Land Survey Elements

What is included in a land survey, and what is considered an add-on?

When ordering a survey it is crucial that the purchaser understands what, exactly, they are going to get.

Quick History

For years, land surveys required that the field crew travel down every line. This was because the math involved to wander the property freely was well above the abilities of many field crews. It was also exacerbated by the crudeness of equipment. We (surveyors) started with a compass and evolved, through several more precise instruments, to the modern total station and GPS used today. It wasn’t until the advent of the handheld computer used to collect and process field data that field crews really became free to move however they wanted.

This brings us to modern surveying. No matter if using GPS or more traditional, optical equipment, the effect is quite the same. The crew travels the path of least resistance and locates only what it necessary for the survey. No longer do they walk every line.

What’s included**

A lot or boundary land survey includes the following elements:

  • Locate, verify, and/or replace corners. We search for the property corners, locate them, and verify that they are correct (within acceptable tolerances). If corners are discovered to either be missing or not within acceptable tolerances, replacement corners are set. Whenever possible, a 1/2-inch rebar, 18-inches long is driven in and topped with a plastic cap stamped with the surveyor’s license number (or company name).
  • Locate all visible improvements. (we work the perimeter of large boundaries and may not encounter smaller “improvements” in the interior of the property as we literally do not walk every square foot)
  • Locate the physical evidence of any known* easements or right of ways (see above).
  • Prepare a map (in accordance with Tennessee laws and rules) depicting the property, the improvements, the known* easements, any known encroachments or overlaps, and any other elements or observations needed.

*In compliance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-18-127, “Duty to research common boundaries;” in the course of a survey, an examination of the subject deed as well as the deeds of adjoining lands (where there are common boundaries) as it pertains to the boundary is performed. Where physical evidence implies the existence of an easement not readily identified in the found recorded documentation, further research may be needed. However, this does not mean that all easements that have documentation are found and referenced. It is not uncommon for one party to grant an easement to another and record said easement and then not have that deed referenced in either party’s deed. It exists, and it may be binding, but it isn’t in the “chain of title” and may be missed. It may be in the best interest of the landowner (current or future) to retain an attorney or title company to perform a title search and to provide the landowner with a title opinion.

What’s not included**

A lot or boundary land survey does not include the following elements but may be included at an additional cost:

  • Marking lot lines: The physical marking of property lines takes more time and therefore requires that an additional charge is included in the cost. If this is identified before the fieldwork is completed, the cost may be nominal (depending on the length of lines, topography, and ground cover). If it is requested after fieldwork is completed, not only will there be a charge for the time it takes to mark the lines, but also for the time it takes to travel to and from the job.
    There are 2 basic versions of line marking:
    • Rough Marking: This is locating the line within a foot or so in order to “know” where your lines are. It is close enough to clear by or to build a road by (provided you are not building exactly on the line). It is not close enough to build a boundary fence exactly on the property line.
    • Marking for Fence: This is physically shot with the instrument at needed intervals. It is putting marks EXACTLY online. This can be very time-consuming and therefore very expensive if going through wooded areas.
    • Marking for a Dispute: Typically, a property dispute results in a questionable line, singular. When marked for a dispute, marks/flags are placed exactly online as well as painted (to reduce the risk of markers being moved without knowing). It is usually ONLY the line in question that is marked in this manner.

Line marking is dependent on reasonable access to the lines.
If they are too steep or the ground cover is too dense, we will not mark the line(s).

It is not common practice to mark the property lines along road right of ways as most people maintain the property up to the physical road and well beyond their property lines. If you need that marked, you need to clarify that when ordering your survey.

  • Recording the map: Unfortunately, most counties in the State of Tennessee will not allow the recording of a map of land that is less than 5 acres (individual lots, not the sum of the lots) without planning approval. This is sometimes a tedious process and therefore requires extra time. There would be an extra charge to record a map. This cost increases if it is not known before the drawing is made.
  • Topography: This is where contour lines are created on the map to represent the elevation changes of the land in question. There are two ways (maybe more, but for this purpose, 2) we deal with creating these lines and each poses a difference in price.
    • Physically shot: this is were we shoot a significant number of points on the ground so that we can create the map in the office. It is very time consuming and the denser the ground cover and the size of the area to be done can significantly increase the cost. This is the mose accurate means of creating a topo but it is also the most costly.
    • From GIS: In Tennessee, we have access to GIS data that can make fairly accuate topo maps. The data is collected remotely (from aerial photography and LIDAR – LIght Detecting And Ranging). It is relatively accurate, but suffers from potential errors inherant to remote sensing. It is also only “correct” at the time of the data collection and may not reflect conditions on the ground that have changed since it was collected.
  • Corner Replacement: We are not responsible for replacing corners damaged or removed once we leave the site.
  • Walking the property with a client: We are perfectly happy to have a client be onsite while we are surveying (it is about as exciting as watching paint dry). If the client would like us to show them the corners (on a smaller piece of property) at that time, we are more than happy to do that. However, having us come out later (or walk a large boundary – even at the time of completion) requires significantly more time and therefore will require an additional charge.
  • Expert Witness: This is a tricky area. We will defend our survey in court. How much this will cost is subject to individual scrutiny. However, the cost will be significantly more if there was a known issue prior to ordering the survey that was not disclosed up front. Issues can be as simple as, “the neighbor thinks his property line goes to here.”

**This is not a comprehensive list. As each property is evaluated independently, these or other elements may be included or excluded. It remains the responsibility of the client to ensure that what they think they are ordering is in fact what they are actually ordering.