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Property Survey FAQs

Property Survey FAQs

Surveying & Mapping

Ament provides a comprehensive range of survey services for all types of property owners and developers.  Those that are not regularly engaged in the business of land development are likely to have a lot of questions about the value, schedule and cost of the survey service that you need.  Here is a guide to understanding surveying:

The cost for surveying a piece of property varies greatly.  Surveys start at about $800, but overall cost is ultimately determined by the following factors:

  1. The size and location of the property.  It takes time for our staff to travel to your property, traverse the permitter, find existing lot pins (if they exist), compare found monumentation to  the leagal description and establish the boundary of the property.  This work can be complicated by old surveys, incomplete records, or missing survey markers. Larger pieces of land require a survey crew to spend more time on site. Steep slopes, vegetation and structures also slow down the work.
  2. The type of legal description?  If the subject property is platted, defined by metes and bounds, or defined by aliquot parts.  Each type of legal description requires a different level of research and preparation before the survey crews even step foot on your property.  Generally speaking, aliquot part surveys will be more costly because they require more research to accurately define the property lines.  If you are uunsure what type of legal description you have, it can be easily ascertained by reviewing the deed to your property.
  3. What type of survey is needed? There are a variety of surveys that each have a defined level of detail and professional risk to the surveyor. On one end of the spectrum,  a simple boundary survey might include only the property lines.  However an ALTA survey will require the delineation of every fence, well, bush, shrub,  building, etc and contain certification from the surveyor that has long lasting professional risks.    If the survey is to be used for engineering design purposes, a Topographic Basemap will be produced to include topographic information, surface improvements, manholes, hydrants and more.  If there is a legal question connected with the property lines, (such as encumbrances from neighboring properties) an attorney may ask the surveyor to do additional work to help in resolving the matter.

The most important factor in the cost of surveys is the amount of labor required. Every object shown on a survey drawing, whether it is a survey marker, a house, a fence, or a tree, must be accurately measured on the ground. When property lines are being located, measurements must be taken not only to survey markers on the property being surveyed, but also to other markers in the area-sometimes up to a mile away. Calculations then need to be done to verify the accuracy of the boundary, and drawings may be prepared to document the survey.

Surveyors must keep detailed and accurate records of all measurements and calculations, since they may be needed as evidence if there is a legal dispute in the future. Documents such as deeds, plats, and easements may need to be obtained from the public records and reviewed.

All survey work needs to be done by trained and experienced persons. Otherwise, the work might not meet legal standards or provide adequate protection for your property rights. Modern survey equipment is highly accurate, but also costly. Because of the amount of labor required, a survey that seems expensive to the property owner often provides very little profit to the surveyor.

A legal description is written set of instructions to define a given piece of property. A legal description is provided in deeds and other legal documents that impact the property ownership of a parcel.

There are several different types:

Platted Lots
Platted lots contain lot and block descriptions, such as “Lot 6, Block 4, Matt’s Addition.” These descriptions refer to a recorded map known as a plat. and can be some of the easier properties to survey if the plat has been recently recorded.

Sectional Properties
Sectional land descriptions, such as “The Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 31, Township 117, Range 22.” These are more common in rural areas, and refer to parts of the one-mile-square pieces of land, known as sections, which were created by the U. S. Government through the Public Land Survey.

Aliquot Parts
Aliquot Parts descriptions are fractional descriptions of a larger parcel, such as “The north 50 feet of the east 100 feet of The Northwest Quarter of the Northeast Quarter of Section 31, Township 117, Range 22.”  These can be some of the most difficult properties to survey because it requires the surveyor to locate the pertinent sectional monuments in order to begin the survey.

Metes and Bounds
Metes and bounds descriptions. These begin at a designated point, and then provide directions and distances to be measured around the boundaries of the land. Metes and bounds descriptions can vary in length from a few sentences to dozens of pages.  For example:

“Beginning at the northeast corner of Section 20, Township 112N, Range 12E; thence, along the east line thereof, South 0 degrees 41 minutes 03 seconds East a distance of 200 feet; thence South 89 degrees 25 minutes 31 Seconds West, parallel to the north line of said Section, a distance of 200 feet; thence North 0 degrees 41 minutes 03 seconds West, parallel to the east line of said Section, a distance of 200 feet to the north line thereof; thence, along said north line, North 89 degrees 25 minutes 31 seconds East a distance of 200 feet to the point of beginning.”

All professional surveyors are educated and experienced in interpreting and preparing legal descriptions, and can also measure or calculate any dimensions that may be needed for the area of land that is to be described.

