How to Read a Land Survey
Buying property may be the biggest financial decision a homeowner or business owner will ever make. It’s critical that both the buyer and the seller understand exactly what is being sold. You can gain that understanding by reading a land survey for the property. To read the survey accurately, you need to know how land surveys are created. You also need to know what the symbols on the survey represent, and what scale is used.
Understanding the Survey Process
Decide if you need a land survey.A land survey can be expensive. You need an experienced surveyor to complete the work. Make sure you’re clear about the need for a survey.
- A land survey is a certification of a piece of land’s exact location. The survey identifies the boundaries of the property.
- If you’re buying or selling property, you need a land survey. The survey identifies the exact boundaries of the property in the transaction. Generally a title report will show a preliminary plat map with the lot on it if it is contained within a subdivision. This will show the boundaries of the lot. If the property is not located within a subdivision there may or may not be a survey on record and a title search report may be able to show this or you can check with the county, but not every survey is recorded. It is a good idea to record any survey made for future reference in case the report is lost or damaged.
- A survey is also helpful if you’re building a fence near the edge of your property. If you’re involved in a property dispute with a neighbor, a survey can help you identify accurate property lines.
- Keep in mind that when an investor gets title insurance for a property, they are not protected if there are boundary disputes with a standard policy. The only way to be protected over property boundary disputes is to purchase an extended title insurance policy and get a land survey. A land survey is required to get extended coverage, but it is not required to get standard title insurance that does not protect against boundary issues and disputes. For example, a garage was partially built over the property line. Had a survey been completed, the location of the property line would have been known, but without a survey it is not always possible to know these things.
Go over the components of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).The PLSS is a grid system used by land surveyors to provide an exact location of a piece of property. If you understand the grid system, you’ll know where your land is located.
- The grid was created using two sets of lines. The principal meridian is a set of north and south lines. East and west lines are called baselines. Your property will have a specific location based on the number and position of these lines.
- The grid is segregated into squares that are 24 miles on each side. A square is then subdivided into townships. A township is 6 miles on each side.
- Once the grid is separated into townships, it can be further divided into sections that are one square mile. The square mile sections are divided into quarters. If needed, the grid system can use grids that are smaller than one quarter.
Review your map’s scale and the legend provided.Your survey will display information based on a scale. A survey’s legend is typically presented on the right hand side of the survey, or along the bottom of the document.
- A map’s scale connects the distances listed on a map to their actual size. For example, your survey may state that every inch on the survey equals 20 yards. You need to understand this relationship to confirm the size of your property.
- A legend is a listing of the symbols on the survey and what they mean. For example, a small circle on the survey might refer to a manhole cover.
- The Bureau of Land Management has a standard set of symbols that are used on surveys. Your survey, however, may include additional symbols, or symbols that are defined differently.
Using the Public Land Survey System
Read the principal meridians and base lines.A PLSS map of the United States will show a grid of these intersecting lines. Though not exact lines of longitude and latitude, the system is based off thirty-seven north-south lines of principal meridian and their perpendicular east-west base lines.
- Longitude and latitude are precise measurements used for navigation. Land surveys use a different system to determine the location of land.
- The lines of principal meridian were often chosen arbitrarily rather than at equal intervals. When the system was created, it was not possible to coordinate all of the distances precisely.
- Keep in mind that the distance between one pair of lines may be different than another pair. This impacts the location of your property.
Use notations to find the township.Based on the starting point of the survey, you can find a specific township based on the notation provided. You’ll need to understand the numbers and letters that indicate the position of a township.
- The notation will look like this: T32N, R18E. This notation refers to the 32nd township (T32) north of the starting point and the 18th range (R18) east of the starting point.
- Range simply means a vertical column of townships.
- To find the correct township, you simply count the rows up and columns over from the starting point.
Find the section.Each township is divided into thirty-six equal sections, each comprising one square mile or 640 acres. Each section of the township is numbered starting in the top right corner going right to left before dropping to the next row down and going left to right—then right to left again in the third row, etc.
- The numbering system can be confusing. To understand it, consider that the right-most column of sections in a township numbered in descending order would be: 1, 12, 13, 24, 25, and 36.
- Locate the quarter section. To further subdivide parcels of land, each one square mile section is divided into quarter section.
- Find the quarter-quarter section. To subdivide the spaces even further, each quarter section can similarly be divided into quarter-quarter sections.
- To understand why you might need these details, assume that you are considering buying land in another state. You’re not familiar with the region. To educate yourself, you first use the PLSS map to pin down the precise location of the land. Once you know the exact location, you decide to visit the property. You then use the scale and legend details to inspect the land in person.
QuestionHow can I find the survey of my property?
Real Estate BrokerReal Estate BrokerExpert AnswerThere may not be an official survey available on the property. If there is one available, it would be in the owner's hands, the seller, or recorded at the county.Thanks!
QuestionWhat does F.I.R. mean?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerF.I.R. - Found Iron Rod.Thanks!
QuestionWhat does POB mean on a survey?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerPoint Of Beginning. Usually this is at the end of the description to describe that the last "property line" goes back to the POB.Thanks!
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Video: How to Read a Plat or Survey
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