A survey is a drawing or a map of a property that outlines its boundaries and physical dimensions, as well as the relative position of the house, sheds, fences, and other structures on the property. Surveys are essential in that they provide a standard for determining what part of a particular piece of land is your property and what is not. Relying on visual cues such as where your neighbor mows the lawn or where the driveway is located is not a reliable distinguisher of property lines and can lead to legal disputes.
A survey is conducted by a licensed land surveyor who uses his or her expertise and training to map real property lines as well as any improvements and easements made on the property. Beyond defending against encroachments, surveys serve many other legal purposes and are often required when conducting home improvements that expand the house or involve installing permanent structures, such as sheds, in-ground swimming pools and fences.
Sometimes the terms survey and plot plan are used interchangeably; however, a plot plan is a simpler and less accurate version of a survey. Plot plans are intended to confirm that the building(s) related to a particular piece of property actually lay within that property’s plot of land. Many lenders will require that a plot plan (often referred to as a mortgage plot plan) be done by a land surveyor prior to the closing. During the home buying process, this will be ordered by the lender or the settlement agent (often referred to as the closing attorney). Mortgage plot plans, as they are often referred to, are less expensive than a survey; however, they are not as accurate and should not be relied on for anything other than a rough outline of the property boundary and where the permanent structures sit in relation thereto.
Often, you can find a plot plan or survey in the city/town building department property file. Surveys are often filed as plans in Massachusetts Land Court, if the property is registered land.
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