FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is land surveying?
Maine law defines land surveying as "any service or work involving the application of special knowledge of the rules of evidence and boundary laws, principles of mathematics and the related physical and applied sciences for measuring and locating lines, angles, elevations and natural and man-made features in the air, on the surface of the earth, within underground workings and on the beds of bodies of water. This service or work is for the purposes of determining areas and volumes, for the monumenting of property boundaries and for the platting and layout of lands and subdivisions of land, including topography, alignment and grades of streets and for the preparation and perpetuation of maps, record plats, field note records and property descriptions that represent these surveys".
The following questions and answers are reprinted from a brochure entitled, "Questions and Answers about Boundary Surveys" written and published by the Maine Society of Land Surveyors:
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.
The bank required a mortgage inspection when I bought the property. Is that a survey?
A mortgage inspection is not a survey. It is merely a surveyor’s opinion that the buildings and major improvements appear to be located on the property described in the deed. Many lending institutions require this inspection to check for obvious problems with the parcel such as encroachments, zoning violations and the need for flood insurance, but it does not determine whether the boundaries described in the deed are correct. (This service is explained in greater detail in another brochure by the Maine Society of Land Surveyors which is reprinted farther down this page.)
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 policies 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 the land surrounding it. In addition to the Registry of Deeds this research may include: the Registry of Probate, county commissioners’ offices, town offices, historical associations and the Department of Transportation. The surveyor may also talk with prior owners and neighbors.
The field work begins after the research and involves establishing a control network of known points called a traverse. The 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. Another trip to the field is then necessary to set the new monuments. Finally, the surveyor will draft a plan, prepare a legal description and write a report.
How much does a survey cost?
The cost of a boundary survey depends on many variables, some of which cannot be known until after the work has started. The size, terrain, vegetation, location and season affect the cost and can usually be estimated accurately in advance. 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 sales, divisions, 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 it 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 upon, a boundary survey may produce:
Monuments at all property corners
A written description of the property
A plan of the property
A report explaining the 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.
If a plan is prepared, you should also record it in the Registry of Deeds. This not only preserves the work for future reference, but also puts the public on notice that the area shown has been thoroughly researched and documented. In a sense, it provides insurance against most claims or disputes.
The following questions and answers are reprinted from a brochure entitled "Questions and Answers about Mortgage Loan Inspections – What they are – What they are not” written by Bruce A. Van Note, P.L.S., Esq. and published by the Maine Society of Land Surveyors:
What is a mortgage loan inspection?
A Mortgage Loan Inspection (sometimes improperly called a “Plot Plan” or “Class D Survey”) is a land surveyor’s professional opinion, based upon preliminary information, of the relative location of the apparent boundary lines of a given parcel of land and the obvious improvements thereon.
Why is a mortgage loan inspection necessary?
Your lender requires title insurance covering certain boundary related problems. In order to provide that insurance, your lender’s title insurance company requires that a surveyor perform a Mortgage Loan Inspection.
What is the purpose of a mortgage loan inspection?
The purpose of the inspection is to detect major boundary problems that would affect the security of your lender's loan. If the inspection indicates there are no such problems, the title insurer will provide boundary title insurance coverage for the lender. This coverage is for the lender only, not you. The only way for you to get this type of coverage is to have a full Boundary Survey performed.
But isn't a mortgage loan inspection a boundary survey?
No. With a Boundary Survey, the surveyor says to you, the property owner, “These are your boundaries.” With a Mortgage Loan Inspection, the surveyor says to your lender and its title insurer, “Based upon some preliminary research and field inspection, these are what the boundaries appear to be.”
How else do a mortgage loan inspection and boundary survey differ?
The processes involved and resultant costs are drastically different. A Mortgage Loan Inspection includes a review of the current deed description, approximate field measurements during which monuments found are assumed to be correct, and the drafting of a rough sketch. In the past, a Mortgage Loan Inspection generally has cost a few hundred dollars. It is paid for by the borrower(s).
A Boundary Survey is much more involved. It normally includes extensive research of your property and all adjoining parcels (often back one hundred years or more), precise field work, the evaluation of conflicting boundary evidence, extensive mathematical computations, and monumentation of all corners. Products of a complete Boundary Survey include the preparation of a detailed plan suitable for recording in the county Registry of Deeds, and the drafting of a revised deed description and survey report. The cost of a proper Boundary Survey can be several thousand dollars and can vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of the survey and the needs of the client.
Does a mortgage loan inspection show what I own?
Not necessarily. Due to the greatly different processes involved, there obviously are many boundary problems that a Boundary Survey will detect that a Mortgage Loan Inspection will not. Therefore, if the actual location of your boundaries is critical, you should contact a surveyor to determine whether or not you need a Boundary Survey.
What can I use a mortgage loan inspection for?
