THE SURVEYOR'S ROLE
A GUIDE FOR LANDOWNERS
What is Surveying?
Surveying is the science or art of making measurements to determine or establish the relative position of points above, on, or beneath the surface of the earth. Surveys are generally divided into classes according to the type of data obtained, the methods and instruments used, and the purposes to be served. Some examples of surveys are: geodetic surveys, topographic surveys, aerial or photogrammetric surveys, soil and wetland surveys, geologic surveys, engineering surveys, and land surveys.
Types of Surveys
For the purchase and sale of residential or commercial land and buildings, surveys are commonly classified as follows:
Mortgage Survey or Inspection
An inexpensive survey or inspection designed strictly to satisfy requirements of banks or mortgage lenders for residential properties. These inspections usually do not do much beyond confirming that the buildings are situated on the land in question. The inspections usually result in a plan included as a document at a real estate closing, but not recorded in the Registry of Deeds or relied upon for legal descriptions. The quality and level of detail shown on Mortgage Inspection Plans vary considerably among different surveyors. Some surveyors will recover and mark existing boundary markers on the ground and reflect more dimensional detail on the plan than others. If performed properly they often uncover variances between deed descriptions and parcel boundaries on the ground, and often turn up problems that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
An accurate survey of one or more parcels of land made to establish or to reestablish boundary lines on the ground, or to obtain data for preparation of a map or plan. Plans will usually show boundary lines and evidence of the same, buildings, monuments found or set, easements and rights of way, encroachments and lines of occupation, and other items affecting the real property being surveyed. The surveyor will normally research records at the county Registry of Deeds and other municipal offices, as they relate to the property surveyed and abutting properties. If deed descriptions or evidence on the ground are vague or conflicting, research and field investigation can be more extensive. The survey plan is often recorded as a permanent record in the Western Massachusetts county Registry of Deeds, and is relied upon for the preparation of a legal description of the property.
Land Court Survey
If title or boundary line problems can not be resolved by other methods, Land Court surveys and Plans may be required to eliminate the problem. Land Court surveys are Boundary surveys that have to be performed in accordance with a detailed "Manual of Instructions for the Preparation of Plans to be Filed in Land Court", which was last amended in 1989. The Land Court engineering department in Boston, Massachusetts, is familiar with surveyors in Western Massachusetts who are qualified to submit plans to the Court. The Engineer for the Land Court will not accept any plans that are not prepared in accordance with their instructions.
Title Insurance Survey
Title insurance protects the property owner against any flaws that may not have been found by the title searcher when the land and/or house were purchased. Title insurance surveys and plans provide information relied upon by title insurance companies to insure title of the real property to be free and clear of survey matters, except those disclosed by the survey and indicated on the plan. Since title insurance policies often include a survey exception for residential properties, title insurance surveys are usually required only for commercial properties. Recognized standards for title insurance surveys are contained in the "Minimum Standard Detail Requirements and Classifications for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys" as adopted by the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, and as last amended in 1992.
Finding a Qualified Surveyor
Surveying is a highly technical profession requiring special knowledge of the principals of mathematics, the related physical and applied sciences, and the relevant requirements of law. As with most professions, the qualifications and experience level of surveyors vary considerably, and cost should not be the only deciding factor for selection of a surveyor. For the names and addresses of surveyors practicing in Western Massachusetts or in your area, consult the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Lists of surveyors can also be obtained from the Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers, Inc.
Selecting a Qualified Surveyor
To choose a surveyor with a reputation for skill and good judgment, you may want to consult with other land owners, attorneys, or your real estate representative. The bank or lending institution, or attorney, may assist with the selection of the surveyor, but the land owner who will ultimately pay for the service should participate in the selection.
Legal Requirements for Surveyors
A person must be registered as a Professional Land Surveyor under Chapter 112 of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in order to determine the location of boundary lines, or the location of structures in relation to boundaries. Survey plans must include the stamp or seal of the surveyor performing or directly supervising the work performed. Established Standards for the practice of surveying are contained in the "Procedural and Technical Standards for the Practice of Land Surveying" 250 CMR 6.00, available from the Secretary of State or State Book Store.
Establishing the Survey Cost
The cost for Mortgage Surveys or Inspections for previously surveyed residential lots usually range from $150.00 to $200.00. Costs will be somewhat greater for commercial properties, larger parcels, or locations requiring extensive travel time. If a problem or discrepancy should be found, additional survey work may be necessary to resolve the problem.
The cost for other types of surveys will vary due to factors such as: the size of the parcel, the topography of the land, the quality of deed descriptions, and the existence of prior surveys of the locus and abutting parcels. Direct discussions between the surveyor and the client should enable a scope of services to be defined. If the scope can be generally determined in advance of the survey, an estimated cost or range of costs can usually be provided. If the scope can be precisely established, a fixed cost may be possible. A written agreement reflecting the cost and scope of services should be executed between the surveyor and the owner or owner's agent.
Investing in the Survey
A survey forms the basis for an investment in real estate in Western Massachusetts as well as anywhere. If properly performed, it can uncover discrepancies and encroachments if they exist, eliminate future questions as to the location of boundaries, and be of lasting benefit to the owner as well as the mortgage lender and title insurance company.