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The Benefits of Getting a Survey When Purchasing a Home

Mar 23, 2021 | Written by: Lori K. MacWilliam, Esq. |

As a home buyer prepares for closing, a question that usually comes up is “Do I need a survey?”  The answer is, generally, yes.  Often, the lender will require that a survey be obtained, but even when the lender does not require a survey, there are many good reasons to incur the expense of hiring a land surveyor.  Those reasons include:

  • Know your lot lines. A surveyor will plot out the boundaries of the lot with measurements.  This is important if a conflict arises with a neighbor.
  • Check for encroachments. A survey will determine if any buildings or improvements, such as a fence or garage, on a neighboring lot encroach onto the lot that the home buyer is purchasing. If they do, the home buyer can require the seller to engage with the neighbor and remove the encroachment. A survey will also show whether any building or improvement on the lot that the home buyer is purchasing encroaches onto a neighboring lot.  If the current owner constructed a driveway or fence over the lot line onto the neighbor’s lot, the home buyer can require the seller to correct the encroachment or obtain an easement from the neighbor prior to closing.
  • Verify the building envelope. Municipalities have set-back ordinances which prohibit construction within a certain footage from adjacent lots and streets. A survey will show the “building envelope,” which is the area within the setbacks, and locate the current home’s relation to such setbacks.  A survey may show that the current home has improvements constructed outside of the building envelope, in which case further research will need to be done to determine if this was permitted at the time of construction.  If the home buyer is purchasing the lot with the intent to construct an addition, porch, or deck extension, he or she will be able to determine whether such construction will be allowed without a variance by looking at the building envelope.
  • Locate easements and rights of way. A survey should show any easements that affect the lot such as conservation easements, sight triangle easements, road maintenance or road widening easements, or rights of way that allow others to cross or use the land.

A licensed surveyor will certify the survey to the home buyer and the lender, which warranties that the survey is complete and accurate.  Only these certified parties can hold the surveyor responsible if the survey is found to be inaccurate.  If the seller has a survey and provides a copy to the home buyer, that may cover many of the concerns listed above, but if the survey is inaccurate, the surveyor will not be responsible to the new owner or the new lender because the certifications only show the seller and the seller’s lender.

The issue of whether to incur the cost of obtaining a new survey should always be discussed with your attorney during the home purchase process.


Lori K. MacWilliam, Esq. focuses her law practice on real estate, estate planning & administration, and general corporate matters. Please feel free to contact her at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.