A survey is a detailed drawing of the boundaries of a particular piece of real property, which should include any improvements (such as a driveway, buildings, deck, etc.), any encroachments, access points to the property from a public road, any recorded easements that are on the property, and other important information about the property.
A survey is not required to purchase a home, but a survey can inform a buyer of boundary issues that may prove costly. For example, a survey may disclose that the fence runs 10 feet over the property line into the neighbor’s yard, that the previous owner built an addition onto the home that crosses the county’s “setback lines”, or that the driveway runs across a neighboring property without the benefit of a recorded easement. It may be possible to negotiate with your neighbor or the county to remedy these issues (and likely incur significant legal fees in the process). On the other hand, you may be forced to remove the offending fence, addition, or driveway, at your expense.
Another reason to consider a survey is the impact not knowing of any potential property boundary issues might have on your title insurance coverage. A title insurance policy that you customarily obtain as part of the purchase will not cover such title defects that would have been discovered if a survey had been obtained. This means that you will be responsible for the costs of remedying any issues that might otherwise impact your title to the property.
The buyer is responsible for paying for a survey, and the cost of a survey depends on the size of the property and where it is located. However, the cost of most surveys for residential properties in Richmond and surrounding areas are in the $600-$700 range, which is included in the buyer’s closing costs, so there is no out of pocket expense. If the transaction does not close for any reason, the buyer is still responsible for the cost of the survey.
Even though a survey is not required I always recommend that buyers consider obtaining one. A survey can determine any potential boundary issues or title defects before closing, which are usually the responsibility of the seller to remedy under the terms of most purchase agreements. A survey can easily save buyers a lot of time, money, and hassle later on.