What is a boundary survey?

A boundary survey determines the property lines of a parcel of land described in a deed. It will also indicate the extent of any easements (rights of others to use the land) or encroachments (unjustified use of the property by others) and may show the limitations imposed on the property by state or local regulations.

When is a survey needed?

A survey is strongly recommended before buying, subdividing, improving or building on land. Surveying the parcel before these activities ensures that the expense and frustration of defending a lawsuit, moving a building, or resolving a boundary dispute can be avoided.

If an attorney has certified that the title to a parcel is clear, is a survey necessary?

Clear title means that the owner has a lawful right to sell the property. It does not locate or identify the property on the face of the earth and does not guarantee that the acreage is correct. In addition, title insurance polices do not insure the buyer against defects that would have been discovered if a full boundary survey had been performed.

What does a Standard Boundary Survey Entail?

The surveyor thoroughly examines the historical records relating to the land in question and often all land surrounding it. In addition to the Registry of Deeds this research may include: the Registry of Probate, county commissioners' office, town offices, historical associations, Department of Transportation and private sources. The surveyor may also talk with prior owners and adjoiners.

The field work beings after the research and involves establishing a control network of known points called a traverse. These points are used to search for and locate existing monuments and other evidence of the boundaries. Although the field portion of a survey is the most visible phase of surveying, it usually represents only a third of the entire project.

The results of the field work are compared with the research and the surveyor then reconciles all the information to arrive at a final conclusion about the boundaries. A second field trip is then needed to set the new monuments. Finally, the surveyor will draft a plan showing the results of the survey.

How much does a survey cost?

The cost of a boundary survey depends on many variables, some of which can not be known until after the work has started. The size, terrain, vegetation, location and season affect the charges and can usually be estimated fairly accurately. However, the surveyor will not know if deeded monuments are missing or if they conflict with the description until well into the survey.

The complexity of the research is also usually not known until the surveyor begins the actual work. Some parcels have passed through many owners over the years. Some may have added adjacent parcels or sold off portions of the original lot. The more out parcels and consolidations there have been, the more complex and costly the research becomes. Many deeds are "abutter deeds" which use the neighbors' names to define the boundaries. In some cases it may be necessary to research parcels far removed from the land being surveyed to assemble the jigsaw puzzle of old deeds and is not unusual for the research to account for 50% or more of the total survey cost.

What are the results of a boundary survey?

Depending on the services agreed on, a boundary survey may produce:

  • Monuments at all property corners;
  • A written description of the property;
  • A plan of the property; and
  • A report explaining the basis of decisions and judgments made to determine the boundaries.

How will the boundaries be marked?

This also depends on what the client and the surveyor have agreed to. Monuments may include wooden posts, iron pins or pipes, marked trees or concrete monuments. Maine survey standards require that each monument set by a surveyor must clearly show his or her license number. Additionally, you may want to have the surveyor blaze and/or paint trees along the boundary line.

Is a plan of the survey necessary?

Unless the client specifically excludes a plan from the scope of services, State rules require that one be prepared. The plan provides the client with a permanent record of the survey. If any of the monuments are lost or destroyed, they can be replaced with the information shown on the plan. All plans must be embossed and signed by the surveyor indicating that the survey conforms to State standards and that the surveyor has checked the work and stands ready to defend it.