Why do I need a survey when buying a house?

surveyA survey will show the boundaries of your property, and whether there are any encroachments — such as a fence that is on the other side of your property (or inside, for that matter). It should also indicate whether there are any easements of which you should be aware.

Typically, utilities and cable companies may have an easement so that they can repair pipes, wires, etc. on your property. But does the next-door neighbor have the right to walk through your backyard in order to take out his trash?

Why does the lender require a survey? Up until the mid-1980s, mortgage lenders did not ask for a survey. But since title insurance companies will issue an exception to clean title unless there is a survey, I haven’t seen any lender in recent years not asking for one.

If you are buying a condominium unit, you do not need a survey; but you should obtain the plats and plans of the association, which, in effect, are the equivalent of a survey.

I firmly believe that even if your lender does not require a survey, every homeowner should make sure to get one and review it before you take title. From my experience, the great majority of surveys are clean; however, in one case, my client’s survey showed that half of what she thought was her backyard belonged to the next-door neighbor.

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