Consumer's Guide to Land Surveying

Why are Land Surveys Necessary?

Land surveys are made for several reasons. They can be made in order to determine the correct location of land boundaries with respect to deed descriptions. They can also inform you of the area of the land described, and any physical encroachments onto the property, or onto any adjacent property. It may also establish new lines dividing your land into smaller parcels if you so desire, or represent the topography of the land.

Types of surveys can include:

  • Property boundary re-tracement surveys to determine existing boundary lines, their dimensions, and land areas;
  • Subdivision plats for dividing land into two or more parcels, and providing legal descriptions for the new tracts or lots;
  • Improvement Location Exhibits which are required by some lending institutions for mortgage purposes;
  • Topographic surveys which are usually required by architects or engineers for designing buildings, drainage structures, streets and roads, dams, bridges, etc.;
  • Right-of-way surveys to determine locations and dimensions for highway and utility easements.

When do I Need a Land Survey?A land survey is usually needed:

  • Before title in land is transferred;
  • Before land is subdivided or platted;
  • Before land is developed by construction of roads, fences, buildings, etc.;
  • and Before a boundary dispute arises.

Who Can Tell Me if I Need a Surveyor?

In many cases, landowners first contact their local planning board or building official where they may be informed of the need for surveying services. Often, these authorities are looking for confirmation that laws and ordinances will permit the landowner to proceed with their development plan. A Professional Land Surveyor can perform the services that are being asked for, such as:
  • preparing a proposed subdivision layout;
  • mapping a proposed building project to show if it will encroach on easements or building setback lines;
  • preparing a legal property description for the purpose of rezoning a portion of a larger tract of land so that the development can proceed;
  • measuring the elevation of a proposed building to determine if it lies within an established flood hazard area;
  • preparing exhibits showing the vacation of existing easements, sometimes made necessary by the development plan;
  • performing a topographic survey showing the "lay of the land" so that proper drainage runoff can be accommodated in the site grading.
Many times, a title attorney or title insurance agent requests the services of a Professional Land Surveyor in order to clear up an ambiguous property description, or to verify the proper location of structures on the property so that the mortgage lender will agree to assume a loan. Improvement Location Exhibits are often requested by these entities - you can learn more about them in the section entitled: Buying or Selling a Home

Why Should I use a Professional Land Surveyor?

South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) 43-18-1 states: "No survey of land or plat subdivision shall be legal unless made by a registered land surveyor." SDCL 36-18a-8 further states that no person may practice or offer to practice land surveying unless the person is licensed by the South Dakota Board of Technical Professions.

A licensed Professional Land Surveyor is uniquely qualified to perform analyses of property descriptions, boundaries, easements, topography and geodesy.

A Professional Land Surveyor can provide you with a certificate of survey that will stand up in a court of law, advise you if there is a defect in your land description or evidence of an encroachment, and in cases of controversy, they can appear as your expert witness.

Where do I Find a Professional Surveyor?

For names and addresses of practicing land surveyors in your area, you may consult the yellow pages of your telephone directory under SURVEYORS, LAND. A list of members of the South Dakota Society of Professional Land Surveyors may be obtained upon request.

When securing the services of a Registered Land Surveyor, you need not visit their place of business. You may transmit your order by telephone, fax, e-mail or by letter. The surveyor will need to know the legal description of the property you wish to have surveyed, and the type of survey required, or the specific purpose of the survey.

Find a Professional Land Surveyor

How do I Determine their Qualifications?

All land surveys made in the State of South Dakota are required by law to be made by a surveyor registered in the state. This means they have passed the examination and experience requirements set by the South Dakota Board of Technical Professions, and have received a license to practice land surveying.

In addition, South Dakota Administrative Rule 20:38:10:07 states that each registrant must acquire 15 hours of continuing professional development units per year as a condition for registration renewal. These units must have a course or activity with a clear purpose and objective which maintains, improves, or expands the skills and knowledge relevant to the registrant's field of practice. At least 10 of these units must be in technical subjects which directly safeguard the public's health, safety, and welfare.

Membership in professional organizations also indicates a desire on the part of the Professional Land Surveyor to assist in the goals of those organizations. Recognized professional societies maintain a code of ethics.

Additionally, you may wish to review the local survey plat records in the office of the county Register of Deeds. There you will find examples of subdivision plats performed by local surveyors.

What Will a Land Survey Cost?

Land surveying cost depends upon many factors.

In addition to salary costs, surveying fees include allowance for business overhead, costs for vehicle mileage, drafting, copying and recording fees.

Surveying is a highly technical and complex service for which many variables are encountered on a daily basis, such as the type of terrain, difficulties encountered in location and checking control monuments, availability or quality of existing records, the surveyor's knowledge of the area, and the requirements placed on a project by local planning authorities. Because of these variables, an exact fee is difficult and sometimes impossible to determine. However, a surveyor can usually furnish an approximate cost based on their general experience.

Competitive bidding for the lowest cost is not normally in the best interest of either the Land Surveyor or their client.

A "fixed fee" agreement can lead to conflicts of priorities when the prudent course of action is to do further research, or make additional measurements to resolve ambiguities. Local authorities can also alter the required scope of work by requesting additional services before approving a development plan already in progress.

Assuredly, the Land Surveyor's professional services will cost less than the time, worry and expense of moving a building, relocating fences and improvements, or defending a lawsuit in court due to a land boundary controversy.

Buying or Selling a Home?

Especially important to buyers or sellers of developed property is the question:

"Will you need a boundary survey? or an Improvement Location Exhibit?"

Buyers of homes expect a flurry of paperwork and signatures upon "closing" a mortgage loan. Often, in the confusion of paperwork, the question of "survey" is left answered by either the lending institution or the seller - and they may not have the best interests of the buyer in mind.

Standard Purchase Agreement Language May Read as Follows:

Survey: buyer to select one of the following:

*Improvement Location Exhibit (surveyor's fee to be paid by seller)

Purpose is to provide a representation of the information gathered at the time of inspection. It is based on existing but not confirmed boundary evidence and is subject to any inaccuracies that a boundary survey might reveal. No property corners will be set and no warranty as to the location of the true boundary of the subject property is extended to the present or future owners or occupants.

*Boundary Survey and Improvement Location Exhibit (surveyor's fee to be paid by seller, however the monetary difference between a location exhibit and a boundary survey shall be paid by the buyer)

Purpose is to provide verified boundary information as the basis for the improvement location exhibit.

A Boundary Survey and Improvement Location Exhibit usually provides:

  1. Located and verified property corners established at the time of survey;
  2. Record and measured bearings and distances along the property lines;
  3. Recomputed acreage or square feet;
  4. Measured offsets from boundary lines to permanent structures;
  5. Locations of fences and retaining walls with respect to the property boundaries.

Sometimes, home buyers may find themselves faced with the "re-use" of an Improvement Location Exhibit prepared at some point in the past and in possession of the owner or lender.

Caution must be exercised in this practice, since the Land Surveyor's certificate is only reliable as to the date of survey and with an original seal and signature, and probably does not extend into the future where building additions may have been constructed, fences built or moved, etc.

Relying on a "re-used" Improvement Location Exhibit is not relying on the opinion of a disinterested third party.

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