What's a Survey Certificate and Why do I need one?

Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX executives realty

SurveyorTo many home buyers and sellers, one of the most interesting documents in a sale of a property is the survey certificate.  Along with the written "metes and bounds" description and the legal description, the survey also provides a drawing of the actual property.

The drawing is more properly called a "plan of survey", it is a drawing that shows the lot lines and size, as well as the "improvements" or buildings, fences and other man-made objects.  A survey is prepared by a licensed surveyor who will visit the property, take the measurements and guarantee their accuracy.

In a residential real estate transaction generally it is the responsibility of the buyer to obtain and pay for an updated survey.  If you are a buyer, I would encourage you to ask the seller for the existing survey certificate and the zoning memorandum if available.  If they are available and they are not too old they may be acceptable to your financing institution in which case you just saved some money. If the seller has owned the property for some time, or if recent improvements have been made, the seller's survey may be out of date in which case you may need a new one.

There are a number of good reasons why this can be a wise investment for the buyer.

First of all, the buyer's mortgage lending institution will usually require an up-to-date survey before advancing the funds to purchase the property.  The mortgagee (the lender) wants to be satisfied that the home and lot are as described and that there are no potential problems.

Secondly, the buyer should also be completely satisfied that the property is as it appears and is described.

Thirdly it is an asset that can be utilized during the course of your ownership of the property and it can be an added benefit to a future purchaser of the property down the road.

Sometimes, a survey will reveal that a neighbour's fence encroaches a few centimeters onto the property, or that the property's fence encroaches onto the neighbouring lot.  The buyer's real estate representative may recommend that this small discrepancy be written into the purchase agreement, but it certainly should not prevent the buyer from completing the transaction.

More serious encroachments may show up when a new survey is done on older properties which have not had the same ownership for many years.  It may be that the neighbour's garage sits a meter or two on the property.  The survey could also reveal that the location of the home on the lot does not comply with local building or zoning by-laws.

Even more common is the current owner of the property has, at some point, taken over, often unknowingly, adjoining land that is actually owned by the municipality.

While the property "seems" to extend to the street and the owner may treat it as "private", a survey may reveal that the actual lot is different than it appears.

In Winnipeg if a portion of your property (for example: the eave of the garage) encroaches onto or over the City of Winnipeg's property (perhaps the back lane), it is the City of Winnipeg's policy that they "license" you the use of that area and then they add an extra "license fee" to your annual tax bill.

A property owner may, over the course of time, lose his or her copy of the survey.  Most real estate representatives will ask the seller for their most up-to-date copy of the survey, knowing that buyers will want to see it.  If the seller has a mortgage, it is more than likely that the mortgage firm will have a copy of the most recent survey on file and can provide copies.  It can also frequently be found in the rather large package of papers that you received from your lawyer when you purchased the property.

A survey provides a plan picture of the property and, attached to the purchase agreement, becomes part of the legal contract.

Posted by

About the Author:

Harry Logan is a REALTOR with RE/MAX executives realty in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Harry represents Buyers & Sellers in all aspects of buying and selling residential real estate and commercial real estate in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the surrounding areas.

Harry can be reached at 204-667-SOLD (7653) or through his websites. Click here for Harry's Winnipeg residential real estate website or click here for Harry's Winnipeg commercial real estate website.  

Comments (7)

Patricia Kennedy
RLAH@Properties - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Harry, this is great information.  And a survey is something that people do skip once in a while.  And it's like the emergency instructions in airline seat pockets.  You almost never need the information, but when you do, it's just crucial!

Jul 07, 2010 03:32 AM
Harry Logan
RE/MAX executives realty - Winnipeg, MB
Your Satisfaction is Guaranteed!

Thank you for your comments Patricia! 

Some people are starting to skip survey certificates in favor of title insurance as title insurance can be quicker and cheaper.  I did not get into this in the article as it would have doubled the articles size.  I'll have to do a follow up article about the merits of title insurance vs a survey certificate.

Thanks again for your kind words!

Jul 07, 2010 01:10 PM
Brian Madigan
RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto) - Toronto, ON
LL.B., Broker


I think the survey is the most imporatnt document in a seller's file. Good post.


Jul 11, 2010 03:17 PM
1~Judi Barrett
Integrity Real Estate Services 116 SE AVE N, Idabel, OK 74745 - Idabel, OK
BS Ed, Integrity Real Estate Services -IDABEL OK

Surveys are very important.. either an existing one or a new one.. love being able to find the corners and if the buyers are getting title insurance, here they will need a survey.

Apr 24, 2014 10:47 AM
steven busch

I have a lot on a street that was never built . The lot was plated in 1909 and has never been updated. On said lot there stands an old shotgun shack built 100 years ago. my great grand parents lived there until they died there in1941. Four probates were needed to get the lot in my name. Now that I have deed I would like to know where my corners are and such. My neighbors tell me the a survey is waste of money since nobody really cares. The truth is they blazed a road across my front yard years ago and if they had not done so they would have no access to their land. They would be land locked. I intend to put a fence around the lot while I continue to complete an historic preservation on the structure. Don't really want a war with the folks who own the adjoining property. Have you any suggestions?

Jun 10, 2015 10:14 AM
Dave Halpern
Dave Halpern Real Estate Agent, Inc., Louisville, KY (502) 664-7827 - Louisville, KY
Louisville Short Sale Expert

I have been involved in several transactions where surveys uncovered critical encroachments or violations of minimum setbacks. In new construction, a survey is especially important. The boundaries of undeveloped lots are often unmarked and buyers sometimes end up with a much smaller lot than expected. 

Jun 27, 2017 05:19 PM