so they can help with building regulations, wetland regulations, etc. Please note that these regulations may change any time, but land surveyors ought to be updated on these regulations; or if not, they’ll refer you to somebody who is.

Let’s say the present landowner (the one selling the land) supplies you with old land survey documents. You should still hire your personal land surveyor to find out if the boundary monuments remain in position. Also, land surveying done a couple of years back might not show recent changes to the land. When the existing survey is older than about 10 years, you need to get the latest survey. Technology and surveying standards are much better now and could give you more confidence in the survey work.

In addition, that survey was completed for that owner. He might have instructed the surveyor not to show some things on the drawing. At least have a land surveyor get out there and evaluate the parcel using this survey in hand. We have witnessed numerous cases when a whole new land survey would save the customer thousands, so don’t be a victim.

I’ve heard many say getting a land surveyor is nothing but unnecessary expense. I’ll let you know what’s unnecessary: the worries brought on by paying thousands of dollars for something and finding yourself not receiving whatever you were expecting. If you’re smart, you’ll hire a professional surveyor to do the land survey prior to making any land purchases.

The Lost Art of Locating Property Corners

Locating Property Corners

Article by Glen Tanner, Professional Land Surveyor, Copyright 2011, Used by Permission

property cornersThe art of finding property corners is being lost. The following picture shows what inspired this article.
The two rebar, a #4 rebar and a #5 rebar, shown in the photo to the right are 1.9 feet apart and set in 1994 or after according to the client.
Did surveyors not have Minimum Technical Standards and magnetic locators or at least an aqua locator in 1994?
How many of you surveyors had your crew come in and the party chief tells you that they had to set an iron because they couldn’t find an iron pin? How many of you accept this or do you check it out yourself?
There is a lot of iron ore in the rocks around these two rebar, which will mess with magnetic locators if you;re not patient. (Photos taken 03-16-11)
Any time I go into an old subdivision, pre-1980-85 before surveyors started using rebar, and see capped rebar at corners where galvanized iron pins, solid bars or old irons should be, I always ask myself how hard did the surveyor look before setting the corner.
Setting a new pin Increases the land surveyor’s liability AND causes confusion as to the true location of the property boundaries.

In old neighborhoods, especially those that go up and down steep inclines, very seldom do the irons on the ground match the recorded plat or deed, in angle or in distance, and if you try to use a pre-set data collector and a total station, 9 out of 10 times you will not find all the property corners – not because they’re missing, but because you’re probably in the wrong place or weren’t looking hard enough.

We should always remember that in old subdivisions and old boundary surveys, surveyors used plumb bobs, chain, theodolite, and no one knows what the closure of the survey may have been, if it even had one.


Property CornersAlmost all survey crews today have a magnetic pin finder and either a bushaxe or machete. But for some jobs, these aren’t adequate. As a Professional Surveyor, I use the tools shown to the left.
Without them, how do you expect your crews to locate property corners if they can’t even dig them up?
The magnetic locator in this picture is about 17 years old. It is held together with JB-weld and duck tape.
The reason I don’t buy a new one is because new isn’t always better; when it growls I understand why, when it screams I know why. Most of all I’ve had very good luck with it finding corners.
I have always used an aqua locator, the small black box in the picture, near fences or when I doubt what the magnetic locator is doing. An aqua locator works as deep as 2 feet. I go through a sharp shooter a yearl the pick is for hard ground, the post hole diggers are for when the sharp shooter doesn’t work getting out the dirt.
The next question is how low will you go to find a property corner? In other words, how deep will you dig before you give up and set a property corner?

The following pictures were taken 3-16-11 but the work was done about a week before. (That is why you will see a post in the picture.) I re-dug the hole to get the photo of this rare find. The first item I found was the bottom of a coke bottle (center of the photo).

How many of your crew members would quit here, thinking this is garbage? Would they keep digging and discover the property corner UNDER the bottle?

Property Corners
Property CornersHow deep does your crew dig to find a property corner? I personally go until I’m absolutely sure.

One open-top iron pipe found – the original property corner on this subdivision lot. 

The deepest I have ever had to dig to locate an iron is 3 feet. I have found old irons that a tree has grown over or around as much as a foot in the tree. This lot was a 100 by 200 according to the plat, but on the ground along the road it measured 98 feet, along the rear of the lot, 96 feet and 198 feet in depth.

Boy, this one sure matched the plat. This lot originally was an Autauga county gully that has been filled. The plat was recorded in 1969 and all lots shown on the plat along the south line were shown to be 160 feet plus or minus. Do you believe the rest of the subdivision is going to match the plat?

Finding instead of setting property corners

Due to improper equipment, lack of skill and training, or proper time and effort by land surveyors and survey crews to locate or find property corners in old subdivisions, more and more corners are being set instead of being found. I have always believed it is better to find an original corner than to set a new  corner.


