Q: I am buying some property. Do I really need a survey?
A: Yes, you really need a survey. If you buy property without a survey, you run the risk that the boundaries of the property are not where you think. Your house may encroach onto your neighbor’s or theirs may encroach onto yours, or part of what you thought was your yard may be someone else’s. This can result in hard feelings with neighbors or worse. A “mortgage report”, sometimes loosely called a “survey”, is not good enough. They specifically state that you cannot rely upon them to determine property boundaries and usually are certified only to your lender, not to you. Lenders will let you close on a mortgage report or without a survey, because they are protected by title insurance, but you will not be. You need a staked survey to protect yourself. It is well worth the cost.
Q: OK, I got a survey. The stakes show my neighbor’s fence is on the land I am buying. What happens?
A: The survey cannot by itself answer the question of what happens. Boundary discrepancies may arise because of errors in the descriptions or because one neighbor has occupied part of a neighboring property. It would be chaos if every time a survey revealed an encroachment, fences and buildings up and down the block had to be moved to fit within the survey lines but we cannot lightly disregard boundaries established in deeds either. Whether the survey line, which should reflect the boundaries described in the deed, or the line of occupation will control depends upon how your facts fit within the law. An attorney who understands boundary law can help you understand your situation and convince your neighbor (or, if necessary, a court) of the correct resolution of the problem.