The Importance of Being Surveyed

Sheri Dixon
10 Min Read

Ten years ago I was overworked, underpaid, alone in the world and adrift without a home to call my own.  That has all happily been remedied, but none of it has been without a lot of work, and even more luck.

I still work hard, but enjoy it much more.  My financial reimbursement is more in keeping with the quality work I strive to deliver.  Some people who like me, some who love me and some who are even content to live with me surround me.  And I was fortunate to find this place I call home on a land contract purchase.  It was a happy day when I signed papers to buy this land and an even happier day to receive the deed free and clear from our county tax office.

Interested, since I had never seen the legal description of my land, I playfully paced out my east lot line (the only one that’s a pretty straight shot over pretty level land).  I started at the north corner and counted out paces.  I looked up when I reached what should’ve been the end.

Curious… my house was up ahead of me by about 100 feet.

Confidently, I started at the other end of the east lot line and counted off paces.  I looked up.

There was my house, teasing me from 100 feet away again.

This was potentially bad.

My mind has a wonderful way of being able to fly off in several directions simultaneously.  I think there are medications for that…

My first thought was, “Very nice.  I don’t own my house.”

My second thought was, “Who DOES own my house and will I have to buy it from them?”

My third thought was, “What’s the cure for hyperventilation?”

Of course, this all took place after 5 PM so I got to stew on all the above till the next morning.

At 9:00 AM and 1 second the next day, I was on the phone with the tax office, anonymously, of course.  (Like they couldn’t see me on caller ID) I told them that “this friend of mine” had a little problem with her legal description.

Surprisingly, Tax Office Lady informed me that it was not uncommon for legal descriptions to be wrong (shouldn’t they be called close guesses then?), and that “my friend” needed to talk to her neighbors to ascertain where THEY thought the lot lines were.  If there was no argument as to their boundaries, all I had to do was have a new survey done according to the agreed-upon area and file it with the tax office.

I have two neighbors: one on the south side and one on the north and west sides.  The east side is a county road.  South Side Neighbor said, “I just had my land surveyed when I bought the place and I KNOW that my lot lines are the corner posts of my fences.  I am OK with you re-surveying using those posts as my corners”.  One down.

West/North side neighbor is the bank president here in our little town and his family has been here forever and owns a lot of land.  He said, “I know MY lot lines are the fence posts and am OK with you re-surveying using those posts as my corners”.


I called Tax Office Lady back (anonymously) and had two more questions for her to answer before I could breathe again.  Since a new survey would cost over $500, and I did not have a spare $500 at my disposal, would it hurt anything to just ignore the situation for now?  She told me the only way it could hurt anything is if the neighbors changed their minds regarding their lot lines.  OK, I can ignore a situation.  I have had years of practice learning to ignore things I can’t change at the moment.

My second question was since “my friend’s” land was obviously larger than described, once I (I mean “she”) (sheesh) got around to surveying, would “she” owe back taxes on the land “she” didn’t know she had?  Tax Office Lady was quick to reply (lending more credence to the belief that this happens more often than you’d like to think), “No, but she will have to pay taxes on the newly surveyed piece once it’s registered in the tax office”.  Fair enough.

Years later, we were faced with tackling some large projects that we were neither young enough nor skilled enough to handle.  These included new siding, a new roof, heating ductwork, and attending to electrical issues.  We had done everything we could on our own and paid as we went, but these were buggers. By the time we could save up to do the siding, the roof would’ve fallen in.  By the time we could save up for the roof, the house would’ve burnt down from an electrical fire, and by the time we could save up for the electrical work; we would’ve frozen to death from lack of adequate heat.  (Except for that few toasty minutes it would’ve taken for the house to burn down.)

We bit the bullet and got ourselves a Home Improvement Loan.

Have I regretted getting the loan?  Yes.

Have I fully appreciated the things we were able to do to our home with that money?  Yes.

Are we repaying it as quickly as humanly possible?  You betcha.  The POINT of admitting to getting this note is that we needed to get a survey in order to do it.  (And also to let others know that sometimes we do things we don’t want to do, and it’s OK.  There is a lot of talk about striking out to the country “debt-free” and I admit that that’s the way to go if you are diligent, plan well and are very very lucky.  Do not consider yourself a Homestead Failure if you need a mortgage to get you to a place of your own.  Just get the best deal you can, the best rate you can, and work like the Devil to pay it off as soon as possible.  Paying an extra $100 each month on the principal can decrease the term of your loan by up to 50%)

Back to the POINT.

Our survey cost us about $800 and once registered with the county raised our taxes exactly zero dollars, since the land area was correct in the legal description, but the measurements were what was wrong.

We are now correct, recorded, and most importantly, our house is firmly planted on our land.

Now that we are looking at new land to move our house to, we are finding it exasperating that 10 times out of 10, the realtor will NOT KNOW WHERE THE LOT LINES ARE on a parcel.

How the heck are you supposed to be expected to make a serious offer without that knowledge?  I guess if you are just looking for a hunk of land to plunk a McMansion down on, it doesn’t matter how many trees there are, if the ridge or valley are part of the property or if that surface water is shared with another landowner.

It matters to me.

A lot.

Although I will not overlook a piece that states “no current survey available”, if I got really serious about it, the seller and I would have to have a talk about getting one, and not at my expense.

A current, accurate survey is good insurance, both for the buyer and the seller.  It is not a good feeling to stand at the end of your land and peer at your house floating independently of it.  Knowing EXACTLY what you are buying provides peace of mind, and in the world of homesteading, between learning new skills and the fickleness of crops and livestock; we need all the peace of mind we can get.


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