Unlike most Minneapolis real estate agents in the area, I am a big lobbyist for a seller to provide a survey any time they sell their single family residential property. Some think it is a waste of money. Others might not see the need. I mean, you can see how the lot sits next to adjacent buildings, so only an idiot would ask for a survey, right?

Well, I am here to tell you that is a very flawed thought process to not see the need for a survey, especially if you are the buyer. Here are some reasons to get a survey the next time you buy a home.

  1. Why would anyone need to know the exact lot lines? It’s called Encroachment, meaning an unauthorized use of someone’s property. A lot of times, peoples’ fences encroach on a neighbor’s land, and is usually not a big deal because a fence can easily be moved. What do you do though if the neighbor has built part of a buildings foundation onto your land, or built a patio deck over the property line? If you are buying a piece of property with such a defect, and the previous owners have ignored it for over 15 years, that simple encroachment could turn into an easement by prescription, or even give that neighbor title to the land by adverse possession.
  2. Many homeowners have an Easement through their property, most commonly a driveway for a neighbor to reach his own property. But if you never have a survey of the land, how would you know if there are any hidden easements? Case in point, we were looking at a property to buy last year in Bloomington. We were about to make an offer, but decided to drive around the neighborhood once more. I noticed at the end of the adjoining street some large markers that said “Warning-Natural Gas Pipe Line”. Upon further investigation we found that the pipe line rain directly through the properties back yard and had a 35 foot easement on each side of the pipeline. That turned out to be the entire back yard! There would be no way we could ever put in a pool or add on to the home. If they ever wanted to work on the pipe line, they had automatic permission to dig up the yard. The homeowner never knew because they never had a survey completed. Needless to say, we decided to not buy that home. Only because I am use to looking at these details was I saved from making a mistake. How many other buyers have not been so lucky?
  3. A survey will also reveal the proper set back lines on a property. Set back lines tell you how far away from the property line you are allowed to build. We ran into another problem where a seller had added on a third garage stall directly up to the property line. Its was encroaching on the set back by 10 feet! (also meaning the proper building permit was never pulled by the owner) If we inherited this problem, we might either have to get a variance or remove the structure. We decided to not inherit the problem and moved on.

Are you beginning to understand the reason why a survey is so important? It puts the buyer at ease knowing the property is in good standing with neighbors and the city, but it also helps the seller sell the home by offering the buyer another “insurance” policy on why the property is sound.

Some states require a survey on every property that sells, as does the mortgage company. However in Minnesota and Wisconsin, this is just not the case. How would you feel if you purchased a home and one day came home to find your yard was gone because the power company decided they needed to install some power lines in your backyard? The only one to blame would be yourself. A title search won’t tell you anything about encroachments, hidden easements, or set back lines. Do yourself a favor…make sure to request a survey next time you buy real estate in Minnesota!