A new survey will provide an accurate picture of a property being purchased by determining accuracy of dimensions, identifying boundaries and easements, revealing encroachments and any other issues affecting the physical aspects of the property. But too often, buyers and lenders rely on a recertified old survey along with a seller’s affidavit that no changes have been made to the property since the time of the old survey.
If you buy a used car, do you take the seller’s word that the car’s condition is what the seller says it is? Or do you look under the hood? Kick the tires? Take it to a certified mechanic for an inspection? Buy a Carfax report to see accident and maintenance history? Do everything you can to make sure you know what you are getting for your money?
Buying property is usually a bigger investment than buying a car, so why rely on an old survey that doesn’t show a new easement, a subsequent sale of part of the property, or an encroachment from a neighbor’s new driveway or pool, or any other of the numerous changes to the property that may occur subsequent to the old survey?
What if your seller deeded part of the property you see on the old survey to a neighbor and fails to disclose it? Suppose you discover that the new fence or lush landscaping you thought was yours actually encroaches on the neighbor’s property and he lays claim to it?
One of the best examples of just how costly it can be to forego a new survey and one that I am personally familiar with is that of a friend of mine, a realtor no less, who bought a waterfront home for $500,000 but didn’t bother to get a survey. He later discovered that twenty years earlier the seller had quit-claimed 20 feet of the lot to his neighbor for dock access. So instead of owning 70 feet of waterfront my friend owned 50 feet of waterfront, drastically changing his property’s value by tens of thousands of dollars. A new survey, costing just a few hundred dollars, would have been money well spent!
So remember—buyers should always get a new survey before closing, regardless of whether the lender does or does not require one, regardless of whether the transaction is cash or financed and regardless of whether or not the buyer purchases an owner’s title insurance policy.
While title insurance is just as important as a property survey, title insurance should not take the place of being an informed buyer and getting a survey. Yes, an owner’s title insurance policy will protect you against defects of title, but if you don’t get a survey, the policy will exclude any matters that would have been revealed by a new survey. The bottom line is, “buyer beware.” Do your due diligence and get a new survey!