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For most people, the purchase of a home, or the purchase of land and the construction of a home, represents the largest single investment of a lifetime. A wise investor will therefore take advantage of every opportunity to protect that investment.

Many services are available which can assure a person of the soundness of a real estate investment. The services of an attorney will, among other things, assure an understanding of the documents necessary to the transaction and the obligations incurred by signing those documents. A title search with title insurance will insure that the seller owns the property that he has contracted to sell. The search may find a lien or an unpaid mortgage, or it may uncover a restriction on the use of the land.

There are many questions you should ask before you purchase land. Among the most important are:
  1. EXACTLY WHERE ON THE GROUND IS THE PROPERTY THAT I HAVE CONTRACTED TO PURCHASE?

  2. ARE THE PHYSICAL IMPROVEMENTS (HOUSE, GARAGE, FENCES, ETC.), THAT I WAS SHOWN, ACTUALLY ON THE PROPERTY?

The answers to these questions can be reassuring or distressing, but if they are discovered after closing the sale, the result may be financial disaster.

WHY ARE THESE QUESTIONS IMPORTANT?

They are important because the property described in a contract often is not exactly as it was shown or as it appeared to the purchaser. Sometimes property that has been improved and maintained by a seller actually belongs to a neighbor.

The property lines may go through a garden, or a garage, or even a house! Occasionally, a contract describes completely different land than that shown to the purchaser!

WHO CAN ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS?

Only a person legally licensed and registered to practice land surveying may provide the service to answer these vital questions. A licensed land surveyor is an expert at interpreting descriptions of property and is uniquely qualified to accurately and precisely locate property lines.

WHAT WILL A SURVEYOR DO TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS?

The surveyor will study the documents that you supply including those in your title search. Then a field survey will be conducted, searching for and obtaining evidence of the property's boundaries and locating any visible improvements on or near the property. When the field survey is complete, the measurements are mathematically proven, and the documents are studied with respect to the evidence that was found. Then the location of the property lines, and other described lines, are determined by the surveyor, and a report is prepared, usually in the form of a survey map.

WHAT WILL THE SURVEY MAP SHOW ME?

The survey map will show you the location of the lines of the property as described in the contract of purchase. It will show you the dimensions of the land and the location of other lines, described in your documents, which affect the property, such as easements and rights-of-way. It will note variations from the described angles, lengths, and areas that the surveyor may find. The map will also depict the location of visible improvements on or near the property and the relation of those improvements to the property's boundary.

It may report that the garden you admired actually belongs to a neighbor or that a part of the land is being used by others. It may show you that the easement, reserved for others, in the contract is just the place where you thought your pool might go someday! Possibly, there will be physical evidence of an easement that is not recorded.

With the survey map, your attorney can determine if the property conforms to certain aspects of the local zoning laws. It frequently assists him in evaluating the effect of covenants and restrictions on the property.

The inside fold of this pamphlet shows some of the many questions a survey map may answer.

WHAT IF THE SELLER HAS A SURVEY?

First, be sure that it is a survey prepared by a licensed land surveyor. Not all maps are based on actual surveys. A map that is not a survey is not reliable.

If the seller provides a survey, it may not be adequate for your needs. Since the date of the survey, there may have been changes in the property lines, or perhaps improvements were made which affect the use and value of the land. As property values increase, the requirements of a survey change and become more rigid. Only the surveyor who prepared the seller's survey can state that his survey will meet your present needs. You should consult with him to learn if the survey is adequate. You should be sure that the surveyor is willing to certify his survey to you personally.

WHAT WILL A SURVEY COST?

The costs of surveys differ because of varying sizes and locations of properties. Such things as the complexity of the descriptions, terrain and the shape of the property are factors that must be considered. As a result, only a surveyor can accurately estimate the cost of a survey.

The cost of a survey can range from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars. However, most surveyors are willing to discuss their fees and offer an estimate before you authorize a survey. You should keep in mind that the cost of a survey represents a very small percentage of your total investment, but it can help you avoid costly and painful problems in the future.

WHERE CAN I FIND A QUALIFIED SURVEYOR?

Surveyors who are members of the Westchester-Putnam Association of Professional Land Surveyors, Inc. are all licensed and registered to practice in New York State. In addition, they have subscribed to the "Code of Practice for Land Surveys" adopted by the New York State Association of Professional Land Surveyors, Inc. This code is designed to help maintain a high standard of care and precision in the preparation of land surveys. You should inquire whether the surveyor whom you are considering will certify that his survey has been prepared in accordance with this code and whether he is a member of the Westchester-Putnam Association of Professional Land Surveyors, Inc. You can find members listed in the classified section of your telephone directory under Surveyors, Land.

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