A consumer recently told me they had been advised by their attorney to purchase a new survey of the property they were buying, and asked whether it was really necessary. Here are my thoughts:
As the General Counsel for Thoroughbred Title Services, I always strongly advise purchasers of residential real property to obtain a new survey when they are buying their house. While it may just look like a picture of the house and the front and back yards, the survey is a picture that tells a very important story.
The survey shows you the structure you are buying and whether it has a deck, a pool, patio, garage, driveway, etc. In addition, the survey will disclose if there are any easements on the property -- for example a neighbor may have a right-of-way over your property to the nearest public street or you may be sharing your driveway with others. The survey will also tell you if a neighbor's fence or wall is encroaching on your property, if your property backs up to a designated wetlands area or a conservation easement. You will also be able to tell if the house you are buying violates existing setbacks per local zoning codes.
Since a survey contains so much valuable information, my advice is to always get a new survey that is guaranteed to you. Sure, you can save some money by using an existing survey that was prepared for a former owner of the property, but if a mistake was made on that survey you will have no recourse against the surveyor. By obtaining a new survey that is guaranteed to you, you have the benefit of having a contractual relationship with the surveyor and the ability to seek recourse against the surveyor if there is a problem later on that should have been disclosed on the survey.