What are they different types of surveys and what do I need?


There are several types of survey, each of which will show differing aspects or features of a property. The various survey forms are listed below. The definitions of each are drawn from information contained as an insert with a publication titled Protecting Your Biggest Investment, Questions and Answers on Property Surveys published by the NC Society of Surveyors, Inc. And reprinted with its permission.

Boundary Survey

Includes locations of existing or newly set property corners with the boundaries of the property labeled with bearings and distances. The deed for the parcel or the recorded plat for the subdivision is used as the basis for surveying the property as well as setting missing property corners.  The survey typically will show improvements along or near the property boundaries but does not include improvements inside the property.  The maps for these surveys are not required to be recorded in the Register of Deeds office but can be at the clients request.  See mapping requirements below for unrecorded boundary surveys.

Closing or Title Insurance Survey

A boundary survey is the base survey but a closing or title survey will include visible improvements and structures inside of the residential property being purchased.  This survey is typically used for residential real estate closings or planning for home additions or improvements. The maps for these surveys are not required to be recorded in the Register of Deeds office and typically do not meet recording size standards or requirements.

Subdivision Survey

Defined as creating a new parcel(s) of land from an existing parcel of land.  A boundary survey is the base survey used to create the subdivision. Subdivision surveys (excluding exempt subdivisions) are typically regulated by local municipalities and new lots must conform to unified development ordinances (UDO) as well as zoning requirements for the area.  The maps for these surveys are generally required to be recorded in the Register of Deeds office.  See mapping requirements below for recorded map requirements.

Recombination Survey

This survey either moves property lines or removes property lines.  A boundary survey is the base survey used for the recombination map. To be considered a recombination survey, the net number of lots can not increase and lot areas as well all structures must still comply with zoning requirements.  The maps for these surveys are generally required to be recorded in the Register of Deeds office. See mapping requirements above for recorded map requirements.

ALTA / NSPS Survey

A boundary survey is the base survey but this can be a very detailed survey typically required by commercial lenders. The request for which must be in writing and the title research as well associated deeds are provided in a Title Commitment by the client or closing Attorney.  The scope of work for the survey is requested in a standard format called the "Table A" requirements".  The 2016 ALTA requirements are in the PDF below.

As-built Survey

Location of visible improvements inside of a property or locations of items specified by the client. 


Topographic Survey

A Topographic Survey is a survey that gathers data about the elevation of points on a piece of land and presents them as contour lines on a plot. The purpose of a topographic survey is to collect survey data about the natural and man-made features of the land, as well as its elevations.


Design Survey

Combines boundary, topographic and underground utility surveys which are utilized to design future improvements, such as a residential subdivisions, shopping centers, new streets or highways, etc.

Construction Survey

Stakes out buildings, roads, walls, utilities, etc. and includes horizontal and vertical grading, slope staking and final As-built surveys.


Who can perform a survey for me?

The only persons who may legally perform a valid survey in North Carolina are individuals who are actively licensed by the North Carolina State Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors pursuant to Chapter 89C of the North Carolina General Statutes. Land surveying may encompass a number of disciplines including geodetic surveying, hydrographic surveying, cadastral surveying, engineering surveying, route surveying, photogrammetric (aerial) surveying, and topographic surveying. A professional land surveyor may only practice within his/her area of expertise. Gathering information necessary to provide the requested service may be accomplished by conventional ground measurements, by aerial photography, by global positioning via satellites, or by a combination of methods.


Why have a survey?

Surveys are like appraisals in the sense that they only reveal the property=s condition at the point in time when the survey or appraisal is performed. As noted in an article by the Surveying Committee of the NC Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBEES) titled Beware of Use of Existing Surveys that was reprinted in the May 2012 Real Estate Bulletin, Vol 43, No. 1: ... The accuracy of any survey plat, as a snapshot in time, is only assured by the licensed surveyor on the date of performance of the survey.

At any time afterward, changes can occur, including, but not limited to:

  • Alteration of property corners

  • Encroachment of buildings or fences or other structures

  • New easements

  • Violations of current zoning laws

  • Revised buffer and flood zones

  • Sale of part of the property

  • Reshaping of impervious surface area Relying on plats that do not reflect changes occurring since the last survey has the potential to harm the purchaser of the property and the public....


Buyers who order a survey pay a relatively small price for peace of mind. Rather than relying on the seller‘s statements concerning boundaries or improvements added to the property since a previous survey was done, a buyer who invests in a survey will obtain written verification from a licensed professional of the boundaries and location of all improvements affecting the subject property.

The buyer may hold the surveyor accountable for the accuracy of his/her representations. A location survey will identify any encroachments, whether fences, driveways, landscaping, outbuildings, or easements, and will identify any issues such as minimum building lines or setback violations or whether any part of the property is in a flood zone. A current survey will allow the buyer to knowledgeably determine where s/he may wish to locate certain improvements or build fences or landscape without violating an adjacent owner’s property rights.


When do I need a property survey?

There are many instances when a person may need a land survey performed on their property. This applies for both commercial and residential property owners. Professional land surveyors have the expertise necessary to perform certain services that might be required for your survey. Things like the location of flood zones existing on the property, property line setback requirements for new buildings, tree locations when city or county requirements necessitate that service, and the resolution of where property lines lie.


