Do You Need A Survey For Your Acreage?

When you see a specific acreage on a "for sale" sign, do you ever wonder where the exact acreage figure comes from?

When you see a specific acreage on a "for sale" sign, do you ever wonder where the exact acreage figure comes from? How does the seller know exactly how many acres he is selling? And how do you know (for certain) how many acres you are buying?

It's probably no surprise that sellers often use tax records, recorded deeds, wills, family records, drawings, court documents and historical documents to determine acreage. But what may surprise you is that all of these sources can be — and quite often are — incomplete or dead wrong.

Hard to believe, isn't it? Land deeds frequently use vague language like "100 acres more or less" to describe a property, and that description is often based on the language in a previous deed, which got its language from a previous deed, and so on. Family members bequeath property to their heirs using acreage assessments based on what great grand-daddy said his father told him. Unfortunately, tax records and many other legitimate- looking documents rely on these unreliable sources for their information, without performing any verification. I see it regularly, and I've been involved in many transactions where land acreages were off'┬Žsometimes way off.

This revelation only creates more questions. When you see an aerial map, how can you be sure the property lines are correct? When you see flagged or painted trees, how do you know the lines are marked correctly? When you see physical features like a fence line or a metal stake, how can you be sure that's where the property line is? The short answer? You can't!

Boundary errors, inaccuracies and property disputes happen every day. Landowners, agents, foresters, neighbors and fence installers often get it wrong. To make matters worse, sometimes the lines move. This happens when the boundaries are based on the location of creeks, roads, or on agreements made between amiable neighbors with short memories, all of which can change over time.

So, as a buyer, how do you verify acreage and boundary lines? The only reliable source of exact acreage is a survey, performed by a licensed surveyor. If you don't utilize one, you can't know the exact acreage. And unless the property lines are surveyed and marked, you won't know where those are, either. You should be aware, however, that surveyors rarely clear and mark the lines (either with flagging or paint) as part of the surveying process. If you want clearly marked property lines, you'll need to ask for it and be prepared to pay a little extra.

Does this mean you need to pay for a survey every time you purchase property? Not necessarily. Sometimes surveys already exist, but haven't been referenced in the deed. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances where going without a survey is worth the risk. I've done it, but I don't recommend it. However, if your purchase includes borrowing money from any lending institution, you will almost always be required to have the property surveyed in order to close the deal.

Even where surveys already exist, paying for an updated survey can be a good idea. When surveys are old, or there are possible boundary line encroachments, or you suspect a potential dispute with a neighbor over fences, access or easements, a new survey is worth the investment. And if there is a potential dispute or uncertainty over acreage, boundary lines or easements, it is not unreasonable to ask a seller to pay for all or part of the survey.

That survey will guarantee that the property you buy is the property you receive.

Don Webb is the author of "Maximizing The Land Ownership Experience" and president of Greenwood Land Company, which provides land acquisition and consulting services. Contact him at (706) 575-4178 or go online to

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