Surveying - Frequently Asked Questions
This “Frequently Asked Questions” page is actually meant to be a brief introductory layman’s guide to land surveying services. While Inland Surveying serves many professional clients, the questions below are oriented toward the individual landowner who is likely to be less familiar with land surveying. It is our hope that in helping you to better understand surveying issues and surveying services, we can ultimately better serve you and your surveying needs. If you have other questions, please contact us!
Ben Drerup, LS, MAA
Director of Surveying
Inland Surveying, LLC
What exactly is involved and included in a boundary survey?
A boundary survey is essentially a research project and graphical report (plat) of the location of a parcel’s property lines and any evidence or documents discovered that might affect the owner’s rights to the land. The research involves an examination of the tax records and real estate records of the subject parcel and all adjoining parcels as well as records pertaining to road rights-of-way and any known easements. It continues with an investigation of the on-the-ground conditions, locating relevant evidence, including property corner monuments, fences, roads, drives, streams, structures, utilities and anything else directly related to property lines, easements or rights to use the land in question.
When sufficient evidence has been collected and analyzed, a plat is prepared showing the final determination of the location of the property lines, measurements showing the relative positions of the corner monuments and other relevant features. Missing corners are set, and all corners are marked in the field. The survey contract should identify any additional deliverables or variations from this normal process and product. As an example, often clients want some or all lines marked at regular intervals or other points staked or marked on the ground.
It should be understood that a land surveyor cannot guarantee good title to land. Title attorneys and title insurance companies assume the responsibility of determining what rights people have to land. Surveyors are experts at locating things with great precision. We are also empowered to weigh all of the relevant evidence against the statutes and principals of boundary law in order to give a professional opinion as to the location of boundary lines. Ideally, a full title search backed by an attorney’s opinion of title, or title commitment, should accompany a boundary survey to ensure that both the location and quality title are vouched for.
If you are aware of any inconsistencies in the legal description of your property or your neighbor’s property, or if there is any disagreement about the location of the property lines, then you need a boundary survey. If you simply need a legal description to reference in a deed, then the description used in the previous deed is probably adequate to convey the property in question. However, without a current survey you can’t be sure if there are any issues or conflicts with that description. If you are purchasing property that hasn’t been surveyed in the past few years, then you should consider getting a boundary survey to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.
If you are not aware of any boundary issues and simply want your corners found and lines marked on the ground, it may be possible to accomplish this without a full boundary survey. We can sometimes use the most recent plat or legal description as a reference and mark the lines accordingly. In such a case the contract would specify that no additional analysis or research has been done and that no guarantee is made that the existing description is free of conflict. If any conflict or ambiguity is found, we cannot mark the lines without resolving the issues, which is likely to require a full boundary survey. This option is generally only available for parcels in a subdivision or other instances wherein the boundary lines are fairly unambiguous.
A boundary survey can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. The factors involved include: size of the parcel, topography of the land, improvements to be shown, woodland / vegetative undergrowth, age of previous survey, known boundary issues, known easements and access to the site among other factors. Ultimately the price will be based on a fair, conservative estimate of how much time it will take to do the fieldwork and office work required for the job. To each employee hour is applied the appropriate hourly billing rate, which varies based on who will do the task (field crew, draftsman, project manager, licensed surveyor, etc.). These rates are developed to cover the labor rates of Inland personnel as well as all overhead costs (fuel, rent, vehicles, equipment, maintenance, utilities, etc.) Feel free to contact Inland for a list of our current hourly rates. Most projects are done for a fixed fee based on a careful estimate considering all of the relevant factors mentioned above. However, we do also work on an hourly basis for some projects.
Some surveying companies attempt to reduce all of the above factors to a “$ / Linear Foot” formula. We feel it is impossible to produce consistently realistic estimates (which are in the best interest of everyone) with such a simplistic formula. Also, many real estate agents will recall a period when virtually every mortgage required a survey plat, which could be readily obtained for $100 to $200. These mortgage “surveys” were essentially just a reproduction of the previous survey on a new sheet of paper showing a sketch of the house within the boundary lines. Stakes may have been placed where the corners were supposed to be, but a true survey likely never took place. It simply takes too much time to do the work of a true boundary survey to be able to charge such low rates. Moreover, it is a violation of the minimum standards required of professional land surveyors by law to pass off such a document as a “survey.” Mortgage surveys are much less common now, probably due to the growing realization that they generally have little or no value to the consumer.
An ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey is a survey prepared in accordance with a specific set of standards jointly established by the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (a member organization of the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping). These standards are somewhat more stringent than those required by most states, particularly in terms of what specific elements are shown on the plat. ALTA surveys are most typically required in conjunction with a title insurance commitment in order to ensure that any boundary conflicts, or other site issues that might be shown by a survey, are disclosed to the lender, insurer and buyer. Typically the surveyor is also asked to determine whether or not certain documents in the parcel’s chain of title spatially affect the parcel in question in its current form.
