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Buying Property? Check the Survey

Aug 17, 2007
Particularly for first time home buyers, title documents are confusing. Many buyers simply think that these documents are fine "as is," placing their faith in the title company, lender, or Realtors involved with the sale.

Unfortunately, regardless of how confusing these documents might appear, the buyer has a responsibility to review the title, survey and legal description. These documents should be provided to the buyer for inspection before the closing.

The Survey and Legal Description Are Related

Together, the survey and property description (also known as a "legal description") combine to create the very foundation of what is being purchased. These real estate documents describe in detail the boundaries of the land. An error in either the survey or property description can create costly troubles down the road.

Property descriptions and surveys are connected and need to be read together. A buyer can find the property description either within the deed itself or attached as an exhibit to the deed and other documents. The property description absolutely must match the survey. If there is a discrepancy, the error needs to be corrected before the sale to avoid title disputes in the future. To make sure this is corrected, the buyer needs to immediately notify the title company, his or her Realtor and perhaps the seller.

Types of Surveys

Surveys can be rectangular surveys or metes and bounds surveys. Rectangular surveys are based on a system that was approved by Congress in 1785. These surveys read something like "NW NW SW Section 24, Township 6 North, Range 12 East, Gila and Salt River Base and Meridian." This type of survey call describes a square 10-acre parcel of land in a section within a "township" and "range" within a state. The section itself is divided into 160-acre quarters, and these 160-acre quarters are divided into 40-acre quarters and 10-acre quarters, respectively. The rectangular survey is common in real estate transactions in the western United States.

Metes and bounds surveys, on the other hand, are based upon directional calls and bearings that were carefully made by a surveyor. They read something like "THENCE North 10 degrees 20 minutes 16 seconds West, a distance of 1400 feet," and so forth.

Regardless of whether real estate is described by a rectangular survey or a metes and bounds survey, the survey and the property description must match exactly. This cannot be emphasized enough!

Survey Stakes

Another important thing to do before buying real estate is to walk the land to make sure that the surveyor's stakes are located at the four corners of the land. Sometimes, there will be additional surveyor's stakes. Surveyor's stakes or pins are usually marked on the survey. Kids or vandals might pull these stakes out of the ground. If they are missing, make sure that the Realtor, title company, and seller are informed so that the problem can be corrected prior to closing.

Conclusion - Avoid Future Troubles

There is nothing worse than trying to correct property descriptions and title problems after closing. This can be an expensive problem that forces you to hire an attorney. The best way to avoid property line disputes is to review the property description and survey before signing any type of real estate contract.
About the Author
Urbain Beck is a freelance writer who has read quite a few surveys over the last few years. Urbain writes for numerous web sites. Watch a video on how to read a survey for more information on understanding surveys and property descriptions.
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