Unless you’re purchasing new construction, you’re most likely taking someone else’s word for it when they tell you that the property line “goes all the way back to the tree line and over to the fence.” Unless you are able to locate the lot pins that were put in place the last time the property was surveyed, there’s really no way to know for sure the exact location of the boundary lines without a property survey. And to be honest, I’ve heard stories about homeowners relocating stakes and lot pins after a survey was completed in an attempt to gain additional square footage. Of course, no one would ever admit to that.
If you’re buying a new home and are planning to put a fence, shed or flower bed right on the property line, you might want to consider having an engineer survey the property. Even if a fence is not in your future, but there seems to be varying opinions as to where the exact location of the property line is, a survey might still be a good idea. You can always ask the current property owner to cover the cost of the survey when negotiating your offer to buy the house. A survey for the typical suburban single home will cost anywhere from $400 to $700, depending on the amount of work involved.
A standard title insurance policy does not insure the owner as to the accuracy of the legal description. This coverage is available by endorsement for an additional fee, but cannot be issued without a current property survey. For that reason, the overwhelming majority of homebuyers pass on the survey coverage. It’s hard to justify paying $500 for a survey and then another few hundred dollars to a title company to insure the accuracy of the survey.
Bottom line… not everyone needs a property survey, but it’s something to consider under certain circumstances. Although we’d all like to think that we have the “nicest neighbors that anyone could ask for,” it doesn’t always work out that way. Boundary disputes can sometimes bring out the stubbornness in someone who is otherwise rational and easy-going.