Buying land can be one of the most important financial decisions in life. When trying to make vital choices like this, it’s imperative to be as precise as possible to know if you're getting what you pay for. Many lenders used to require land surveys to be performed before purchasing land, but in order to cut costs, this has become less common. The question is... is the cost of a land survey worth it?
And the answer is... it depends.
A land survey is a binding, professionally certified document of evidence that precisely declares the legal boundaries of a property. They provide a record of the physical state of the property and the rights that go with it. Land comes in all shapes and sizes, so the price of a land survey will vary, depending on the location, size, terrain, age of the lot, time involved, number of adjoining properties, and whether or not you need to include attributes or boundaries only. The cost can vary depending on different surveyors as well.
Nationally, the average land survey cost in 2019 was $463, based on actual project cost reports by Improve.net members. The majority of owners spent between $373 and $499 with a low cost of $75, and a high of $950. The price for surveying large tracts can be far more expensive, and based on the types of properties out there, this average will be skewed somewhat towards smaller residential and commercial parcels.
You love the property already...why spend your hard-earned money on a survey when a lot of lenders aren't requiring it anymore?
Your money is important to you, so it may be equally important to you to know the exact dimensions of the land you're potentially going to purchase, especially if it's a small parcel. Most people know the square footage of their homes, but a lot aren’t exactly sure where they’re property ends and the neighbor’s property begins. It can be difficult to find the market price for land even when considering all the factors that affect value, so it’s helpful to have an accurate knowledge of the size of the parcel of land that interests you. A land survey helps protect your investment. Land surveyors also can let you know whether or not the legal description on your property deed is accurate or not.
The hope is that we like our neighbors and enjoy them living close to us. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It’s great to have a professional land survey on hand when property conflicts come up. Whether it’s property lines, exterior updates, landscaping, or fence installations, having a land survey will usually settle the dispute. Sadly, in the case that a dispute goes to court, the best evidence to have is a recent land survey, and frequently, the surveyors will be willing to defend their work. It’s like calling an “expert” to the stand. If there are any damages caused by an inaccurate survey, the surveyor will be liable.
There are all kinds of restrictions and requirements by municipalities on what you can build and where you can build it. It’s a must to know the ins and outs of the property—where you can build and where you can’t—before you buy land to develop. These also come in the form of easements. A land survey will determine if any underground easements exist and where they are located. If an underground easement is built on, municipal employees have the right to tear down the structure if necessary. It’s much easier and cheaper to do it right the first time than have to stop the project, undo what’s been done, and start the whole thing over again.
There are legitimate scenarios where it makes more sense to avoid the cost of a survey, especially when it comes to land. Not to mention there are rural areas where the majority of properties have never been surveyed and for good reason. Even if you're quoted a relatively low survey price per acre, if the parcel is large, you can be looking at a substantial amount of money.
It comes down to how important precision is to you, and what it takes to make you feel reasonably secure. Even authoritative sources can be off a couple of acres on large tracts, and often times sources don't agree, at least to a small degree. If you're looking at a 200-acre ranch, would you be willing to shell out $6,000 to find out its only 197 acres? There are people out there who would, but your average buyer would more than likely rather save the money.
$461 doesn't come easy to most people, but obtaining accurate measurements on a potential investment is important. Do your research to make sure you're getting the best deal you possibly can, and to possess a working knowledge of how the land is allowed to be developed. A considerable amount of trouble may be avoided in the future for investing in a land survey today. On the other hand, a sizable cost could be avoided by going with the acreage from current resources and passing on a survey.