Reprinted with permission from the October 2009 Real Estate Bulletin
From The North Carolina Society of Surveyors, Inc.
There is a school of thought that it is not necessary to obtain a current survey when purchasing real estate—that title insurance and affidavits from sellers sufficiently protect the purchasers’ interests or that the purchaser can simply rely upon a previous survey. However, real estate agents should be aware that purchasers face potential problems typically referred to as “matters of survey” when a current field survey of property is not performed.
Matters of survey relate to anything that could negatively affect the use of property being purchased. These include, encroachments across property lines or building restriction lines; fences/walls, landscaping features, wells, swimming pool decks; the location of utilities, access ways, etc., relative to easements, property lines or buildings; the existence of flood zones; and other similar matters.
It is possible that matters of survey may be covered in title insurance policies. But coverage that protects the purchaser’s interests is unlikely to be included unless a survey
Is performed prior to issuance of the policy. “Lender’s policies” may cover matters of survey without requiring a current survey, but they do not protect the purchaser. The risk associated with lenders’ policies is often acceptable to the title insurer because claims from a lender are not likely to occur until the purchaser defaults on the loan.
In recent years, it has become popular to have the seller sign an affidavit effectively guaranteeing that no matters of survey negatively affect the property. However, in doing so, the seller may be unwittingly accepting some unwarranted risks of liability. The buyer may also be tempted to simply rely upon a survey document from a previous transaction, but such survey may not contemplate changes to the property since the earlier survey was performed.
Many people choose not to obtain a current survey because they believe it will delay closing the transaction. This may be true if it is not ordered from the surveyor until closing of the transaction is assured. However, if the purchaser decides that a current survey is desired, it can be ordered early enough so as not to delay the closing date.
An informed purchaser knows that an accurate, current survey will provide peace of mind that cannot be obtained from any other source.