Should a Lawyer Review the Survey for a Home Purchase?

Yes – it is very smart to have an attorney review the survey for a home purchase. A survey is the technical depiction of the land and home that you are planning to purchase. The survey shows: boundaries between you and your neighbors; structures on the land (called “improvements”); encroachments onto your property by your neighbors; and whether your property encroaches on your neighbor’s land.

An attorney’s review of your survey is useful primarily for two reasons:

  1. To help you understand what the encroachments on your land are, and advise you whether yours or your neighbor’s future building plans could result in future encroachments
  2. To reconcile the survey with the title insurance commitment in regard to:
  • The legal description;
  • Encroachments over which the Title Company will not issue insurance;
  • A party’s proper legal name the Title Company is requiring to sign a waiver or affidavit allowing you to get coverage over a particular encroachment.

Attorneys can also be helpful in other issues that arise with surveys. Surveys identify common areas, such as in a condominium or a subdivision, setting forth where your property ends and the common area begins. Only after reviewing the survey can your attorney negotiate with the Title Company over what they will cover in your policy.

Attorneys can also assist when there are competing surveys. Often surveyors disagree where a property’s boundaries are. After reviewing the competing surveys, an attorney can work with the surveyors to reconcile where the actual property boundaries exist.

Attorneys can assist with competing surveys.

Attorneys can assist with competing surveys.

We recently helped a client buying a home obtain full title coverage by having their neighbor’s surveyor go back and reset their surveyor’s pin to be more in line with the pin our client’s surveyor had placed.

What can happen if you don’t have an attorney review the survey? Without having an attorney review the survey, you may misunderstand a very critical part of your property line, or that of your neighbors. This can be costly and sometimes disastrous. Litigation can develop over boundaries, maintenance easements, fences, utility easements, etc., all of which are very costly.

A potential client who was selling a large and expensive suburban/rural parcel approached us about the following situation. After they put their house up for sale and relocated to another state, their agent informed them that a local utility company was out at the property, marking off part of one of the structures to be knocked down.

It turned out that the structure encroached on the utility company’s easement. Potential clients were understandably livid because the demolition of this structure would virtually cut the value of their property in half.

When the clients initially bought the property, the easement showed up on the survey, but a faulty reading of the survey by their real estate agent led this family to believe that none of the property’s structures encroached on the easement. This situation could have been avoided had an attorney reviewed the survey. Unfortunately, at this point, there was very little that could be done to help.

Getting help on the front end and knowing what you are getting into with regard to the survey is really the best way to have issues addressed and questions answered.

We review surveys on behalf of many clients. If you would like to discuss your situation with us, please call us at 314.862.2237 or email us at mjacob@jacob-law.com

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