Buyer's ask me all of the time - "Do I really need to get a survey?" This cautionary tale will answer that.
Life is full of anomalies. You know, those “one off” situations that you think you’ll never see again. But, when the same topic comes up on three separate occasions in a short period of time, I know that there’s more to it than a simple case of bad luck and I need to be prepared to change my way of doing business or provide a strong warning to my clients.
Recently I was contacted by a homeowner who had a question about a survey. They had closed on their home over two years ago and were now ready to start a major landscape project for their backyard. The landscaper required a new survey, which they promptly ordered. The surveyor soon notified them that the county actually showed two surveys on record for their property. One showed their property and the lines of the adjacent properties as everyone expected them to be. The other showed a different set of property lines with hardscape actually falling inside the adjacent neighbor’s yard. In this case one neighbor’s fence would be on their property and a portion of their driveway and existing hardscape would be in another neighbor’s yard. Of course, the first question was… which survey was correct?
The current homeowner’s closed on the property based on the survey used in the warranty deed of the previous owner – which is typical. Unfortunately, it was discovered that this was incorrect. It seems that the developer had originally surveyed the neighborhood but then realized they had not left enough room for some of the first few houses once the front entry walls & landscape were completed. Not a problem, they simply re-platted those properties and continued on building out the neighborhood.
The problem came, in 2001, when the original buyers purchased the homes involved. At that time, the builder’s paperwork still referenced the original survey and the original homeowner’s closed against the “old” survey despite having been shown property lines referenced in the second survey. This mistake then trickled down to every homeowner after them.
Interestingly, over the next 15 years, this property had changed hands multiple times and the issue was never caught. My first response was to recommend contacting the closing attorney who completed the title work on the property and the title insurance company. Now it seems that the easy answer would be for the three neighbors involved to simply have new surveys drawn up based on the correct information and have that information recorded as “the accurate survey” but, apparently, that is not possible unless all three homeowners own their properties out right with no mortgage.
As most of you know, I have been active in real estate for many years and this is the first time I’ve had this situation come up. However, twice in the last month I have seen an example of this so I know it is more widespread than I would have previously believed.
In one case, it was a buyer in a brand-new neighborhood mentioning that the same exact thing had occurred and they had only found out about it when the builder came to remove a tree from what they believed to be their property. They had not had a real estate agent representing them, but I doubt that would’ve made a difference in their case.
In the second case, I was preparing for a listing appointment and found two references to two different neighborhood plats. Once again the builder had had to make a change to the original neighborhood plats. Thankfully, this homeowner had closed against the later plat, as he should have, resulting in no issue.
In Georgia a survey is not required by the lender. It is strictly up to the buyer and most simply do not want to spend the money when they have already spent so much on inspections and lender fees. I have always let me my clients know that having a a survey completed is a good idea, but most of the time it cannot be done prior to our due diligence period so many choose not to do it.
In the past, I have questioned why the lenders had removed the survey requirement and was told by a closing attorney that it was because “the title insurance will take care of any issues”.
In the first circumstance I mentioned it does not appear that the title insurance company will be accepting responsibility for handling the issue. This leaves the current homeowner with the hassle and expense of rectifying the situation the best way they can, legally.
Based on what the closing attorney said I did not have a survey completed on my current home. However, you can bet that I will from this point forward.
And that leads to the moral of my story: I now tell all of my buyers to, no matter what, GET A SURVEY!