Surveys: an overview

As a buyer you may not be required to obtain a survey. However, if you decline a survey, the owners title insurance policy issued to you will exclude coverage for any matters which would have been disclosed by a survey. In that case you would not have title insurance (or legal defense) to respond to a boundary dispute, encroachment, or other survey-related problem.


For most residential property purchases, the buyer must choose whether to obtain (1) a location drawing, (2) a boundary survey, or (3) neither.

With commercial properties, upgrading to an ALTA/ACSM survey is the most common way to protect the significant investment that a commercial purchase often represents.

Differences between these survey types are outlined below.

Survey Types

Location Drawings

A location drawing is a quick and inexpensive survey of the property and the most common type of survey conducted in connection with residential property resales. This drawing locates the property lines and all improvements on the lot. A location drawing is the minimum required to satisfy the needs of the lender and title company to remove the survey exception; however, it does not establish the actual, true property lines or corners of the property, and it cannot be relied upon for construction. The cost of a location drawing is $200+, depending upon the size and complexity of the land.

Boundary Surveys

A boundary survey takes longer and is more expensive than a location drawing. Boundary surveys locate the actual, true property lines and corners or the property, as well as the location of any building setback lines or easements for utilities, driveways, sidewalks, etc.. The property corners are marked by the surveyor. A boundary survey can be relied upon to accurately erect fences or other improvements on your property. The cost for a boundary survey is $1500+.

If you plan to make any improvements to your property (such as a garage, fence, addition, etc.) it would be a good idea to order a boundary survey.

Boundary surveys are not nearly as comprehensive as ALTA/ACSM surveys.


ALTA/ACSM surveys are the standard for commercial property purchases. ALTA/ACSM surveys meet the highest standards recognized throughout the industry and they provide information including property boundaries; easement and encumbrances; encroachments; evidence of use by other parties; names of neighboring property owners; land improvements; roads and property features; access and legal routes to the property; zoning classification; flood zone classification; water boundaries; existence of cemeteries; legal property description.

The cost of an ALTA survey starts in the thousands of dollars. If you need an ALTA/ACSM, we can obtain quotes for you, but you will need to contract with the vendor directly and a deposit will likely be required.


A location drawing can be completed in under a week; a boundary survey will take a longer; and an ATLA can take considerable time. Actual time to complete any survey will vary depending on the complexity of the property as well as market demand.