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Land Survening FAQs

Q. Why Should I Survey My Property?

Land Surveying is considered the second oldest profession in the world and more over it is an integral part of communities across the globe. Land Surveyors are highly trained professional that use their skills in mathematics, physics and cartography to complete their very precise work. Anyone who is developing property, either residential or commercial, needs a land survey company as it helps to plan and organize the development by taking into account the shape of the land. It is also important from a legal standpoint. Land surveying helps to establish property ownership and define boundaries between land owned by one person and the next.

If you are buying residential property, you should know whether your new neighbors are encroaching onto the property, or maybe the previous owner of the property you are buying was encroaching onto the neighbor’s property. You are unknowingly walking into an existing boundary dispute. This is basic due diligence that often is not practiced until disputes arise. For these reasons, it is also a good idea to have your property surveyed if you plan to sell. It is becoming more popular that a potential buyer wants a survey prior to purchase, which can sometimes hold up a sale. Have a survey completed and provide the map as part of your marketing material for potential buyers.

A good survey equals good neighbors. Knowing where your property boundaries are, on the ground, can be invaluable. Imagine this: you hire a fence contractor to install a fence on your property; you meet the contractor on site and show the crew where you want the fence built. You head off to work and they begin. You get home from work, excited to see the progress on your fence. You are inspecting their work and here comes your neighbor and he/she does not look happy… You can see where this story is going.

As friendly as your neighbors are, people get protective when it comes to boundary lines. A survey will identify the shared boundary and the fence can be built on that line without question. Knowing where the boundary is prior to building the fence will avoid future conflicts and costly fence relocations.

Q. How Much Would It Cost To Have My Property Surveyed?

How Much Does a Land Survey Cost?

The cost of a land survey depends upon several factors such as the type of survey required, the type of terrain and vegetation, accessibility, time or year, size and shape property, the amount of existing evidence and controlling monuments on the property, and whether or not the State will require* that a map be recorded detailing the survey work that was done. If your property is already included in a previously recorded survey or plat, you may only need to have the corner monuments verified or replaced and line points set along the property line to verify the boundary. If you are not sure about your property, WESI would welcome the opportunity to do the initial research and give you a free cost estimate.

Additionally, if you are working with an Architect, Contractor, or other consultant, we prefer to discuss your project with those professionals so that we can be certain that nothing is omitted, and your needs are thoroughly and efficiently met.

What to look for in a Land Surveyor

Land surveying services can be quite expensive, which is why you don’t want to make a poor decision for your money. Try to find personal recommendations and reviews or ask them to provide testimonials if possible. Do not choose a company on price alone; competency is the most important thing to take into account. The company should be properly licensed and fully insured. You want a surveying company that will stand behind their work in case there is a boundary dispute. More importantly, disputes can be prevented by correctly researched, performed, and documented surveys. You also want to find a survey company that will still be around when and if you need future surveying on your property, as they will be able to use the previous work (which you paid for) as a basis for the additional work. A complete and correct survey that meets your needs and legal requirements may cost more now but will be less expensive in the long run and will add value to your property. WESI is dedicated to providing landowners with prompt responses and reliable surveying services. Please call us at (425) 356-2700 for a free estimate or complete our online estimate request.

* The State of Washington requires that a Record of Survey map be recorded with the governing agency (County) within 90 days of the completion of work, when establishing a property boundary, not previously established. RCW 58.09.090

Interpreting Legal Descriptions

We sometimes get asked why it is so hard to determine the location of property lines on the ground. There is only one correct solution to the location of boundaries, but sometimes finding that solution is very difficult or even impossible. The description in the deed is of course extremely important, but is not the only evidence necessary for a correct solution. Evidence on the ground, other historical documents such as adjoining deeds and old survey maps are also important clues. The testimony of the property owner, neighbors and previous owners can also help find the correct location. At times, none of these things can clear up all the uncertainties and the parties on each side of the boundary line must come to an agreement of where the line will be. It is then the job of the Professional Surveyor to memorialize that agreed upon location with permanent survey markers, a recorded survey map and new legal descriptions which can be retraced should the markers be lost.