A Georgia Minimum Standards Survey simply refers to the fact that a survey shall conform to the standards set forth in the Official Code of Georgia and to the rules set forth by the Georgia State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. All boundary surveys in Georgia must conform to these standards. A survey contract may specify that the survey is to be a Georgia Minimum Standards Survey in order to clarify that it is not to be an ALTA survey or to include any additional unspecified elements.
First of all, do all parties agree as to the location of the line and that there is an encroachment (intrusion onto one parcel by the improvements or use of the occupant of another parcel)? If there is any disagreement, then a current boundary survey showing the encroachment is perhaps your most critical piece of evidence. Ideally, both parties could pay for the survey jointly and agree to accept the line as determined by the survey. Often the best solution is to agree to a revised boundary line that could be made permanent by a boundary line agreement and accompanying plat. If no amicable solution can be achieved, then the matter progresses from a surveying issue to a legal issue. If you are in no hurry to resolve the issue but are concerned about protecting your property rights, see the discussion of adverse possession and prescription below.
Adverse possession is a legal mechanism that can allow one party to gain good title to someone else’s land through continuous possession. For this to happen the possession:
(1) Must be in the right of the
possessor and not of another;
(2) Must not have originated in fraud except as provided in Code Section 44-5-162;
(3) Must be public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, and peaceable; and
(4) Must be accompanied by a claim of right.
OCGA § 44-5-161
Also, the possession cannot be permissive. These conditions must persist for 20 years, or 7 years if the possessing party has a legal description or plat that appears to include the land in question (“Color of Title”). Possession, in this case, means that one is occupying or using the land as if it was their own somehow. “Prescription” refers to the same process of gaining title through use; however it can apply to the acquisition of easement rights in addition to “fee simple title”, which is essentially full ownership in the way it is generally understood. Adverse possession generally refers only to fee simple title.
It is important to remember a few important points about adverse possession/prescription. Ultimately, only a judge can rule as to whether or not title has transferred by these means. A land surveyor can only document the evidence. If you are concerned about a possible adverse possession situation, you should contact an attorney in addition to getting a current boundary survey. Also, as an initial step, consider the possibility that granting a potential adverse possessor permission to use the land in question, as well as documenting your own use of the same land, could nullify some of the key requisites mentioned above.
Any time you reconfigure land such that you end up with more parcels than you started, that process is going to be subject to the review of some local authority, typically the county or city planning department. Even if you don’t change the number of parcels, any reconfiguring of the lines is likely to be required to meet current lot standards and thereby may be subject to review. While the details vary from county to county and city to city, there are generally restrictions on the size of lots, the dimensions of lots, road frontage, lot density (lots/acre) and many other elements. For subdivisions of a certain size, the subdividing developer may also be required to construct roads and extend utilities to serve the new parcels. For large subdivision requiring grading and the construction of improvements, construction plans must be developed and approved. After construction an as-built survey of the improvements must be performed to show they were built to plan specifications. Finally a subdivision plat is created and submitted for review.
Often there is a streamlined, less stringent, process for small subdivisions of a few parcels that may require only a review of the subdivision plat and often testing of the soils for septic suitability. To truly find out what would be involved in subdividing a particular piece of land, you must apply the subdivision regulations of the local governing authority to the particular situation. Inland Surveying can act in an advisory capacity while developing an estimate for a proposed project. We can also build this consulting role into a contract to see you through the often complicated review process.
With Global Positioning System applications as widespread as they are today, one might wonder why surveyors can’t just enter the coordinates of the property corners into their GPS units to find and/or set property corners. While surveyors make extensive use of GPS, and while it has increased the accuracy and speed with which we can accomplish many tasks, it is still subject to limitations. The most significant practical issue with GPS is that acquiring positioning data of sufficient accuracy and precision for boundary work requires open skies (no trees or buildings) and long occupation times (GPS receiver positioned above the point). This is no problem under the open skies of the Great Plains on large tracts that would otherwise take a long time to survey. However, it is either impractical or impossible on most parcels in Georgia.
Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS technology, which we use extensively at Inland, can produce positions that are generally within 1”-2” of reality instantaneously. RTK uses instantaneous correction data from a reference network of GPS receivers with known coordinates (“base stations”) transmitted to our “roving” receiver via cellular modem. This is much improved over the several yards of potential error in a handheld GPS. Yet it still isn’t good enough to meet the accuracy standards for boundary surveys, and it still doesn’t work in the woods.
Another point to remember is that property corners and lines are not defined by coordinates. Nor are they defined by the bearings and distances on a plat. They are legally defined by the actual on-the-ground location of the original monuments (i.e. iron pins, etc.) that created the boundary line. Often these original monuments are gone. Then the work of the surveyor becomes to collect any evidence that might help us determine their original position. This requires physically walking down property lines and rooting around in the underbrush. Until both the technology and the law change dramatically, conventional surveying is here to stay.
DISCLAIMER: The above discussion is not mean to constitute legal advice. Nor should anyone use the content of this FAQ for decision-making in lieu of the consultation of an attorney, a development consultant or a land surveyor. The information presented above is meant to provide a general understanding of the topics discussed and does not constitute a comprehensive treatment of said topics.