Should you get a survey?

Ryan Jenkins

An episode of the Northern Colorado Real Estate Ramp Up podcast by Ryan Jenkins

Listen to this episode to learn about land surveys – why you should get one when you buy property, what are the different types and how much they cost.

Podcast Transcript…

Hey friends, this is Ryan Jenkins, thanks for tuning into this episode of the Fort Collins Real Estate Ramp Up Podcast. Today we’re going to talk about surveys, what they are and why you should get one, why a lot of people don’t get one and how much they cost and all that good stuff. So, let’s jump right in. A survey is essentially a drawing of the boundaries of a parcel of real estate and it shows all kinds of things. It shows where the property is in relationship to other properties around it. It shows the dimensions of the property, it shows improvements of the property, like it shows where the house is, it will show where a well is, where fences are, where sheds are sidewalks, even in some cases, trees and things like that. So, it’s basically just a drawing of the property and there’s a couple of different kinds of surveys.

The first is what we call an ILC, which is an improvement location certificate. I actually don’t typically recommend that clients get these, because it’s essentially it’s a drawing of the property, but they don’t actually locate where the pins are in the pins are like the corners of the property. The corner of a piece of real estate, they will actually drive a metal pin into the ground as a monument to show where the corner is. And, on a real survey, if they can’t find those pins, they will actually place them in the ground. And when you get an Ilc, you don’t really get anything like that. Essentially, they’re just walking out and doing a drawing of the property to make sure there’s no obvious encroachments. An encroachment is when some part of a neighboring property is going over the boundary of your property. So, essentially mortgage companies kind of invented ILCs a cheaper form of a survey that people could do in order to have a surveyor go out and look at the property and say, “everything pretty much looks good. There’s no obvious problems. It’s not like the neighbor’s house is built straddling the property line.” An ILC is about $400, a full survey for a typical quarter acre property is going to be about double that, about $800. And, we always recommend our clients get the full survey because they’re just a lot more detailed and it’s a little bit more money, but, to me, it makes all the difference in the world. Because, we’re doing these surveys, while our clients have these properties under contract, once you buy the property, you can’t do anything about these problems. So, you really want to find this stuff out before you buy the house because then you can either ask, if it’s a big issue, you can ask for money off of the price of the home, or you can ask the seller to correct it, or you can terminate the contract and walk away and get your earnest money back. I used to practice real estate in Texas along long time ago and Texas is very different than Colorado in that everybody has surveys kind of on hand. If you bought a property, you probably got a survey when you bought it. Usually if you are evaluating a property, you could go in and the seller would just say, “here’s the survey and you say great!” And, if it was really old you might have it updated by a surveyor just to make sure there weren’t any new improvements or a new easement or something like that that, that they might find.

