Imagine this scenario: A few months ago, you decided to pack up your things and move to a more suburban area in hopes of living in a more quiet, relaxing environment. You closed on the perfect home and conducted a title search at the recommendation of your real estate agent that came back clean. You’ve heard the cost of living is lower, the community is great, and – best of all – there’s way more outdoor space than your last place had.
However, a weeks after moving in, you looked out your window and saw something strange. Your next-door neighbor was installing a fence on YOUR property.
But when you went outside to introduce yourself and acknowledge the “elephant in the yard”, the conversation went a very different way. You were told it’s actually not part of your property; in fact, not even those gorgeous spruce trees that caught your eye in the pictures fall on your side of the property line. And now you’ll have to stare at this fence every single day and wonder what could have been…
So, how did this happen?
WHAT A TITLE SEARCH DOES
It’s not uncommon or unrealistic for homeowners to assume they’re protected in the above scenario, especially when they purchase title insurance. However, a title search only confirms the legal ownership of a property – it does not reveal any extra details about the property or location.
More specially, it shows the chain of title, or anyone who has owned the property in the past and who it was transferred to (much like verifying the previous ownership of a motor vehicle). It will also reveal if there are any general real estate taxes against the property or outstanding judgments that could impact the new owner’s claim to the home or its value.
THE BENEFITS OF GETTING A SURVEY
What the new homeowner should have done in that scenario is purchased a property survey prior to closing, which provides an abundance of valuable information. Here are some of the benefits that come with getting a survey on top of a basic title search.
SIZE AND LOCATION
A licensed surveyor will be able to provide legal documentation that details the exact location of boundary lines and which structures you legally own on and near the property. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out that your home sits on much more land than you initially anticipated. On the flip side, a survey might reveal that your property’s boundary lines fall short of your expectations.
UNDISCLOSED RIGHTS AND EASEMENTS
Beyond its location and legal existence, a survey will show any recorded, physical improvements in relation to the property. As a new homeowner, it’s important to know to your easement rights, or how your property is being used by another individual, agency, or public entity (for parking, utilities, landscaping work etc.). For example, your neighbor may not even be able to access their property without crossing through yours, so these types of agreements are fairly common.
An encroachment, on the other hand, happens when someone violates your property rights by extending past the lawful boundaries in place. It can as simple as an overgrown hedge or something more serious like a storm pipe running through the middle of your backyard without your prior knowledge. You can’t make a claim against any individual or entity without legal ground to stand on, and that’s where the property survey comes into play.
BE PROACTIVE WITH YOUR PROPERTY, NOT REACTIVE
Simply put, it’s all in the paperwork. If and when you decide to get a permit or dispute a property line agreement, you’ll need a survey that’s been certified to you. Not to mention, these disagreements can put a damper on any future plans you have for your home, like building your own fence, extension, or even a swimming pool.
Work with your title agent to do the necessary research and due diligence ahead of time so you can steer clear of these situations. Purchasing a property survey will give you peace of mind, help you protect your investment, and minimize those awkward encounters with your neighbors.