The inspection was not prepared for your use. It was prepared for your lender and its title insurer. Therefore, if you use the inspection for any purpose, you do so at your own risk.
Specifically, you should not use an inspection for anything that requires the physical location of your boundaries on the ground including the erection of fences, landscaping, land use permitting (including variance requests), or the planning or building of additions, garages, sheds, pools, etc.
Other frequently asked questions:
I need a site plan... does that include a boundary survey?
A site plan is focused on the area within the boundaries, but if a boundary survey has not already been completed it will be a necessary and critical part of the site planning process. Municipal regulations may require a site plan before building or making improvements on a parcel of land, especially along waterfront or in built-up areas. Builders and architects may need a site plan prior to starting their design work. A site plan will show setback lines from neighbors and roads, as well as buffers required around water bodies and other environmental features. The buildable area created by these setbacks and buffer lines can be referred to as the "building envelope". Other information required may include distances from neighboring wells and septic systems, the size of existing and proposed structures, the existing and proposed impervious area of the lot, and topography and elevations.
Can I have only part of my land surveyed? I only need to know one line or have a missing corner pin replaced.
If your land was previously surveyed, it may be possible to locate just one line or replace a missing pin, assuming that other pins and physical evidence are still intact. However, the current land surveyor will still need to conduct some of his own research and calculations to verify that the boundary is accurate and unchanged before he puts his own license number on the new pin. Determining only one boundary line of a parcel not previously surveyed is usually impossible without surveying at least some of the other lines and possibly some of your neighbors' boundaries as well. Surveying only a part of the boundary may reduce the cost, but usually not as much as expected.
What is the value of a boundary survey and other surveying services?
A survey authoritatively measures, monuments, defines, and describes land.
Consider the value of land…
“Real estate cannot be lost or stolen, nor can it be carried away. Purchased with common sense, paid for in full, and managed with reasonable care, it is about the safest investment in the world.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Real estate investing, even on a very small scale, remains a tried and true means of building an individual’s cash flow and wealth.” – Robert Kiyosaki
“Everyone wants a piece of land. It’s the only sure investment. It can never depreciate like a car or washing machine. Land will only double its value in ten years.” – Sam Shepard
“Owning a home is a keystone of wealth… both financial affluence and emotional security.” – Suze Orman
“Don’t wait to buy real estate, buy real estate and wait.” – T. Harv Eker
“Buy land, they aren’t making any more of it." – Mark Twain
Land is a valuable, enduring, and appreciating asset. It is a fixed, finite, and limited resource. A boundary survey authoritatively measures, monuments, defines, and describes your exact share of this valuable asset and resource. Land surveying services can establish and/or preserve the integrity of your land and its boundaries, enhance your property's value and utility, and promote responsible land use and development. A survey should be the foundation of any land-based project or transaction, whether it involves buying, selling, dividing, building, improving, or natural resource harvesting. A survey can clearly delineate property lines, rights-of-way, setback lines, water bodies, environmental buffers, and protection zones on paper and on the ground. This facilitates proper land use in accordance with governmental regulations and zoning, while avoiding costly misunderstandings and legal troubles.
Do land surveyors have to be licensed?
Yes, all 50 states require land surveyors to be individually licensed before practicing or soliciting business. In the United States, licensure for the surveying profession is regulated at the state level. In Maine, the Board of Licensure for Professional Land Surveyors was established to protect the public through regulation of the practice of land surveying. As of 2019, there are 518 individuals holding an active license to practice land surveying in Maine.
Becoming a licensed Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) takes years of education, experience, and testing. Surveyors typically hold a Bachelor's or Associate's degree with a core curriculum that includes courses in mathematics, natural sciences, technical writing, computer drafting, business, and boundary law.
The path to a Maine PLS license begins with a two-year apprenticeship as a Land Surveyor-in-Training (LSIT). To be recognized as an LSIT, an applicant must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The 2019 pass rate for the FS exam was 47%. Upon passing the exam, an LSIT must work for two years in increasing levels of responsibility under a licensed PLS. The LSIT must then pass two more exams: the Principles and Practice of Surveying exam (71% pass rate in 2019) administered by NCEES and a Maine-specific exam administered by the Board. Upon reviewing the LSIT's apprenticeship experience and exam results, the Board may grant a PLS license. To maintain their license, a PLS must complete eight hours of continuing education every two years.
Check out these resources for more information about land surveying...
A Homeowner's Guide to Boundary Surveys
(Brochure produced by the National Society of Professional Surveyors)
What is Land Surveying?
(Brochure produced by the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors)
What can a Professional Land Surveyor do for you?
(Brochure produced by the Professional Land Surveyors’ Association of Washington)
Maine Revised Statutes, Title 32, Chapter 141: Professional Land Surveyors