All About Land Surveys

We’re joined today by special guest, Leslie Misman, with Amerisurveyors LLC. They are a full-service professional surveying firm headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. Serving areas throughout South, Central, and North Texas. We were excited to have Leslie with us for a crash course on surveys! 

We asked Leslie to chat with us about surveys and share her extensive knowledge.

Amerisurveyors was established in 2008. They service Austin, San Antonio and Dallas and surrounding areas. They are a 24 hour operation. They have the ground operations team that collects field data, the research team, drafting team, final reviewers, RPLS  (Registered Professional Land Surveyor) team, and a customer service team. Whatever work they do during the day is many times being drafted and analyzed at night. This is how they accommodate fast turnaround times and prevent delays for customers.

Leslie is the sales and marketing director and has been at Amerisurveyors since 2016. Their philosophy is that knowledge is power. They are constantly educating themselves and their clients by making sure they are up with current technology.  She is a licensed instructor and educates clients, realtors and title companies.

What can people expect when working with Amerisurveyors, either purchasing a property or needing a survey on an existing property. Can you share the process and timeline?

It is really important to have the right team when purchasing a home or doing work to your home and the survey crew is a crucial part of this.  A survey is insurance for the next 10 years. They define the property boundary. When they get the order, it goes straight to research. The job is allocated to a crew and they start their field work. One person could have 3-5 jobs in a day. At the end of the day they send their data to to the drafters. The drafters and researchers get working on it and then it goes to final review. They make sure to address all of schedule A and B. The whole process could take 2 days in a perfect scenario but it can take longer on challenging properties. When their aren’t enough pins it makes their job harder. They have to find the neighbors pins so they can cross check. 

Why is a survey required when purchasing a home?

The buyer needs to be sure the legal description is what it says it is and to make sure that the structure is not on any setbacks or easements. Also to be sure there are no encroachments. This is also the only sure way to know the exact square footage of the land. 

Why should buyers consider getting their own survey instead of using a previous property owner's survey? 

Surveyors have a statute to stand behind and support their survey for 10 years. If you are using a survey that is over 10 years and if there is a dispute then you are not able to ask for assistance from the survey company. Amerisurveyors stands behind their survey’s no matter who bought it but this is not an industry standard. It says on the survey who the survey is certified for. Texas Board of Professional Land surveying does not oversee how business is conducted. You really need to read the fine print on the survey. They do have a copyright to protect their data so that it can’t be manipulated. 

We discussed using existing surveys. Leslie recommended to always get a new one. We discussed that we have a form at our company that buyers must sign that they should always get a new survey but that buyers may choose to re-use one from the seller.  If you are really wanting to re-use a survey, at a minimum go back to the same company that did the survey and get an update. The surveyors can’t go off of someone else's boundary to do additional work like topography or tree work. They have to do their own boundary before they can any extra work.

What does a boundary survey mean?

The survey of vacant land to define where the property corners are. It also includes covenants, setbacks, easements and utilities.  When the lot has a house, it is called a final as-built survey. When you order the survey you need to let them know if you want the improvements on the survey. For example, if you are looking to tear down a house, you might not want the as-built survey but just the boundary survey.

Why do you need a copy of the title policy in order to do a full survey?

The title commitment has a comprehensive list of documents, setbacks and agreements to the subject property. It is very important that the land matches schedule A and B. It also needs to be  confirmed that the legal description matches. You don’t always have to have the title policy but it is best practice to. Jenny talked about her situation where she bought a lot that did not have a title policy at the time of survey and then they learned about a spring easement later in the transaction that caused a lot of havoc. Eventually they were able to get the spring easement removed but it costed a lot of money and was never certain until the end that it could be achieved. 

What are things to look for and watch out for when you get the survey back?

Make sure the legal description matches what is on schedule A of the title policy. See if there are any encroachments that you were not aware of. Look for any discrepancies on the platted measurements vs the field measurements. See if there are any discrepancies on the fence lines. Jenny tells her story about how her neighbors just put up a new fence and the fence went over on to her property by 14 ft. That fence has now been removed.  They also look to see if there are any unrecorded agreements. Someone else might have a right to use part of the land. Whatever you see on the survey must match schedule B.  They discussed points on line and how you really need to do these reference points to know where the property lines are. It is highly recommended to do points on line every 25-50 ft. when putting in a fence. They use wooden lathe and pink tape and 6D nails with whiskers. Leslie points out that fences do not always represent boundary lines. Leslie talks about how they recently had a case where someone built a house on the neighbor's lot accidentally. A mobile home was placed right between 2 lots. The homeowner pulled lines but it was an odd-shaped lot and they got them wrong so now they have a structure encroaching on the neighbors lot.

What are a few of the biggest issues you come across when doing surveys?

When the plat is very old or illegible and when there are no monuments or pins so go off of. The rain and access to the property can be a big issue. Dogs being on the property creates a lot of access issues. Neighbors can also cause issues. Some get really involved in the process. 

What should one do before they put a fence up?

The homeowner should hire the survey company to do points online (POL’s) every 25-50ft before doing a fence.

What does it mean to have a good neighbor fence? 

We discussed that we as realtors, we thought a good neighbor fence was when the fence changed sides back and forth. Leslie corrected us and said that a good neighbor is when you give the neighbor the good side of the fence. Jenny said that in her experiences when she bought the fence she put the good side of her yard. She said that West Lake Hills was the only city she had dealt with that required her to give the good side to the neighbor. Leslie pointed out that maybe that was the only city that enforced the good neighbor rule. 

Although it is not common, what do you see buyers object to during the survey objection period?

Leslie said encroachments that the buyer was not aware of can cause issues. Also, if the square footage of the land is different on the tax record vs what the surveyor measured. The square footage of the land is what they base their survey off of. We discussed a story where the legal description stated more land than the actual survey depicted. Leslie has seen it go both ways. She discussed in one situation how there was a boundary line agreement that was not recorded. The buyers backed out because they were getting less land than they thought. The moral of the story is to get a new survey when you purchase a property and to get POL’s when you put up a fence. 

What kind of surveys are needed when you buy land and are building a house?

A boundary, topography (the study of the contour), and a tree survey. We discussed that if you have a lot of land and you are building in a certain part of the land you might only want to get the topography and trees surveyed in that area.  If you are on a smaller lot (1 acre or less) or if the city requires it, you may need to get these extra surveys on the whole plot of land. Once you are underway you will also want to get an envelope survey so the foundation crew knows where the foundation goes and then a form survey once the forms are up for the foundation. At the end of construction, you will want to do an as-built survey.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and share all of this valuable information. Where can listeners find you online and what is the best way for them to reach Amerisurveyors? 

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