Focus on the Law: Land Surveys

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Before you purchase land, it is a good idea to have a land survey done. A survey describes what it is you are buying. It will give you the metes and bounds description or reference to a parcel on a recorded map. A survey shows you what the boundary lines actually are. It can find your pins and markers which can help you in the future. A survey will show the location of physical improvements to the property such as buildings and driveways as well as natural features such as streams and ponds. A survey can locate encroachments onto the property that may impact that value and/or marketability of the property. Surveys locate easements for drainage and utilities which are typically recorded but a survey may also identify signs of unrecorded easements such as a travel easement. A travel easement may occur when a path across property is continuously used by neighbors over such a long period of time that the neighbors could be found to have a right to use it in the future.  Legal road access into the property may also be reflected on a survey. A survey can also calculate the acreage of the lot and shoreline footage. This can help resolve a discrepancy with the tax assessor’s acreage assessment.

Let’s say you are considering the purchase of a particular house and lot. There is a nice driveway running to the garage on the eastern side of the property and a wrought iron fence runs between the driveway and the next door neighbor’s yard, around the back and between the property and the neighbor on the other side. You expect the property lines to be where the fence is. The “occupied lines’ are where the property is physically occupied. If you obtain a survey, the occupied lines may be shown to be completely wrong. You may find out that that beautiful fence, part of the driveway and half of the garage is actually located over the boundary line and on the neighbor’s lot. You can save yourself a lot of heartache and litigation cost by canceling the purchase at that point. The survey prior to purchase is a very good investment.

Likewise, you should never consider building anything without knowing where your current boundary lines and building setback lines are. I handled a case several years ago where the property owners built a new barn. Unfortunately, the barn was built entirely on the neighbor’s land and they were sued by the neighbors. Saving the expense of a survey beforehand cost them thousands of dollars in the long run.

In Tennessee, it is common practice for the buyer to pay for the cost of the survey. If the purchase is being financed through a bank, a survey is often required for the loan to be approved. Even if you have purchased an owner’s title insurance policy (also a very good idea), the title insurance policy has an exclusion which does not cover matters that an accurate survey of the property would disclose. The burden falls on the purchaser to investigate what he or she is buying. Obtaining a land survey is a valuable step in making an informed decision to buy real property.

Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. She is a sole practitioner who handles real estate, foreclosures, landlord-tenant, probate, collections and general civil matters. She represents Social Security disability claimants and she represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office is in Knoxville and she may be reached at (865)539-2100.

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