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People often call me because they are building or remodeling their home and they have been told they need a Topographic or Boundary Survey. Depending upon the municipality, some cities require a full Boundary Survey to be completed in order for any permitted work to be done on a property. Other cities only require what’s called a Topographic and Record Boundary Survey. These two surveys are very different but homeowners are often confused between the two. Both surveys require the services of a Professional Land Surveyor (like me). Both require a team of trained professionals to go to the property and measure around the boundary using specialized equipment. Both require research of recorded documents and office time to process and analyze the data collected from the survey. And both require the stamp and signature of a licensed Professional Land Surveyor. This, by the way, is not something you can do with a tape measure or by hiring a few people off the corner. In the same way you would hire a lawyer if you need legal services, you will want to hire a Professional Land Surveyor if you need surveying services. Just like lawyers, Land Surveyors complete years of schooling (many have degrees in Civil Engineering), focusing on mathematics (geometry and trigonometry), physics, engineering and law, and have to pass rigorous exams to become licensed to practice in any given state. The deliverables from these surveys are important legal documents that reflect the boundaries of your property.  You will want to make sure they are created by someone who knows what they are doing.

So what’s the difference between a Topographic and Record Boundary Survey and a Boundary Survey and Record of Survey Map?

A Topographic and Record Boundary Survey is a survey showing the improvements on your property related to the record boundary. The record boundary is what is on record as described in the deed of your property. Essentially, a survey team goes out to your property and looks for sufficient survey monumentation that supports the record legal description in your deed. They also measure topographic features such as structures, utilities, curbs, sidewalks, driveways, adjacent streets, etc. A map is then compiled with this data and given to the homeowner (which is usually submitted with the house plans to the city by the architect). This generally satisfies the requirements of most, but not all municipalities to allow you to build or modify your home.

In some cases, the municipality requires a full Boundary Survey and Record of Survey Map to be filed and recorded with the county surveyor’s office. A Boundary Survey is a much more detailed, in depth survey. It requires surveying the whole block your lot is located in, finding any and all survey monuments in your block, locating & documenting occupation (ie fence lines, walls, improvements, etc.) and analyzing how it all fits together with the record information. A record of survey map is then prepared showing all the evidence found during the field boundary survey portion to justify the locations of your property lines. The County Surveyor’s office then reviews the map, comments on what they would like to see corrected and determines if any additional field work and analysis is necessary to complete the record of survey map for approval and recordation. The amount of field and office work required to produce the Record of Survey Map and the rigorous approval process make this type of survey more costly and usually takes several months to complete.

The benefit of having a full Boundary Survey and Record of Survey Map recorded with the county is that this document provides a high level of certainty of your property boundary line location and is often used as evidence in boundary disputes. One way to look at it is to consider what your house is worth. The cost of a full Boundary Survey and Record of Survey Map is generally less than 1% of your home value.

Why else might I need a Boundary Survey and Record of Survey Map?

As I already mentioned, the Record of Survey Map is often required to prove property lines in the event of a boundary dispute with a neighbor. If the findings of a Record Boundary Survey show a “material discrepancy” between what the record shows and what was found during the course of the field survey, a full Boundary Survey should be completed and a Record of Survey Map should be recorded with the county surveyor’s office. If your property was created from a deed description but is not shown on any record map, then pursuant to California State Business and Professions Code the surveyor is obligated to file a Record of Survey with the county.

Building or adding on to your home requires a number of specialized services. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the contractors and professionals required to build your project. Generally speaking, it’s up to your local municipality to determine the extent of what is required from each professional segment. Taking the time to find the right professional  in each area–one who knows the industry and the law and will help guide you through the maze–will ensure your project is a success.