Property CornersAsk anyone that knows me, they will tell you, before Glen Tanner quits looking and sets an iron, the ground will look like it has been attacked by armadillos and groundhogs.
The art and skill of finding property corners is disappearing.
We as surveyors need to teach and emphasize the need to look for and locate property corners. I find about 90% of property corners in old subdivisions. It isn’t always easy and some of the time it is very time consuming.
I have been known to go back on a different day, after having had time to look at my field data, and start fresh with a better idea on where to look before setting an iron pin. It does work but it takes time; it is something we don’t allow ourselves or allow our survey crews – time to look.

Isn’t our duty as a land surveyor to follow in the footsteps of the original land surveyor as closely as possible, not to re-interpret or move a corner to where it calculates? Many of you surveyors are going to say that your “clients aren’t going to pay for it” or “I didn’t allow that much time in the job to be going back.”

That’s our job, Isn’t it? Isn’t it required by the Standards of Practice? Isn’t it our ethical duty to protect the public and to do these things regardless of what the client is willing to pay or how much time we have allowed in the job?The art to finding old irons is to listen to property owners, who know the area, or how it was surveyed, but most of all taking the time to look and dig.

That’s right – dig – a lot. My magnetic locator doesn’t have a brain, it didn’t go to school, it doesn’t speak English, Spanish or French – But, it will lie to you. Learn to understand your equipment, something that may take months, even a year or two.

Understanding the squeaks and squalls of the magnetic locator signal being sent to the user is important. Remember be patient, learn what what to look for and most of all – dig, dig, dig. THIS is the art of locating old property corners.

If you need help locating your property lines or property corners in the Dadeville area, please call the Dadeville land surveyors at (256) 307-1447. Our field crew strives to live up to the high standards Glen talks about in this article.

New ALTA Survey Standards from ALTA/ACSM

New ALTA Survey Standards

ALTA SurveyThe ALTA Survey Standards are being revised and will become effective February 23, 2011. Recently, committees from both the NSPS and ALTA met to review and approve the upcoming standards.

The National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), which is a member organization of the American Congress on Surveying & Mapping (ACSM), is a trade organization for the profession of surveying and mapping.

For years ACSM has been the leader among surveying organizations in working with ALTA to develop these nationally recognized surveying standards.  ALTA is the American Land Title Association,  and is the trade association and national voice of the abstract and title insurance industry.

2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys  

Summary of Significant Changes from the 2005 Standards to the 2011 Standards

– Annotations on American Congress on Surveying and Mapping – ALTA/ACSM Standards

Changes to ALTA Survey Wording

The ACSM website has a “Summary of Significant Wording Changes” document, which spells out changes to the ALTA survey standards, which have not changed since 2005. Some of the noted changes are:

  • Expands on the “Relative Precision” of the survey
  • Expands on documents to be provided by surveyors
  • Requires more measurements when a water feature is one of the boundaries
  • Suggests that new legal descriptions might not be necessary
  • Requires a lot more information on easements
  • Reinforces that the title opinion should be furnished to the surveyor before the survey begins
  • Expands Table A to include a number of new items which may be requested by clients

While none of these are major changes, surveyors AND those ordering an ALTA survey should be aware of them. One item that I’ve heard a lot of noise about is item #21 on Table A, which, if checked, would required the surveyor to obtain professional liability insurance for the particular survey project.

Many surveyors don’t carry professional liability insurance because of the expense of this type of insurance. This will significantly change the price of an ALTA survey if the item is checked.

Surveyors and Clients should discuss the Table A items in detail each time anyway, but this is a big red flag that should be addressed. We’ll see how this plays out in the future and what it will mean for ALTA Surveys.

"Survey Land Twice, Clear-Cut Once"

survey landI read an article with the above title that reminded me of surveys I’ve been involved with over the years. In most cases the land owner hired a logging company to clear-cut their property and the loggers got over the property line in their zeal to get the “big trees that were out there.” In all the cases, it would have saved the landowner a LOT of money to get the boundary marked by a land surveyor.

 “If you want to be certain and not rely on (assumptions) … it should be properly surveyed,” said Herb Suderman, a real estate attorney.

This is a common occurance in rural areas because more logging is done there. BUT, this same type of problem happens regularly in towns by landowners building home additions, driveways, fences, swimming pools, and storage buildings over the property lines.

Even if you’re sure you’re not over the property line, there are also easement lines and setback lines on most lots that must be avoided.

Please check your property lines and your property survey drawing before undertaking any building or clearing project. As the cliché goes, “you can pay me now or pay me later.” And, I’ll add to that cliché and say that it always costs you more later.

“In rural areas because it’s more expensive to survey a large parcel of land, often the surveys are not done,” he said, adding that can cause some “big surprises.”

And, while you probably don’t REALLY need to survey twice, at least once is highly recommended before you “clear-cut” your land.