What are the different types of surveys?

The following is a list of the different types of land surveys. For a more comprehensive explanation click on the appropriate survey.
A.L.T.A. Survey
Mortgage Survey
Boundary Survey
Topographic Survey
Control Survey
Court Exhibit Survey
Construction Survey


A.L.T.A. Survey: A survey made for the purpose of supplying a title company and lender with survey and location data necessary for issuing American Land Title Association

Mortgage Survey: A survey or a report that shows the shape, size, and existing buildings of the property for the mortgage lender use.

Boundary Survey: A survey for the express purpose of locating the corners, boundary lines, all physical improvements, means of access from a public right-of-way, location and description of any fences along or near your boundaries and any other physical and visible matters which could affect your use and enjoyment of your property. This involves record and field research, measurements, and computations to establish boundary lines in conformance with the State Law and Professional Organizations. Easement lines may also be located and/or established with this type of survey.

Topographic Survey: A survey locating topographic features - natural and man made - such as buildings, improvements, fences, elevations, trees, streams, contours of the land, etc. This type of survey may be required by a governmental agency, or may be used by engineers and/or architects for design of improvements or developments on a site.

Control Survey: Precise location of horizontal and vertical positions of points for use in boundary determination, mapping from aerial photographs, construction staking, and other related purposes.

Court Exhibit Survey: Analysis of various legal description and survey maps, field locating of record, existing monuments, and physical features, and mapping showing this information for the purpose of presenting a visual exhibit to be used in a courtroom.

Construction Survey/Staking: Construction staking of improvements shown on improvement plans for control of construction on developments for roads, parking lots, buildings, pipelines, etc.

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Who can perform a survey?

In the State of Michigan, only a registered land surveyor can perform a survey. 

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Can I find my own property lines?

Legally, you must be licensed to establish a property line. The requirement of licensure to practice Surveying protects the public. If you determine your own property lines, for your own use, you take the risk of being wrong in your determination. If you then built something from your determinations, or findings, and were in error, your opinion would not even be admissible in court, due to the fact that you are not licensed to practice Surveying. If your neighbor had a Surveyor employed to determine the line(s) and you did it yourself, you are beginning by being wrong, having taken that risk. Is it worth it? You can decide that. Land usually costs a great deal of money. It does make sense to know where the property lines are.

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When is a survey needed?

  1. When buying land, to protect the investment you are about to make.
  2. When selling land, to insure that you are selling just that part intended
  3. When land is not clearly defined by a plat or legal description.
  4. Before land is divided by deed, will or by a court.
  5. When a money-lending agency requires a survey, for mortgage purposes.
  6. Before a building, house or fence is built close to an indefinite property line.
  7. Before a lot is conveyed from a larger tract and the lot has not been surveyed.
  8. Before timber is to be cut near a doubtful line.
  9. When purchasing title insurance.
  10. When a line or corner location is unknown or in dispute.
  11. When you believe someone is encroaching on your land.
  12. When purchasing flood insurance.
  13. When clearing land or doing construction in �wetland areas under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers or the Division of the LA Dept. of Natural Resources.

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Isn't my survey on file someplace?

No, not necessarily. Across the U.S., laws, ordinances, customs and requirements differ on whether you have to file a "Survey". Often, "Subdivision Plats" which are prepared by Surveyors, are filed of record in the local Government Courthouse. Many people view these as a "Survey", because they can see their lot on it. If you can find record documentation to substantiate what you "own" compared to what is referred to on the "subdivision plat", it may help you determine what the "approximate" dimensions of a lot are. Keep in mind that these distances as shown are only approximate. The true distance of a lot line is that which is measured between the positions of original, undisturbed lot corners of the subdivision plat. The Land Surveyor is the one who determines these "positions", and determine whether they may be original, undisturbed positions.

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Isn't my property already surveyed?

No, not necessarily. Across the U.S., laws, ordinances, customs and requirements differ on whether you can build without a Survey, or sell land without a Survey. For the land that is "Surveyed", one often asks how to find that "Surveyed" land boundary on the ground, not just on a piece of paper. This aids in building fences, landscaping, entry roads and driveways, etc. etc.

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If an attorney has certified that the title of a parcel of land is clear, is a survey still necessary?

Yes, if you want to know the location of the boundaries.  It is the function of the surveyor to locate the parcel on the ground.

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Will a Land Surveyor tell me what I own?

No. It is you responsibility to furnish the Surveyor with a legal description, current title report, or policy concerning the parcel that you want surveyed. He/she will then locate the property on the ground, marking the corners with physical monuments, and provide you with a record of survey map showing the results of the survey. He/she will also disclose the areas that are in conflict so that the title company and/or attorney can resolve any problems.

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  1. The exact purpose of the survey.
  2. A legal description of your property or the book and page where it is recorded in the Register of Deeds Office.
  3. Copies of plats of adjacent parcels showing your common boundaries and any additional information you may have about the locations of your corners and property lines.
  4. A brief history of ownership and past conveyances, abstract or title opinion.
  5. The names and addresses of adjacent land owners.
  6. Any information about disagreements over the location of corners and/or lines.
  7. An agreement as to who is to pay the cost of the survey and when.
  8. A copy of all available title examination notes.

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Professional surveyors can:

  1. Examine your deed and those of adjacent land owners and look for evidence on the ground to see if there are problems.
  2. Advise whether you actually need a survey.
  3. Find your property corners and mark them properly.
  4. Mark and paint boundary lines.
  5. Perform the following types of surveys: route, boundary, subdivision, court, mortgage inspection, construction, topographic, etc.
  6. Locate wells, buildings, fences, rights-of�-way, easements, encroachments, and other evidence of possession.
  7. Advise and cooperate with your attorney, title insurance company, realtor, broker, banker, engineer, or architect.
  8. Appear in court as an expert witness.
  9. Perform work in accordance with United States surveying laws and practices, state, county, and municipal laws and regulations.