Q. Boundary Disputes – When to get an attorney involved?

You think that your neighbor may have planted his new trees on your property. What do you do? We recommend that you act immediately… there is no benefit to waiting, and if you let it go on long enough, the neighbor may try to claim the area through adverse possession.

First, ask yourself a few questions: 1. Did the previous owner tell you where the corners were? 2. Have you ever been provided with an old survey map?

If your answer is No, see Option A.

If you answer is Yes, the first step is to see if you can find any existing property corners. A property corner is a metal pipe or rebar that is driven flush with the ground and topped with a plastic cap (or metal disc on older surveys). There is usually a wooden stake placed close to the corner, called a witness post. The witness post is usually the first item to disappear or mysteriously move. The actual metal corner stands up to nature, although that does not mean it has not been tampered with. The metal corner is usually buried by debris, so a metal detector can help you locate it faster, if you know where to look.

If you are unsuccessful finding the corners, see Option A.

If you find the existing corners and it is obvious the neighbor’s new trees are on your property, see Option B.

OPTION A: Call a surveyor. As part of preparing a free estimate for you, a surveyor will perform research to look for surveys on your property and in the surrounding area. They will then provide you with a price to set property corners, or to recover/reset existing corners if there is evidence of a prior survey. Not all surveyors are created equal, so make sure you hire a firm you can trust to stand by you through the boundary dispute process. That being said, a surveyor will not take sides in a boundary dispute. Their job is to mark the property boundaries, document any encroachments, and assist with resolving the dispute.

Once the survey is complete, the surveyor will provide you with a copy of a *Record of Survey map; if the trees are not on your property and there are no other encroachments, then the problem is resolved.

However, if it is found that your neighbor has planted his new trees on your property, they will now be aware of it because they will see the clearly marked property boundaries. Continue to Option B.

OPTION B: Since you now know there is an obvious encroachment, we recommend that you have a discussion with your neighbor at this point. But if a peaceful resolution is not possible, we recommend that you contact a land use attorney. The Record of Survey map will serve as evidence of the encroachment and your attorney will want to see this map before proceeding.

* The State of Washington requires that a Record of Survey map be recorded with the governing agency (County) within 90 days of the completion of work, when establishing a property boundary, not previously established. RCW 58.09.090

Why Does My Survey Need to be Recorded?

There are State regulations (RCW 50.09) that need to be followed regarding surveys and boundary encroachments. When setting a property corner that has not previously been set, a surveyor must document their work on a map called a Record of Survey. This map will be recorded with the County Auditor’s office. If the surveyor is performing a reset from a prior survey and finds no encroachments, there is no requirement to record a map. However, if in fact there are encroachments, even if there is a prior survey on record, the encroachments must be documented with a new Record of Survey map.

Q. Boundary Line Adjustment vs. Boundary Line Agreement? What’s the difference?

Boundary Line Adjustment vs. Boundary Line Agreement?

What's the difference?

In both cases, a boundary line between two adjacent property owners is being changed or adjusted. The key differences are questions of jurisdiction and purpose. A Boundary Line Adjustment is usually sought if owners merely desire to exchange land and there is no dispute over the line.

In the case of a Boundary Line Adjustment, sometimes also referred to as a Lot Line Adjustment, the jurisdiction is with the local planning authority, either the county or city in which the property lies. A Boundary Line Adjustment involves an application, review fees and the requirement to meet the review criteria of the reviewing agency.

If owners are attempting to use a Boundary Line Adjustment (sometimes referred to a s a RCW BLA), to resolve a dispute, issues not directly related to the resolution of the conflict can come into play as a result of the requirement to meet the review criteria of the city or county. These “side” issues include such matters as resolving substandard access to the public road and meeting bulk zoning regulations such as lot width and area. A Boundary Line Adjustment, then, is an Administrative action by the city or county planning authority.

In contrast, a Boundary Line Agreement is a judicial action. The Washington State Legislature has given you, the property owner, the ability to resolve conflicts resulting from either poorly written deeds or encroachments. Read the law here. To keep these cases out of the courts, property owners have been granted the ability to resolve the dispute among themselves. The kinds of disputes which arise could be as minor as a fence that veers away from the deeded property line or as serious as a building on the wrong property. The conflict may be recent or it may have existed for decades. Whatever the reason, the conflict needs to be resolved. Typically, in the case of an RCW BLA to settle a dispute in the location of the boundary line, the exchange of land does not result in monetary compensation.

