is a Land Survey?
A survey is the process of measuring a
piece of land to establish its legal boundaries.
I need a land survey when I buy real estate on Martha's
Considering that your Martha's Vineyard house and land represent
one of your largest assets, it makes sense that you should
know as much as possible about the physical characteristics
of your Martha's Vineyard real estate investment. Obtaining
a survey may be the most important thing you do before you
close on any property. Without a survey, you do not know the
true details of your property and are risking your investment.
A minor discrepancy in the boundaries can make a big difference.
Something as seemingly innocuous as a fence can create expensive
litigation and ill will between neighbors.
I have always found it odd that on Martha's Vineyard, property
bounds are rarely marked and the original markers, if any,
have long since disappeared (i.e. a tree that no longer exists
or a drill hole in a rock that was moved long ago). A buyer
is forced to guess where the boundaries are, based upon a
vague description evidenced by where a hedgerow, stone wall,
utility box or fence line is. The seller or the seller's agent
may be able to point out approximately where the property
line is, but that is usually the best you can expect. Lenders
did not require surveys until 1987. A mortgage company, whether
it is a bank, trust company or some other financial entity,
wants to be sure that the land and buildings to which they
are lending money be exactly as described in the documents
that accompany the transaction. The lender also needs to know
that if you default on the loan there will be no problems
in re-selling the property. A survey not only protects the
lender's investment, it ultimately protects your Martha's
Vineyard real estate investment.
A survey discloses the actual lot size, whether the structures
on the property are within the boundaries of the property
and conform to building setbacks. A survey identifies pool
and fence locations and determines whether they meet local
zoning by-laws. An up-to-date survey even identifies any encroachments
imposed by abutting properties and any easements that may
have an impact upon the property title. Most lenders will
not accept a survey if it is more than six months old; however,
if the seller has a survey, ask them who did their survey.
It may save you some money if the surveyor will update the
A trained professional engineer called a surveyor, performs
this service. There are only a handful of reputable surveyors
on Martha's Vineyard, and most of them always have a backlog
of work so you should order a survey as soon as you have a
solid Purchase and Sale commitment. Survey prices vary quite
a bit. The cost of a survey can range anywhere from $600.00
up into the thousands so ask your settlement attorney for
an estimate. I have provided a
listing of ENGINEERS - Civil and Surveying here so you
can arrange for your own survey instead of letting the lender
choose, but make sure that a copy of the survey gets to the
lender well in advance of the closing. Although the bounds
will be flagged, if you want permanent markers (monuments)
installed it will cost extra, but I think it is a good idea.
You should arrange for the permanent cement markers when you
order the survey. Of course, you can install your own boundary
markers later on by simply using steel fence stakes to replace
the wooden stakes.
If you are buying a condominium unit on Martha's Vineyard,
a survey will have already been done as part of the condominium
plans, which were recorded with the condominium documents.
You will not have to go through the expense of obtaining a
separate survey for your particular unit.
Today, title insurance companies, when issuing a title insurance
policy, will issue an exception to title unless an up-to-date
survey was obtained. Since Lenders insist on receiving a clear
"lender's" title insurance policy, covering the face value
of the mortgage, it becomes necessary to obtain an up-to-date
survey to satisfy the lender's requirements. The most common
type of survey is called a "house location survey". Title
insurance companies do not consider this type of survey to
be the most "accurate survey". Therefore, they will reject
most claims regarding boundary disputes. This is why title
insurance generally excludes "encroachments, overlaps, boundary
line disputes and any other matters which would be disclosed
by an accurate survey and inspection of the premises." In
order to have full title insurance coverage, the purchaser
should obtain what is known as an ALTA (American Land Title
Association) Survey. This very comprehensive survey details
exactly what the property is that you are purchasing. An ALTA
survey will cost considerably more than the house location
survey, which is why many residential purchasers would rather
take a chance that the house location survey will adequately
protect them. If you like gambling, be my guest, but on Martha's
Vineyard Island, title problems are a common occurrence.
Sometime before the closing, you should ask your settlement
attorney to review the up-to-date survey with you and discuss
any potential problems that may have been uncovered. Who owns
the fence? Is the driveway shared by an easement or do you
own it? Who owns the trees and shrubs along the boundary line?
Etc. Once you own the property, it may become much harder
and more costly to settle any issues related to boundaries.
Also, when you go to the closing, make sure you get a copy
of the survey for your own records.