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Surveys - What and Why?

Posted May 15th, 2008 under smart buying, smart selling.

A survey is a drawing of a property which is made to scale and certified. A survey shows the boundaries, measurements, and all "improvements" made to the land. An improvement could be a house, fence, swimming pool, tree, shed, driveway, or any other structure that enhances the value of the land.

A survey also shows any easements, restrictions, rights of way, and encroachments. An easement allows a specified party to enter your property for some purpose. Most often, local utility companies will have easements for maintenance purposes, but there are other possibilities. An encroachment is anything which overhangs or protrudes into the property, such as a neighbour's tree, drive, roof, or fence. A right of way is the right of the property owner to enter onto a specific part of an adjoining property.

Only a certified Surveyor can provide a survey, date it, and certify its accuracy. A survey reflects the state of the property at the time the survey is drawn and dated.

Why are Surveys Important?

When you purchase a property, you should always ask for a survey as part of the agreement of sale. Without a survey, you cannot be sure that your plans for renovating or personalizing a property are feasible. You may discover an underground gas line that prevents you from putting in a pool, or you may discover that your property does not extend all the way to the fence, or that your driveway is actually a shared driveway. A survey helps you avoid this type of unpleasant surprise by giving you an accurate picture of a property.

Surveys and Title Insurance

Lately, title insurance has been promoted as a substitute for a survey. Title insurance is a type of insurance which covers costs such as suing the vendor for failing to mention key details about the property.

However, title insurance is not a substitute for a survey. Consider the example where you are unable to build your pool because of an underground gas line about which you were not informed. Though title insurance will cover the cost of a lawsuit, the gas line remains, and you still cannot build the pool. A survey would have warned you ahead of time, thus giving you the chance to back out of the deal (probided you had included the appropriate clause in the contract of sale).

However, title insurance does provide other benefits. It can cover losses incurred if you are the victim of identity theft or mortgage fraud affecting your property. It can also provide protection if the previous own has contravened municipal bylaws, for example, by converting a carport into a garage without proper permits.

So in truth, when asking “which should I get, a survey or title insurance?”, the best answer is 'both'.

Got a question about surveys? Just ask me, I'll be happy to help.


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