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Types of Survey Plans and their Purpose

photograph of a land survey machine in grassland with text overlay 'types of survey plans and their purpose'

For real estate investors, land developers, and property owners alike, having a land survey is essential. A land survey plan is not only a property diagram, but also a crucial legal document that shows the precise legal borders and relevant aspects of the registered property. It defines and outlines property boundaries, building locations, physical features, and other items of spatial importance.

What is a survey plan?

A survey plan is the final result when a land survey has been completed, and it is essential for anyone looking to buy, sell, or develop the land. Consider a survey plan as a specialized map, serving as a legal document that establishes and demarcates your property boundaries. Surveys hold great significance as they provide an accurate and up-to-date representation of the land's features and limits.

A survey plan provides comprehensive information about various aspects of a property, including dimensions. This encompasses structures like fences, trees, roads, buildings, as well as natural features such as streams or lakes that may exist on your property. By capturing these details, a survey plan ensures a thorough depiction of your property.

Why is a survey plan important?

Surveys detail how your property is defined in an official, legal capacity. Essentially, they identify and confirm already established land boundaries. Rather than guessing where your property lines are, you have a document that makes it clear. The legal boundaries of a property often get overlooked until a boundary issue arises.

What are the types of survey plans?

Surveys have various uses, such as ensuring accurate property lines or assessing mineral rights. For those planning to develop their property, it's crucial to determine exactly how much land is available for development. Surveys also assess safety, environmental hazards, and building restrictions. There are 7 different types of survey plans, and the type of survey plan needed depends on the project and desired information.

Boundary Survey

A boundary survey is common for both residential and commercial purposes. It shows the location of all corners and easements crossing your property, and it is often conducted before the sale of a property or before construction begins on a piece of land. In many instances, property owners may need to determine the boundaries of a property to ensure that improvements do not infringe on official property lines. Municipalities or contractors require a property survey before permits can be pulled for major renovation projects, especially additions.

American Land Title Association Survey

An American Land Title Association survey, also known as an ALTA survey, is a specialized boundary survey that adheres to strict standards developed by the ALTA and the National Society of Professional Surveyors. (NSPS). During the inventory process, a comprehensive list is typically compiled, which encompasses various aspects of the property. This includes not only buildings, pools, fences, and other structures, but also the identification of boundary lines between adjoining lots and the delineation of property lines within the property's boundaries. An ALTA survey is necessary to obtain comprehensive Title Insurance for any property as a buyer, seller, or owner.

Location Survey

A location survey provides a visual representation of the improvements on a property in relation to the boundary lines. If you require a zoning permit, a location survey may be necessary. This survey includes precise measurements of the size, location, and distance between the improvements and the property lines. Additionally, it can provide details about the materials used in constructing these enhancements.

Subdivision Survey

A subdivision survey is a type of land survey used to split a parcel of land into smaller tracts for various reasons, such as selling the individual lots, mortgage requirements, estate settlement, or for development purposes. This type of survey is done to create a map that will establish its compliance with the Subdivision Map Act and the local subdivision ordinance standards. The subdivision ordinance gives standards for designating residential and commercial lots, roads (rights-of-way), parkland dedication, drainage and utility easements, and how city services will be extended to each lot.

Topographic Survey

The purpose of a topographic survey is to locate both natural and man-made topographic features on a parcel of land. It describes elevation, providing an outline of terrain features such as an outline of terrain features, such as streams and hills, and any man-made features, such as buildings and streets. A topographic survey includes various features such as fences, utilities, buildings, elevations, streams, trees, improvements, and contours. It is often required by government agencies and used by architects and engineers for site planning and development.

Site-planning Survey

A site planning survey is often a requirement before development permits are issued because it shows what can be designed or developed before construction begins. This type of survey combines the elements of boundary and topographic surveys to organize the design of new projects such as building lots, subdivisions, commercial and industrial sites, playgrounds, and streets and highways. Overall, it helps developers design and place improvements in the best locations on a property.

Construction Survey

A construction survey, also referred to as a building survey, aims to provide dimensional control for all stages of construction. It involves the surveyor going to the property and staking out the structures located on the property to be used as reference points, such as roads, buildings, and utilities. Construction personnel will use these reference points to know where to begin construction.

LandGate's Property Data

Although LandGate's map and parcel data doesn't replace a formal land survey, it provides valuable data about your property from a multitude of different sources to give you a holistic view of your land and its value. LandGate's property report analyzes soil data, topography, buildable acreage, and more.

If you do not yet own land, but are interested in purchasing land, LandGate’s LandApp tool provides you with this data for any US parcel to help you make more informed purchasing decisions.


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