5 questions to ask a land surveyor before hiring them to survey your property

Choosing the right land surveyor

So, you’ve just been told you need to hire a land surveyor. Maybe you are building an addition to your property and your architect said you needed a land survey. Maybe you are in a boundary dispute with your neighbor and your lawyer told you to call a surveyor. Choosing the right surveyor for the job may seem like a daunting task especially if you don’t know what a surveyor does or what, exactly, a boundary survey even is. And, just picking the lowest bid could set you up for trouble down the road, especially if your property line is in dispute. To make things easier, we’ve compiled the top 5 questions you should ask a land surveyor to make sure you get the survey you need and avoid any unnecessary legal hassles.

1. Are you licensed in my state?

It is important to make sure the work is being done by a licensed Professional Land Surveyor. A Professional Land Surveyor has gone to school, passed a 12-hour exam, has years of professional experience and is an expert in measurement and boundary law. You will want to make sure they are licensed in your state to ensure they are familiar with boundary law in your area. Also, a licensed land surveyor can help you navigate the complex process of getting your map approved and recorded. Finally, in case of a problem down the road, you will want to have someone you can call to back up the work you paid for and assist you in court, if necessary. Only a licensed land surveyor can be called as an expert witness in the event of a boundary dispute.

You should always request confirmation of licensing credentials when hiring a Professional Surveyor. Only those licensed in the state in which services are to be performed are allowed to legally provide the services defined in the licensing laws found in that state’s Statutes and Regulations. Click here for more information about a surveyor’s professional qualifications.

Click here to check if your land surveyor is licensed and in good standing with the Board.

2. Is your crew educated and experienced in boundary surveys?

Each project is different, so crews with education and experience in measurement can easily solve issues on the fly in the field which could save you money. Crews with experience know what to look for in terms of finding survey markers, boundary evidence and know how to manage complex issues in the field.

3. How long have you been doing this work?

Experience is key to minimizing risk and avoiding costly errors. Every survey is unique to the property and environmental factors surrounding the property. Each survey performed adds to the knowledge base of the surveyor. A surveyor must combine the science of measurement with the art of interpreting history and have a clear understanding of boundary law and the legal aspects of boundary surveying.

4. What will I get as a result of the work you will be doing?

At the end of any boundary survey, the deliverable will be a record of survey map that has been reviewed, signed and approved by the county surveyor and recorded at the county recorder’s office. This is important, as some companies will say they are providing a boundary survey but do not, in fact, record the document with the county which does not provide you with a legal document that will hold up in court if there is a dispute. Be sure to ask any surveyor if they will be around later to support you if there is trouble further down the road.

5. Will the results accurately define my boundary?

It seems like you shouldn’t even have to ask this question, but not all survey products are equal. After the field work is performed, a licensed land surveyor should run the field data through a statistical analysis program which will guarantee the measurement results fall within the guidelines for boundary survey set forth by the American Land Title Association and the National Society for Professional Surveyors. If your surveyor doesn’t provide this service you should find someone who does.

How do I get my plans approved by the city

If you want to make additions to your property like putting in a pool, building a wall or adding on to your home, you probably know that you need a permit from the city. Here’s how it should work:

  1. Check the zoning requirements of the property in question
  2. Create construction plans (follow the rules in the building code)
  3. Submit plans to city for approval
  4. Make corrections as needed
  5. Obtain building permit
  6. Begin construction

It sounds simple enough, but the process of getting your plans approved so you can start construction can be anything but simple. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming.

The first step in the process is to figure out the zoning requirements of the property in question. Zoning is the designated identification of a property or lot that determines the allowed use, maximum height, allowable area, required yards, and any other requirements specific to the property or lot. The type of occupancy, setbacks, height, and size limitations are all land-use issues covered by your local city planning code. You need to go to the city to get this information. (That’s your first trip.)

Once the land-use questions have been resolved, you will need to create complete construction plans for the project making sure you follow the rules in the building code. These include making sure the height of the structure does not exceed the code, that the structure itself is not too big and that it falls within appropriate setbacks.

These plans then need to be submitted to the city for approval. (This is your 2nd trip.) At this point, the city planner will check to ensure the plans are in compliance with the applicable city planning codes. If not, they will be returned to you with corrections. Once the corrections are made, you need to return to the city (3rd trip) to resubmit the plans. Again, they will be reviewed and checked against the planning code. In theory, you only have to do this once, but that rarely happens. I’ve seen some projects go through this process 10 times before getting city approval, each time requiring another trip to the city to work out issues with the various departments involved.