If you own land, there is a good chance that you may find yourself in need of a land survey. Some common situations when a land survey is recommended and/or required included:


Purchasing Land – If you are about to purchase land, for any reason, it’s a great idea to have the land surveyed before you finalize the purchase. A land survey in this instance will allow you two things: 1) Clarity on where property lines lie and 2) Verification of the property’s acreage. In certain cases, the cost of the survey will be covered by the seller.


Selling Land – As a seller, having the property you are wishing to sell surveyed gives prospective buyers a great deal more information about the land property. Having a professional land surveyor perform the land survey before selling property provides buyers with a higher level of confidence.


Dividing Land – If you own a large plot of land and are wanting to divide it into smaller parcels / lots, a survey will be needed to make sure your land subdivide is done in accordance with local zoning laws and regulations.


Making Improvements or New Construction – In many areas, county and/or city laws will require a land survey to be performed before you can add improvements (like additional structures) to a property or undertake any large building project. If you are planning to have a garage addition or building a new structure, finding out if your area requires a land survey first is always recommended.


Property Conflict Resolution – When it comes to neighbors, property lines can be a touchy subject and conflicts can arise over where a property line actually lies. By having a land survey performed, by a registered licensed surveyor, you will know where those lines actually lie. That way you know with confidence where your property ends and your neighbor’s property begins, thereby helping you to settle these conflicts in accordance with local laws.



How much does a survey cost?

The cost of a survey will vary and is influenced by factors such as the size and shape of the property, the site conditions (e.g., heavily wooded, dense underbrush, waterways, or relatively open), the type of survey desired, and when and who last surveyed the property. A location survey of existing construction in an established neighborhood should cost less than a topographic survey of a 300 acre tract. Whatever the cost might be, the survey expense typically pales in comparison to the amount the purchaser is investing to purchase the property often less than one-half of one percent of the purchase price. A worthwhile investment? A question each buyer must answer for himself or herself.


Here is an example of deed we found on a piece of property that they owner wanted surveyed. This survey would be dependent upon several factors, one being, “is that rock still there?”
















Why should I care about a survey to close, my realtor is getting it done and I just need it to close, RIGHT?

It used to be that if the purchase of a residential property was being financed by a third-party lender, the lender often would require a current survey by a licensed surveyor before extending the loan. In recent years, however, it appears that many lenders no longer require a survey in order for the purchaser to obtain a loan. This may be due in part to the fact that many title insurance companies will now extend title insurance coverage to lenders only for at least some matters, such a easements or boundary line disputes, that would have been shown by a survey had a survey been conducted. Whether the title insurance company will afford coverage to lenders for encroachments often is determined on a case by case basis and may depend on the extent and severity of the encroachment. This title insurance coverage for at least some matters that would have been shown by a survey extends only to lenders. The borrower-purchaser generally is not protected under the owner’s policy (if purchased) against defects in title that would have been revealed by a survey. Even if the purchaser’s lender does not require a current survey, there are good reasons why the purchaser should consider ordering a survey.


How can getting a “cheap” survey go wrong?

Unfortunately, there are too many to tell, whether it’s commercial or residential, we have assisted many home owners, contractors and realtors correct issues that were caused by “just getting the cheapest, quickest” survey done.  It is important to protect your investment with a surveyor that has training, experience, technology and reputation to not only survey, but has the ability to foresee potential obstacles in the future, whether it be zoning, construction, wetland, right of way or other governmental issues. This way, those obstacles can be addressed early, saving time, money and headache.


How important is a survey for title insurance?

While title insurance companies may provide title insurance coverage to lenders for at least some matters that would have been shown by a survey even though none was performed, the borrower-purchaser generally is not protected under the owner’s policy against defects in title that would have been revealed by a survey. Typically, the owner’s policy (if one is purchased) includes as a general exception from coverage any defects that would have been revealed by a survey. Understand that even if the borrower-purchaser has a survey performed and it reveals the existence of easements or encroachments or other defects, all such defects will be specifically enumerated in the title insurance policy as exceptions and excluded from coverage. Thus, either way, an owner’s title insurance policy will except or exclude coverage for defects that are or would have been disclosed by a survey. The primary difference is that by ordering a survey, the borrower learns prior to settlement of the presence of these matters that may influence his/her decision to proceed with the purchase of the property. A purchaser who timely orders a survey at the outset of his/her due diligence period will be able to verify:

  1. The actual size and shape of the property and the location of all structures, fences, driveways, etc.,

  2. Whether there are any easements or rights-of-way affecting the property, such as railroad corridors, unused utility easements, or a little used easement providing access to an adjacent landlocked tract,  

  3. Compliance with any setback requirements, 

  4. The existence of any buffers impacting the property, e.g., stormwater management, water quality controls, vegetation buffers, etc., and

  5. Whether the property is in a designated flood zone.


While the purchaser might learn of some of the foregoing issues from the closing attorney’s title search, it generally is too late at that point for the buyer to terminate the purchase agreement without forfeiting his/her earnest money deposit. Additionally, the attorney’s title search will not typically disclose problems related to setback requirements or encroachment issues or possibly flood zone matters, and clearly won’t indicate the tract’s dimensions or the location of all improvements thereon.



I have an existing survey, can you just use it and mark my property lines?

Simply put, “no.”  As a licensed surveyor, we would need to verify any data.  Would you build a home if the builder said, “the old builder told me the plumbing is underground in that area, so we can build it there…?”  No, hopefully your builder would want to verify it before hand.

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