There can be some advantages to doing a Boundary Line Agreement versus a Boundary Line Adjustment.

Once the neighbors come to a verbal agreement, they can complete the process without the review of the local planning department. Issues which might make approval of a Boundary Line Adjustment application problematic may not need to be addressed.

What do I really need to do for a Boundary Line Agreement?

The State Law which allows you, the property owners, to resolve a boundary dispute through agreement requires two things:

1. Documents which describe the agreement and which convey title to the land being exchanged. Although not expressly required, it is strongly advised that you have an attorney experienced in real property law prepare these documents.

2. A Record of Survey map, prepared by a licensed surveyor, depicting both properties and the adjusted lines is filed with the County Recorder or Auditor.

Some Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Can’t I save money on an attorney by doing a Boundary Line Agreement instead of an Adjustment?

A: Remember, with an Adjustment, you will have to pay review fees to the city or county. You will still need conveyance documents even with an Adjustment and these should always be prepared by a competent attorney. Regardless, a Record of Survey prepared by a licensed surveyor is required.

Q: Most jurisdictions don’t require a Record of Survey for an Adjustment. Won’t it cost a lot more for a survey?

A: Not really. In most cases, the dispute has been discovered as the result of a survey. Often we can add the additional work to complete the agreement at a reduced overall cost. In any case, marking the new agreement line on the ground and filing a Record of Survey in the public records will help avoid future boundary conflicts. Even when a survey has not been completed and the owners become aware of the dispute by other means, a survey is almost always necessary to accurately define the extent of the disputed area and to properly prepare new legal descriptions.

Q: Why can’t you, the surveyor, prepare my agreement documents and deed?

A: Although licensed land surveyors who specialize in property boundary surveying are well versed in the laws and legal doctrines affecting real property, the preparation of agreements and deeds is viewed as the practice of law.

We can help you find the right land use attorney for your needs

Q. Flood Insurance = Elevation Certificate. Where do I get an Elevation Certificate?

So you recently refinanced your home or took out a line of credit and were told that you must buy flood insurance. Or, you have an existing mortgage and the bank has called and told you that you must buy flood insurance. In either case, if you don’t comply, the bank will purchase the insurance for you and tack it onto your monthly mortgage payment. We aren’t talking in the $10’s or even $100’s. We are talking in the $1,000’s on a yearly basis because the bank will purchase the gold-plated insurance to make sure their investment is covered.

Why is this happening? In 1973, Congress passed the Flood Disaster Protection Act. Part of this act requires that buildings in identified flood hazard zones receiving loans (mortgages, LOCs) from federally insured or regulated lending institutions must have flood insurance. Due to heavy losses in recent years (notably several Mississippi River system flood events), the government has cracked down hard on lending institutions, forcing them to review their loans to ensure that buildings in flood zones have insurance.

If your lending institution has contacted you, you need to be proactive. Contact your insurance agent immediately to get started. The agent will want to see an Elevation Certificate. If your home was built after 1984 (± depends on where you live), you may already have one on file at the City Building Department (if you live within city limits) or at the County Planning and Development Services (if you live in unincorporated Snohomish County).

Theoretically, these certificates were completed as part of the building permit process, but were often overlooked in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, so they may not exist. If you cannot find one in the public archives, then you must be able to show your insurance agent that your house is high enough not to sustain major damage in a flood, or that it is actually not in a flood area. This is done by obtaining the Elevation Certificate on your own.

Where do you get an elevation certificate? Western Engineers Surveyors, Inc. is able to provide elevation certificates. Often, the cost of obtaining the certificate will be paid back in a short amount of time through reduced insurance premiums.

If you are experiencing this, or know of someone who is experiencing this, please contact WESI at 425-356-2700 for a free quote on an Elevation Certificate or complete our proposal form online.

Q. Where can Property Information be found?

Q. Where can a Title Report be obtained?

CHICAGO TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY –Snohomish County - Jim Cline
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CHICAGO TITLE COMPANY – King County - Bruce Andrus