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A prospective buyer of my house has requested a survey. I thought I could obtain a copy from the county courthouse. My agent told me our courthouse does not keep surveys.

Questions:
Who is the official keeper of surveys?
How does the surveyor know to '150 feet east from the power pole at corner of 'Wild and Crazy'?

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Which country is this question referring to? –  Steve Melnikoff Aug 8 '11 at 16:18
    
This questions concerns houses in the United States of America. –  zundarz Aug 8 '11 at 20:44
    
This is a bit borderline for on-topic for a finance site. –  DJClayworth Aug 9 '11 at 19:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There is no universal "official keeper of surveys" because home surveys are not always mandatory. Some local agencies might conduct surveys on request, so it's useful to research and find out.

I'd suggest you speak with your buyer and explain that your area does not keep surveys. Ask if he has any specific documents in mind or any prior experience in the area, and work out a plan to get a survey done or some alternative arrangement.

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That leads me to the second question. If I were to hire a surveyor to survey my property how would he know where my boundaries were? Would I show him my property markers and then he create a survey based on those points (I'm telling him what my property is) or does he go to some authoritative source which says 'these are the boundaries, please confirm'? –  zundarz Aug 5 '11 at 14:47
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It depends on the type of property, but there must be property/ownership records which demarcate the property. I doubt your word of mouth would be enough to evaluate the property's dimensions - more likely the surveyor will access official documents to establish the boundary and confirm it with you. –  BlackJack Aug 5 '11 at 14:48
    
That makes sense to me too. So, where are these 'official documents'? –  zundarz Aug 5 '11 at 14:56
    
Where did you register your property? That place should have it. –  BlackJack Aug 5 '11 at 14:59
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It's a good idea to edit additional questions into the original rather than in comments. Then everyone gets to answer them. –  DJClayworth Aug 9 '11 at 13:28

The deed is the official description of the land. The deed is generally filed with the county or city, and the surveyor can decipher it. The property taxing authority (county or city) maintains tax maps which should roughly correspond with your survey. If you're in a standard city lot, the tax map is probably very accurate. If you're in the country, a busy road that has been widened, an old suburb or old lot, it is more likely to be inaccurate.

As a seller of a house, be wary of buyers demanding surveys. A survey may reveal issues, such as fences on the wrong side of the line, which must be disclosed and addressed before you'll be able to sell the home. In New York, once you know of an issue, you must disclose that the issue exists. Your state may vary.

I would strongly recommend having the buyer pay for the survey. In my area, they cost about $1,500. This will save you money and potentially give you some deniability -- you don't need to disclose something that you do not know about.

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The purpose of a survey for a house lot is generally to translate the written description in some official document, like the deed, into stakes in the ground. Generally there is a reference marker, maybe a metal stake driven flush with ground, or something else permanent. Most lots were created before GPS location was available. The surveyor then follows directions from this point (go 150 feet 10 degrees north of west) to mark the rest of the points.

If you can find out who did the last survey, they might either have a copy they will sell you, or resurvey at a cheaper price. If the description in the deed is clear enough that might be enough for the buyer, but they are generally pretty cryptic.

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KeithB: The plot is a residential lot with a house of recent construction. This is my understanding so far: The original surveyor has the survey and will be glad to sell me his copy. –  zundarz Aug 5 '11 at 16:22
    
Comment continued: KeithB: I see metal property marker on my lot, and I see how a survey would confirm whether these markers are still in the same position as described in the survey. As I understand you, I can get the survey from a registrar, or someone who has already surveyed, or I can hire a new surveyor. If I hired a new surveyor, how would he know what to survey? I assume he'd do what I'd do: go to a repository of surveys somewhere or talk to a previous surveyor. That's the gist of my OP. –  zundarz Aug 5 '11 at 16:32

@shazamalot: would you care to give any information about your location? (in general terms, e.g. which state if in the U.S.)

In the northeastern U.S. there are county registries of deeds. Based on the comments on @KeithB's post, since your house is of recent construction, the lot probably is as well (although not necessarily), and therefore the deed should reference some other recorded document, either a survey map, or the metes and bounds of the survey. (the verbal description of directions and distances)

I see metal property marker on my lot, and I see how a survey would confirm whether these markers are still in the same position as described in the survey.

You shouldn't have to have it resurveyed -- if the property markers are intact and were set by registered land surveyors, those markers and a document that describes them are sufficient. The first thing a surveyor is going to do before they do any measurements is find the most recent document of record.

If you live somewhere where real estate takes shortcuts, or your lot was created/subdivided more than a few decades ago, you may have to get it resurveyed.

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I have no intention of getting it re-surveyed. I'm just wondering where to 'find the most recent document of record'? –  zundarz Aug 8 '11 at 18:39

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