Home Surveying Bethel Park PA
Moon Township, PA
South Hills, PA
When you bought your home, you almost certainly had the property surveyed. If you're like most people, though, you filed the survey away with the deed and the title insurance without really knowing what it was. After all, the idea was to buy the home, and the survey was just one of many requirements on the road to ownership. But a survey is much more important than that. It is your assurance that the property you're buying is what you think it is. Even so, many homeowners are confused about what surveyors do and how they do it. They see a surveyor tramping around the property, looking for signs of a boundary that they themselves are not be able to see, then using complicated-looking devices to determine the property lines and area of the land in question. To many, it's all a great mystery.
But this critical function isn't really all that complicated once you know the basics. The job of the surveyor, to put it simply, is to depict where the legal description of the property contained in the deed falls on the ground. To do this, the surveyor combines the science of measurement with the art of interpreting history and applying the tenets of law. A land survey is the depiction of the boundaries of a parcel of land, probably also showing the improvements that have been made on it. While the survey reflects the boundaries as called for in the deed, it does not reflect an opinion as to the land's ownership. That's a legal question that cannot readily be answered on the ground. All 50 states license land surveyors for the protection of the public. Although requirements vary, six to eight years of responsible experience in the profession are generally needed to qualify for the 16-hour licensing exam. Reflecting the professional nature of surveying, a growing number of states are also requiring a degree in surveying.
Today's surveyors have sophisticated devices at their disposal, including the Global Positioning System - a satellite-based system that can tell you where you are on the earth with astonishing accuracy. The early surveyors had far simpler tools, and the results - while reasonable for the day - were not always as accurate as modern standards require. For example, the compasses they used (like ours today) point to magnetic north. But there's a difference between magnetic and true north - what we call declination - which varies depending on where you are and when (the magnetic pole shifts slowly over time). Further, the accuracy of the compass is subject to local attraction, such as iron-ore deposits. The chain used to determine distance was made of metal, 66 feet long and composed of 100 individual links, and its true length varied with wear. It was generally laid along the ground, which made it less precise. Obviously, such measurements were not as accurate as those provided by today's instruments, but they still control much of what we do.
Many subdivisions of original surveys have, of course, been made with modern equipment, but they still ultimately refer to and fit within the first surveys. If you live in a state descended from the original 13 colonies, your land survey is firmly rooted in old English methods. (For the record, those states are Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.) Property in those states - as well as in Texas, which was an independent nation prior to joining the United States - is surveyed in metes and bounds, the old English terms for measurements and boundaries. A metes-and-bounds survey describes a parcel of land by starting at a well-marked point and following the boundaries, noting directions and distances around the tract and back to the starting place.
Such surveys depend heavily on descriptions of physical features, such as streams and trees, as well as neighboring property lines. Consider this 1809 Tennessee survey, which began, "On a black oak on the west bank of hickory creek of the barren fork of Collins river thence north Seventy five degrees west one hundred & Sixty eight poles with a conditional line between William Campbell & Said Smart to a hickory then north ninety Seven poles to a black oak --" If you live anywhere else in the United States, your survey uses a rectangular system created by Thomas Jefferson and adopted by Congress as the Land Ordinance of 1785. In the rectangular system, all federal lands were surveyed "into townships of 6 miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles, as near as may be." The townships were subdivided into lots of a square mile, or 640 acres. The sections could be further subdivided into quarter sections (160 acres), quarter quarter sections (40 acres) and so on.
This system provided a reference grid that allowed more precision than was possible using the metes and bounds system. In practical terms, it allowed land to be described with more certainty, such as "the NE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 1, Township 30 south, Range 45 East, lying in King County, Florida." Whichever method is used in your area, modern surveyors begin by studying the deed and previous surveys. In the field, surveyors seek out the marks (or evidence of them) left by the original and subsequent surveyors, then measure them with instruments and accurately determine their position.
