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

Reblogger Aaron Vaughn | Builder | Investor
Home Builder with Conifer Homes

Since my neoghbor's fence is a foot over my property line, I read with much interest.

Original content by Harry Logan

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the seller has owned the property for some time, or if recent improvements have been made, the seller's survey may be out of date in which case you may need a new one.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.

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.  


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Dan Edward Phillips
Dan Edward Phillips - Eureka, CA
Realtor and Broker/Owner

Hi Aaron, interesting post!  We do not have survey certificates in California.

Jul 11, 2010 06:36 PM #1
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Aaron Vaughn | Builder | Investor

If the deal makes sense, the cash will follow.
I buy houses and building lots for cash!
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