Unfortunately that’s not how surveying works.  To establish a property line, a professional surveyor needs to understand and verify the entire legal boundary of the property and how it relates to surrounding properties.

Even if you know where your lot pins are, as a professional surveyor we still have to verify any existing monumentation that is found.  Just because a lot corner is found on your lot, doesn’t mean that it is accurate.

When Ament provides a lot survey, we establish all the lot lines based on the legal description of the property and evaluate them against the adjoining properties.  We have professional liability for ensuring that our work is accurate so we can not simply establish a property line between you and your neighbor based on existing pins.

If you do find a surveyor that will establish a lot line for you based solely on two existing pins, you should be suspicious of the accuracy of that line, and question the ethical integrity of that surveyor.

Cities –

Many cities now have GIS systems that provide great references for general information.  However, GIS systems can no tbe relied upon for survey work.  The legal description of the property is the only description that matters when it comes to property ownership.  At Ament, we have often had to educate our clients on property ownership issues when a city GIS has inaccuratley dimensioned their property lines.

Counties –

All counties keep property records in the recorder’s office.  A plat is a map or drawing that is made and recorded when a larger piece of land is divided into lots.  Plats are generally available through the county recorder’s office and is one of the references we use to establish your property lines.

Not all property is platted. But if your property is described as “Lot 3, Block 1, Matt’s Addition”, or something similar, the phrase “Matt’s Addition” is the name of a plat that is filed at the recorder’s office.

A plat is the official record of the location and dimensions of the lots shown on it. Newer plats give complete dimensions for all lots. Older plats may have missing or inaccurate dimensions which make property surveying more costly to complete.

Some counties also maintain half-section maps or tax maps. These are made by combining information from plats, deeds, and other sources. They are not considered official records, and may not include complete dimensions.


State law requires that survey markers, or monuments, be placed at all lot corners when platted.  The law only requires this to be done once and is typically performed by the Surveyor of Record when the land is platted.  It is not uncommon for these markers to be knocked out or disturbed over time as land improvements are installed. Having them replaced is the individual property owner’s responsibility.

In rural areas, most land boundaries are defined by aliquot parts controlled by section monuments. Many counties maintain these monuments at public expense.  But section monuments are at least half a mile apart, and do not mark all the corners of most pieces of rural land. Survey markers other than section monuments are placed and maintained at the expense of private landowners.

In most cases you will receive a drawing of the survey work that was completed by us.  Please refer to your proposal to understand the “deliverables” that you can expect to receive as part of our service.

Creating a drawing or “Record of Survey” is an additional expense to the project because of the additional time required to create it.

We do recommend that a drawing be prepared as a permanent record of the survey for the owner’s benefit.

If a construction contractor has dug up one of your property corners (or pins), it is NOT OK for them to just put it back.

The replaced lot pin is most likely out of position.  Ask them to have the monumentation reset by a surveyor.  Under state law, the setting of any property marker must be supervised by a licensed surveyor.

Property line disputes between neighbors are not uncommon, and largely because one or both of the parties don’t understand the principals of land surveying.

First, Call the surveyor who did the work. Most surveyors are willing to spend some time explaining the property lines.

Don’t be argumentative.  The surveyor is a fact finder and has no interest in favoring one neighbor versus the other.  The Surveyor will make every effort to locate the line in such a way as to respect the rights of neighbors.

Second, If you are unable to contact the surveyor who staked the property line in question, or if you don’t understand the explanation you are given, contact Ament to perform an independent check of the property line.

Whenever there is a question or dispute about a property line, be sure to mention that to any surveyor you are thinking of hiring. These situations often involve extra work, and it is best to inform the surveyor in the beginning to prevent a misunderstanding about the cost later on.

Surveyors might discover that an improvement owned by one person is located on land owned by another person.  This situation is known as an encroachment.  Part of a Surveyors job is to identify property encroachments, but once they are identified, it becomes a legal matter for you and your title company.

To understand your legal rights in such a situation, it is best to consult an attorney, preferably one with experience in real-estate matters.

If you are otherwise on good terms with your neighbor, and if the fence is not in your way, it is probably unwise to start a quarrel over the matter. In most cases, the actual value of the land involved is very small.

You can ask your attorney about the possibility of creating an easement or license, which can protect your title to the land involved while allowing the fence to remain in place, either temporarily or permanently. With your attorney’s advice, you will also need to decide whether it is necessary and appropriate to do this.