Sometimes the original marks are from the initial surveys - a post or a pile of stones with "witnesses," such as nearby trees. These can be devilishly difficult to find, especially if the original survey was done a long time ago. Later surveys may have more easily distinguished marks, such as an iron pipe or a brass disk set in a concrete post where an original mark used to be. Any mark must be authenticated by one of a variety of surveying techniques or by a preponderance of evidence. Because of this, a surveyor is not long misled by errant marks. Missing or erroneous marks are regularly replaced as the result of a survey.
Incidentally, boundary marks are protected by law in every jurisdiction - and have been since at least biblical times, as evidenced by the passage in Proverbs: "Remove not the ancient landmark." In order to determine the boundaries of a parcel, the surveyor may traverse it by measuring its boundary angles and distances around the perimeter, or he or she may measure the position directly by using GPS. In the former case, the angles and distances compute to coordinates and can be checked by the knowledge that these values must return to the starting point. In surveying, this closure must be within certain standards. Surveyors are taught to follow in the footsteps of the original surveyor - to retrace what has been surveyed before. In fact, the only new surveys are subdivisions of larger tracts. Surveys are conducted with a variety of equipment - transits and 100-foot steel tapes, sophisticated electronic "total stations" with laser measuring devices, GPS instruments - all subject to their own inaccuracies.
But in all cases we still seek to follow or retrace those who have gone before. Deciding where a property corner is (or should be) is not simply a measurement exercise; measurements are evidence, but they are not conclusive. Generally, the intention of the parties prevails: an authenticated deed call to a fixed object, for example, will be more conclusive than the distance along the line as reported in the deed. In other words, if your deed describes a chiseled cross on a rock outcropping as one corner of your property, that landmark will prevail even if it doesn't match up with the distance mentioned in the deed. (That said, how the courts interpret the common law has to be carefully considered, since the courts ultimately decide boundaries, not surveyors.)
It's important to note that an original survey, properly completed according to law, is presumed to be without error. Conflicting elements can cause plenty of confusion and difficulty; and thus, not all surveyors will agree at all times. The survey you have represents the opinion of your surveyor as to your boundaries. Even so, most boundary disputes do not go to court. The surveyor often acts as a quasi-judicial official, as he or she is well respected by the parties. This leads to the resolution of most disputes at the time of the survey. The surveyor will verify and usually mark missing property corners on the ground, either at the time of survey or after computations are made in the office. Modern marks are usually iron pipes or pins driven flush with or below grade, so they aren't disturbed and don't become a hazard to lawn mowers. Monuments - 4 inches square and 30 inches long, usually of concrete - may sometimes be used, buried with only the top exposed. If the corner of a property falls in pavement or on a concrete structure, such as a sidewalk, the surveyor will usually employ a masonry nail, often annotated with "P.K" for Parker Kalon Co., the maker. (The dot between the letters is used to make a precise sighting.) Sometimes a disk of brass or aluminum is used to make the nail more visible.
Finding your property corners may not be easy unless you know exactly where to look. Surveyors make regular use of metal detectors for this purpose. At the time of survey, the surveyor will probably leave a flag or wooden marker, but these degrade over time. As soon as practical, a new homeowner should walk the property to observe the corners and to learn the boundaries. When their work is done, the surveyor draws a map detailing the findings; you have a copy of it. Today, maps are largely computer generated and can be transmitted electronically, increasing their usefulness. If problems are encountered or non-routine issues uncovered, a report will probably also be provided. Much valuable information is conveyed on the map, and your attorney and/or title insurance company has already made use of it. You should always have an official copy of the map; look for the embossed seal of the surveyor who signed the survey. Rather than an enduring mystery, you should look at your survey as a source of continuing value. You shouldn't, for instance, build any substantial structure, such as a fence, without knowing exactly where your property line is. If you have questions, bring the surveyor back to show you the marks or restake the line. It is far less expensive than a mistake you'll have to correct later. James P. Weidener is a professional land surveyor and vice president of Weidener Surveying Fri, 01 Mar 2002 00:00:00 James P. Weidener In Defense of the Old http://www.smart-homeowner.com/node/8615 www.historichomeworks.com .