When it comes to property surveys, sometimes age is just a number. Sometimes it isn’t. Many folks think a survey is good indefinitely. Others believe a new one is required with every sale.
Age isn’t the only factor in determining if an existing survey may be used for a real estate transaction. There are many details in a survey and a survey affidavit that typically outweigh the age of the survey. The confusion arises because there is no absolute rule for the age of the survey to still be useful.
I get all manners of odd surveys from sellers. Even if the survey is new, a blurry cellphone shot of it is not acceptable for use. Neither is a 1940s mimeograph copy. Hand drawing on a neighborhood map isn’t going to work. Cut off copies are no good either.
For a survey to be acceptable to the title agency and lender, all the following items must appear and be legible:
- Legal Description
- North Arrow
- Surveyor Name, RPLS#, Signature, and Seal
Back to That Age Thing
A common practice for how long you can use and rely on an existing survey is seven years. If the survey is older, some title agencies will automatically require a new one. A new survey may be required if the current one predates the current owner buying the property. The current owner might not be aware or able to disclose changes since the survey was completed since they weren’t living on the property when the survey was originally done.
By law, a surveyor is only liable for their survey for 10 years. They are typically responsible only to the individual and particular transaction for which they produced the survey. Thus, a survey more than 10 years old or from a prior owner may be questionable.
Texas Department of Insurance Rules
The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) has a few specific rules regarding the use of existing surveys. Title companies want to ensure the land area has not been compromised by sale, altered by natural changes to the land or by development or infringement by neighbors.
Regulations require the survey to be current. “Current” refers to the existing footprint of the property being the same as shown on the survey. That includes the location of the house, fences, pool, garage, or anything else permanently affixed to the land.
TDI rules only allow the use of an existing survey contingent upon completion of a T-47 survey affidavit as well. This affidavit verifies the accuracy of the survey. The current owner must complete this form in their own handwriting and sign it with a notary. They must have actual knowledge of the physical condition of the property since the date of the existing survey and disclose any changes made to the property. That includes adding a pool, replacing a fence, building a deck or altering the footprint of the house or garage.
If the seller of the property cannot or does not complete and sign the T-47 affidavit, then a new survey is required. If additions or changes to the property are close to a boundary line, a new survey will likely be needed. On occasion, an owner may even be asked to sketch specific changes onto the survey. Any changes to the property must be minor. There is a lot of grey area in determining what is minor or major.
How Much is a Survey?
If the survey is not acceptable to the title company or buyer’s lender, a new survey typically costs $400-$650 for the average size suburban lot in our area. Every survey is unique to that piece of land and every situation is different. The only way to be sure if an existing survey may be used is to check with the title company.
Lydia Blair (formerly Lydia Player) was a successful Realtor for 10 years before jumping to the title side of the business in 2015. Prior to selling real estate, she bought, remodeled and sold homes (before house flipping was an expression). She’s been through the real estate closing process countless times as either a buyer, a seller, a Realtor, and an Escrow Officer. As an Escrow Officer for Allegiance Title at Preston Center, she likes solving problems and cutting through red tape. The most fun part of her job is handing people keys or a check.