Surveying FAQ
Q. I am in the process of purchasing a house. My lender is requiring that we have a Survey done. Why?

A. Lending institutions require surveys as protection of their investment. A Survey will disclose whether or not the house is actually on the property it's supposed to be on, if it is in violation of the local setback requirements and if any improvements to the property are across the property lines. A Survey will also show if the amount of land (acreage) being purchased is what the seller claims.

Q. I have a survey plat that shows my side property line is 450' long and runs from an iron rod on the road to an oak tree at the top of a hill. I have found the iron rod and the oak tree and I am sure they are the same ones shown on the plat. Why is it that when I pull my tape from the rod up the hill to the tree I get a distance much closer to 460'?

A. Your plat is what is known as a "plane survey". That is, all the distances shown on it are the level distance from one end of the line to the other. If you could hold your tape exactly level from the rod to the tree, your distance would match. The acreage shown on your plat is also calculated on a plane, as if it were flat.

Q. I have some land that I inherited from a family member. The only description of it that I can find was measured in "poles". How can I determine how long each side is?

A. The "pole" or "rod" as it was sometimes referred to, was a standard measuring tool of surveyors in the days before the steel measuring tape was available. A pole was a piece of wood 16.5 feet long that the Surveyors actually carried around and measured with. Multiply the distances given in poles in your deed by 16.5 to get the distance in feet.

Another commonly found reference in old deeds is the "chain" and "links". This refers to the "Gunter's Chain", named for its inventor. This was another commonly used measuring device in the 18th, 19th, and early part of the 20th centuries. It was actually a chain, made of heavy wire, although its links were shaped differently than say, a tow chain. It was 66 feet in length, and made up of 100 links, each 0.66 feet long. Surveyors still refer to their tapes as "chains" today, as in "bring the chain" and "let's chain the distance".

Q. I recently had a survey done of my property. After the surveyors left, I found a large nail driven in the ground with a bright orange ribbon attached to it. I know it is not my property corner or on my property line. Why is it there?

A. Although it is preferable to survey directly down the property line, in the real world it is quite often impossible to do so. There are several reasons for this. For instance, the property corner may be a tree, post of some other object that the surveyor is unable to set his instrument over. Or there may be obstructions on the line such as fences, hedges, trees, junked cars, etc. Therefore a surveyor will quite often perform what is called a "random traverse". This is simply surveying by a practical route through the property in such a way that obstructions can be avoided and the property corners can be located in relation to, or "tied" to the actual survey route. From these measurements the actual property line location can be calculated.

Q. My deed says that my property is 3 acres "more or less". I recently had my land surveyed and the plat only shows 2.108 acres. Why the difference?

A. An acreage figure that is described in a deed as "more or less" means that the property is defined by it's boundary, the directions and distances around it and the monuments (corner markers), not by it's size. For example, your property may be described in your deed as "Beginning at a marked oak tree and running north 200' to a corner post; thence running east 200' to a pipe; thence running south 200' to a locust stump; thence running west 200' to the beginning and containing 1 acre, more or less". If you hire a Surveyor and he or she locates the oak tree, corner post, pipe and locust stump called for in your deed and verifies that they are all 200' apart from each other and the Surveyor reports that there is 0.918 acres in the parcel, it is because the boundaries control the location of the parcel, not the "1 acre, more or less" specified in the deed. The reason for this is that the boundary dimensions can be measured directly and the acreage figure is a calculated, not measured, value derived from the boundary measurements.

Q. I am purchasing a home and am told that I will have to purchase flood insurance, at a very high rate, or get a surveyor to come out and perform a survey to prove that I do not need flood insurance. There is a small stream at the rear of the property, several hundred feet away from the house. The seller has lived there over twenty years and has never been flooded. Why am I being required to do all this?

A. If your loan is being made by a lending institution that is federally insured, then that institution is required to carry flood insurance, or have the borrower carry it, if the property, or a portion of it is in a flood zone defined on the Federal Emergency Management Agency Flood Hazard Maps. Lending institutions use Firms that specialize in "flood plain determination" in deciding if the property requires flood insurance. Often these Firms are located in another state and the person making the determination just looks up the property address and compares it to the flood map. Obviously, there is no way for them to make the determination with any degree of accuracy. To avoid having to pay flood insurance, a Licensed Land Surveyor can be hired to prepare a Flood Elevation Certificate. To prepare this document, a field survey must be performed to determine the actual elevation of the lowest floor, grades adjacent to the structure, machinery, and equipment serving the structure, such as heat pumps, etc., the number and area of any foundation openings, etc. In some cases, this form may be completed by the local Flood Plain Administrator, who is usually the Building Inspector, Zoning Director, or Subdivision Agent.

Q. What is an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey?

A. The American Land Title Association, which represents the Title Insurance Industry, and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping, which represents the Surveying Profession have jointly prepared national standards for land title surveys. These standards, which have very specific technical requirements for surveys, are generally used on commercial and industrial properties, and can be thought of as the highest standards of surveys. They specify that all the legal research for a project be performed by qualified attorneys or title examiners and that the research be provided, along with a legal description of the subject property, to the surveyor prior to commencement of the survey. A copy of the Title Commitment for Title Insurance must be provided to the surveyor also. This commitment will list any survey-related exceptions to the proposed title insurance policy, such as easements revealed by the research. These are items the surveyor is qualified to locate on ground, and certify their effect, if any, on the subject property.

Click here to view the ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey Detail Requirements.