You don’t ever work with just one person at the city. At a minimum, you will need to work with people from the Planning department, the Engineering department and the Building department. Typically, you end up seeing a new person each time and more or less have to start from scratch with them before you can get to the next step. In my experience, most projects require at least 4-5 trips to the city before plans are approved. Most cities charge you an hourly rate for plan checking.

Once the plans are approved, a building permit can be issued and the construction phase of the project can begin.

But wait, there’s more. During construction, a city inspector will come out to make sure your structure is, indeed, following the code per the plans. More often than not, the inspector finds something that needs to be fixed. This puts a halt to your project until you fix the issue and have the inspector come out again to finish the inspection.

As you can see, starting any construction project means spending lots of time at the city. It’s a time consuming process and there’s a bit of a learning curve. Almost every time I go to the city I see someone who is stressed out and confused trying to get their plans approved. I often hear the city representative behind the counter saying something can’t be done when I know it can, or that something is against the code when I know it isn’t. As a licensed land surveyor, I am also qualified to do land planning and can help you navigate the murky waters of the permitting process. I will advocate for you an your behalf and streamline the process of getting your plans approved. This can save you time and money, and take the pain and stress out of the process.

If you are interested in land planning and city liaison services, call 949-439-4682.

How much does a boundary survey cost?

A Survey Costs How Much?

A boundary survey costs how much? I thought it would be $500?! Why is a land survey so expensive?

We get it. We’ve all been there. When building on to your home or even starting a new project from scratch there is a seemingly endless parade of architects, contractors, sub-contractors, engineers, inspectors, etc. all eating away at your budget. It’s easy to be tempted to just go with the lowest bid. But stop a moment and think about it. You know the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” That’s true in surveying as well. Some people put more consideration into the selection of the person laying the marble tile than the person responsible for outlining their property and making sure whatever they are building is put in the right place! That’s understandable. You can see and touch the tile and you know whether or not the job was done right by looking at it. A boundary survey, on the other hand, is intangible and hard to visualize, so it’s easy not to give it the consideration it deserves. In both cases, you want to make sure the person you hire is competent, licensed, professional and will stand by the quality of their work. In the case of a land surveyor, that could include being able to back up their work in court. The lowest bid might “get the job done,” but always be sure to ask the right questions to make sure you get the survey you need. (See 5 questions to ask a land surveyor before hiring them to survey your property.)

If your property is valued at $700,000, a professional boundary survey that will result in a legal document describing the boundary of your property will generally cost less than 1% of the value of your asset.

Professional Land Surveyors have the education, experience and expertise to get the job done right and to be compliant with the law.

Land Surveying is a professional service much like engineering and architecture. In fact, many Professional Land Surveyors have undergraduate degrees in Civil Engineering or similar field. Surveyors doing boundary work should be licensed by the state in which they perform the work. All 50 states license land surveyors for the protection of the public. While requirements vary by state, six to eight years of experience in the profession is required to qualify for the 12-hour licensing exam. Many states also require an undergraduate degree in surveying (or engineering) to qualify. Professional Land Surveyors are experts in measurement and the legal aspects of boundary law. This is necessary to enable the surveyor to provide their professional opinion about your property boundary, record that opinion in a legal document and support that opinion in court.

A lot of work and expertise goes into determining your boundary.

Surveyors also sometimes suffer from mistaken identity. Because people see us out in the middle of the street in our orange vests they assume we are road workers or landscapers or are just out taking pictures. In truth, a survey crew is made up of professionals who are educated in measurement and advanced math and who need to make complex calculations using sophisticated equipment. And that’s just the field work. Before the crew steps foot on your property, someone has conducted extensive research to find existing legal documents affecting the title of your property, the recorded maps and documents that created your property, and survey markers in the vicinity of your property. Once the survey is complete, a complex analysis of the field work is performed to ensure the quality of the data. A licensed land surveyor needs to check (and double check) every point before the map can be stamped and submitted to be recorded as a legal document. The stamp of a licensed land surveyor imparts their professional opinion about the location of your property boundary lines. This deliverable is likely one of the most important documents you should own.

You want a survey that will help protect the value of your home.

At the end of the day, it’s all about quality, service and value. To put it another way, let’s say your property is valued at $700,000. A professional boundary survey that will result in a legal document describing (and protecting) the boundary of your property will generally cost less than 1% of the value of your asset. Your property, and peace of mind, is worth it.

How to get the right boundary survey to help you build the home of your dreams.

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.