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What steps does a surveyor take in making a boundary survey?

1. Research at the Registry of Deeds and often in Town and County records to obtain all the available information on the property to be surveyed, and the abutting parcels of land. This may require tracing ownership and history of a parcel of land back 100 years or more to locate the boundaries referred to in the present owner's deed.
2. Field Survey.  This includes searching for existing markers and evidence of location, and making necessary measurement on the ground.
3. Evaluation and interpretation of research and field data and reaching final conclusions.
4. Setting new boundary markers where needed.
5. Preparation of a scale plan of the survey.
6. Preparing a report where needed.
Frequently Items 1, 3, 5 & 6 make up over half the cost of the survey.

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Is a plan of the survey necessary?

In most cases the answer is yes, however, this is dependent upon your needs.  The plan provides you with a permanent record of the survey.  If any of your boundary marks are lost or destroyed, they can be replaced using the information on the plan.  Usually a plan is stamped or embossed with the land surveyor's seal of registration.  This indicates that he has verified and checked his work and that he stands ready to defend it.

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What will the plan show?

1.  Boundaries and boundary markers with the direction and length of each boundary line and with an identifying description of each monument.
2.  Rights of way, easements, and encroachments affecting the property surveyed.
3.  Improvements on the property surveyed.
4.  Evidence of location found and used in the survey.

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After the survey is completed, what should be done with it?

Unless you have requested otherwise, your surveyor will provide you with copies of the plan.  Frequently, it will be recommended that the original plan be recorded at the county Register of Deeds.  By recording the survey, you are providing complete and up-to-date information on your boundaries as public record.  This will help to avoid future problems such as boundary disputes or retracement difficulties.  If your surveyor finds any condition which he believes could affect title or use of any portion of the property surveyed, he will report this to you and probably recommend that you consult your attorney.  Again, this resource is recommended with the purpose of preventing future difficulties.

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Why are there conflicting boundary and easement lines?

It is often true that boundary/easement line disputes, gaps, and overlaps are a result of legal descriptions which were originally written and recorded without the benefit of the services of a competent Land Surveyor. It is important to have the lines properly described and surveyed when property or easement lines are created or changed. Any newly created or adjusted boundary line requires processing through the local government agency as required by the Land Division Act and local ordinance.

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How much will a survey cost?

The cost for most land surveying work is determined, based on the variables listed below. For a more comprehensive explanation click on the cost you are interested in.

Type of Survey
Record search
Size and shape of property
Sectionalized Survey Work
Amount of existing evidence on the property
Local knowledge of property
Abutter Difficulties
Time of Year
Title Company Requirements
Record of Survey or Corner Record

Because of these variables, it is difficult to determine exact fees. However, based on general experience and the requirements for work, the Surveyor can furnish an approximate estimate of costs.
Remember - The services of a Registered Professional Land Surveyor will cost you less in time and money than the worry and cost of moving a fence and/or building

Type of Survey: Costs may increase as the required precision and scope of the survey increase.

Record search: This varies by (a) the number of parcels involved; and (b) the number of past transactions. (This necessary step is complicated by the casual manner in which land transactions have been handled in the past, resulting in many vague, incomplete, and often contradictory legal descriptions and land records).

Size and shape of property: An irregularly shaped parcel has more concerns to monument than a rectangular parcel containing the same area.

'Sectionalized Survey Work: This could require the survey of the entire section (640 acres +) in which the land being surveyed lies, regardless of the area of the parcel. In some cases, a survey of more than one section is required, depending on the location of the parcel in question in relation to the section shown on the government plat.

Terrain: A level parcel of land is easier to survey than a mountain parcel.

Vegetation: Branches, brush, and small trees must frequently be cleared to afford a line of sight for the Surveyor. Shrubs, flowers, and trees on home sites are normally not disturbed, but may require additional field time to perform work around them.

Accessibility: The time to perform the surveying work varies with the distance to, and the difficulty in reaching, the corners of the site.

Amount of existing evidence on the property: Existing evidence such as iron, wood, or stone monuments, old fences and occupation lines, witness trees, etc., aid the Surveyor. Their absence may compound difficulties involved in retracing the original survey.

Local knowledge of property: Someone pointing out accepted occupation lines and monumentation is a considerable aid to the Surveyor.

Abutter Difficulties: When neighbors are cooperative, an otherwise difficult or impossible boundary line location may be established by boundary line agreement.

Time of Year: In summer, foliage may present problems making traversing difficult. In winter, weather may slow travel to and on site, and sometimes conceal field evidence.

Title Company Requirements: Title companies may require considerable more documentation than is normally required by the average land owner.

Record of Survey or Corner Record: This map or record is often required by state law if matters addressed by the Corner Recordation Act are encountered while surveying your property. This will cause the mapping cost to increase, and requires the payment of checking and recording fees.

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  1. Inspect your property lines occasionally.
  2. Repaint monuments, marked trees, or other markers frequently.
  3. Maintain and protect your survey plats and other related documents.



  1. Do not move or relocate monuments; to do so is a violation of the law.
  2. Select only a registered Professional/Registered Land Surveyor to do your surveying work; a  surveyor who is not registered in a state cannot legally survey for the public in that state.
  3. Contact and engage the services of a Professional/Registered Land Surveyor well before the survey is needed

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