Do I Need A Survey When Buying Raw Land? | askBAMLand

Buying raw land isn’t like buying a house. The whole process is different, so buyers often ask “do I need a survey when buying raw land?”

While you typically aren’t required by law to have a survey done for raw land, most lenders will still require one before approving a loan for you to pay for the land. In addition, it’s just a good idea for you to have the survey done so you can confirm the property lines.

Surveys give you the exact location of the property lines so you’ll know exactly where your property ends and the next property begins. This information is vital to have before you begin developing the land, because otherwise you could end up encroaching on a neighboring property. In addition, since rural land often hasn’t been surveyed before, the only way to be sure exactly how much land you’re buying is to have the survey done, so they can tell you how many acres you’re getting.

Buying raw land is intimidating; it’s usually a lot of land, and a big expense, so you want to make sure you do it right. Part of that means doing your research beforehand to make sure that everything is done properly. We’ve done a lot of that work for you, researching the ways that a survey will benefit you as a landowner so that you can be sure you’re doing the right thing by ordering a survey.

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What Is A Survey?

A survey is a graphical depiction of the property. It displays the property lines, and, in the case of developed land, it shows every structure on the property as well. In addition to drawing out the boundaries the surveyor will also include things like elevation and natural features on the land.

Surveyors use GPS and altimeter equipment to ensure that their measurements and drawings are exact. They’ll also refer to the deed of the property to ensure that the description of the boundaries and the features of the property match the reality. Deeds often include descriptions of important landmarks that define the property.

The end goal is to use GPS coordinates to mark out the exact boundaries of the property in a way that can’t be disputed, and can also be repeatedly measured by other surveyors.

Why Would I Need A Survey?

Surveys are useful for many reasons. Most of the time, they’re used for legal purposes. A survey confirms the legal boundaries of the property, and provides the landowner with a clear and irrefutable description of where the property lines are.

In residential areas, these can be critical for settling disputes such as which neighbor is responsible for maintaining a section of fence, or keeping specific trees trimmed, etc.

In raw land, it mainly concerns the boundaries of the property, and it’s understandable to question whether or not it’s worth the money to have the land surveyed.

Should I Get a Survey?

When buying raw land, which is almost always in rural areas, you typically aren’t required by law to have the land surveyed. The local county government will rely on their own records to determine the property boundaries.

However, it’s worth pointing out that, if you’re financing the purchase of the land, your lender is probably going to ask for a survey before they approve the loan. They want a clear definition of the boundaries of the property you’re buying, both to confirm that it’s worth what you’re paying for it and to ensure that, if they have to confiscate it, they know what they’re getting.

But even if you’re paying cash for the land, it’s probably a good idea for you to have it surveyed. Remember, the survey establishes where the property line is, with GPS coordinates. It’s always good to have such things clearly defined. If you’re going to do any development on the land, you want to know with exact certainty where the boundary is, with the GPS coordinates included. Otherwise you could easily end up building on someone else’s property, and that may expose you to all kinds of legal problems. Best to pay for the survey now and avoid bigger problems down the line.

Raw vs Undeveloped Land?

The terms raw and undeveloped are often used interchangeably, and more often than not they do mean the same thing. However, technically, undeveloped land can include some structures, like free standing barns or storage buildings, and even fences.

Raw land includes none of these things. So, while raw land is undeveloped land, not all undeveloped land is raw land. Be sure to confirm with the seller which term they’re using and what they mean by it.

Different Kinds Of Surveys

If you’re going to order a survey, you need to know what the different kinds of survey are.

ALTA (American Land Title Association) surveys are required by most financial institutions before lending a mortgage. These are the most common kind of survey, and they simply identify property boundaries and easements.

Boundary surveys confirm the exact location of the property lines and any easements. They also confirm the exact size of the property- since many rural land listings will have vague descriptions such as “10 acres, more or less,” these are especially useful in rural settings.

Subdivision surveys are required if you intend to divide a single parcel of land into multiple lots to sell them separately.

Construction surveys identify the locations for each building you intend to put on the property. This is critical to have before you begin to build on your property.

Topographical surveys identify natural features like ponds, rivers, lakes, hills, etc on the property. It may not be necessary, but it’s also nice to have.


Brittany Melling

Brittany Melling

Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.

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