Colorado is kind of the exact opposite. Almost nobody does surveys. A lot of times you’ll see surveys on larger acreage properties, but it’s very rare that you’ll see a survey done on a smaller property like a typical quarter acre, or eighth of an acre property in a neighborhood. You will see the neighborhood plat on a neighborhood that’s been recently developed. You can get from the county, a plat that shows kind of where all the lots are. And, a lot of times a single plat might show 50 or a hundred lots, so you don’t get a lot of detail. But, you can get those plats and sometimes those are sufficient in order for people to not have to go ahead and buy a new survey. But, my point is that when you, when you come to Colorado, it’s strange because a lot of people don’t do surveys and, and they sort of kind of buy the property and hope for the best as far as the property boundaries and hope that the fence lines are placed properly on the property boundaries and that there are no encroachments. But, we really are encouraging our clients strongly to spend that $800 and get a survey. And, I’ll tell you a couple stories so that you can sort of understand why. We had a client recently that almost closed on a home, a new construction property on some acreage in northwest Fort Collins and it was found that the house had actually been built straddling the property line. So, the corner, a five foot corner section of the house was actually built on the neighbor’s property. And, you can imagine there are setbacks at the county has, so you can’t build a house right up to the property line. There are actually set-backs. So, obviously it’s a huge deal that the encroachment existed, but there was also setbacks that should have been accounted for. So, this is a major error by any stretch of the imagination. Thankfully, it was caught because while we were doing our due diligence, we were calling survey companies, or actually it was not me, it was one of my agents was calling a survey company and she was lucky enough to talk to a survey or that had surveyed the property. Actually, I think he was looking at the GIS map while she was on the phone with him and noticed this encroachment. And, so the client actually ended up not buying the property. Actually, they didn’t even have to do a survey, because of what they had already found out. But, these are the kind of things that you can run into. Another time, this is actually not one of our clients, but a colleague of ours that we heard about, a client purchased a property in Old Town Fort Collins and found that there was a sewer line for a neighbor’s property that was running underneath the foundation of the house that they bought. And, that might not be a problem for some people, but for this particular buyer who was doing a renovation on this property and was wanting to tear the home down and, and build a new house with a foundation, this sewer line was shallow enough where it inhibited his ability to dig this new foundation for this new house. So, it was a huge deal and it was not caught. So, there’s basically an easement that says you know, your neighbor’s sewer line runs underneath your house, and that should have been caught on a title search and it certainly would have been caught on a survey as well. And, so these are some of the things that can happen when you don’t do a survey. On my personal residence, I surveyed my property before I bought it. I have an acre lot and I found out that my neighbor’s fence was built encroaching on my property. In other words, his fence was built on my property by about about 15 feet at the back of the property and then slowly the strip of land got narrower as it came up to the front of the lot. But, essentially he was using about 15 feet of my property towards the back of the lot. And, so this is obviously a big deal. I was happy that I knew about it before I bought the house. We ended up not doing anything about it. Because, we talked to the neighbor and he gave us a letter from his attorney and it was their opinion that the fence had been that way for so long that they had actually acquired the property through what we call “adverse possession.” And, that is something that there’s a number of different kinds of criteria that you have to satisfy in order satisfy the adverse possession requirements. And, he believed that he had satisfied those requirements and basically I didn’t want to move into this house and start arguing with this guy and trying to re-aquire some of my backyard. The lot was big enough as it is, when I bought it I could obviously see where the fence lines were and I just said that’s fine with me. But, it certainly was nice to know, if that had been an issue that was a deal killer for me. I would have known about it before I bought the house. And, I could have asked for money off the price of the house. In this case, we felt like we were getting such a good deal and we were buying the property as is. We were getting it below market value that we didn’t ask the seller for any concessions. We ended up just buying the house and we’ve been very happy there. But, the point is surveys can show a huge number of issues that you want to know about before you buy the house. And, so we’re highly recommending a survey, I know it’s hard when you’re buying a house, there’s a lot of money that’s going out for inspections and sewer scopes and obviously down payment. And, the fact is a lot of people just don’t want to spend the additional $800 to do a survey and we certainly understand that. But, in my opinion, it is money very well spent. And, so we’re encouraging all of our clients to do these surveys.

I mentioned the ILC earlier. The best kind of a survey you can get is called an improvement survey plat. Nowadays,, we’re using satellite equipment to measure the dimensions of the property. And, then if they don’t actually find those metal pins, they will actually place those pins in the ground and they will look at the title of the property and find all the different easements that run with the property. And, an easement would be like an electrical easement, City of Fort Collins or Poudre Valley REA might have an easement and you can see where the electrical lines run on the property and see that the utility company has a right to access the property to maintain those lines. You’ll also, especially if you live on a busier street you’ll see right of ways and see how far into the property the city or the road might have right of way. And, right away basically means they could have the potential to expand the roads. That’s another thing that is super important to know. For so many reasons, we just highly recommend surveys and so, if you have any questions about this, let us know, But, just wanted to kind of give you a kind of a quick overview on some of the issues that we’re seeing and we really hope that we can kind of turn the tide and make surveys more common and just help people to understand why they should get one so that they can know everything they need to know about the property before they actually close. Because, that’s the only time you can do something about it!

Another thing I wanted to mention is I talked a little bit about adverse possession. It turns out that it is very difficult. So let’s say, you do find out that your neighbor’s fence is encroaching on your property. Even if they haven’t satisfied all the requirements for adverse possession. We’ve talked to our attorney about this. Turns out it is incredibly difficult to get somebody to, you move a fence. Actually we had another case I talked to my attorney about and he had a big case up in Estes Park where a client had a driveway. His neighbor built a driveway and it actually, the way that they built it encroached on his property a significant amount, I think it was six or 10 feet. And, he said, “obviously this is not right.” And, ended up employing an attorney to try to sue to have the driveway moved and he spent $50,000 on this legal battle. And, for whatever reason, I don’t know, was not able to force the neighbor to move the driveway. And, so just another reason to know about these issues up front because they’re very difficult to cure. And, so probably, in most cases you’re going to be either getting a big monetary concession for some sort of survey issue like an encroachment or you might be walking away from the deal. So hope that helps. Guys, let us know if you have any questions. This is Ryan Jenkins with Grey Rock Realty. You can reach us at (970) 689-0824 and we’d love to talk to you about any real estate needs that you have. You can also check us out on the web at Thanks so much for listening! Have a great day.

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