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Price to survey farm

I own a small farm (20-25 acres) consisting of half woodland and half croplands in eastern NC.  What can I expect to pay for a general survey of the farm?  I do not want to pay more than the land is worth for a survey.  I just want to make certain that my lines are at their assumed location, since I live about 100 miles from the property I want to make certain that I am within my boundaries and the adjacent property owners are also.  Should I spend the money to survey?

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5 Replies

Re: Price to survey farm

I'd say it could be worth it for some specific reasons, and maybe not so necessary for others. 

Our county here in eastern NC has excellent aerial photographic tax maps, which tend to be pretty acurate for most purposes.  I use them for most land use planning work.  The county land records office will usually print small maps for less than a buck, and whole section tax map sheets, scaled 400 feet to one inch, were five dollars the last time I bought one.  It has been a while, though, so that may be a bit shy of the present cost.  If you ask for one, price it up front. 

You can even access these same maps online in many counties now...usually by going to the county tax website on Google, linking to the county tax department, and searching by owner's name, or other identifiers like the parcel number.  You can also usually search by Google Maps, or Bing Maps, if the parcel has a physical (911) address.   

That usually requires the presence of an addressable structure in NC, though, so raw land may be a bit harder to find, unless you can use a nearby house and vector across the map to your place.  Use a neighbor's name, and work from there.  If you can see the parcel on the map,. usually you can insert a pin electronically to get the outlines and even the tax detail card. 

The views in most mapping programs can be changed from line drawings to actual aerial photos with the lines of the parcels overlaid, which I tend to prefer.  You can find landmarks very easily on these. 

We bought 330 acres here in 1994, and no one ever asked for a survey for any reason.  (Every other parcel around us had a survey, though, so we were basically what was left over.)  That probably would not happen as easily today, since some rules have changed, and different court decisions have altered local codes statewide by changing interpretations of others.   

The FSA office will have the cropland mapped well, and their measures are usually acccurate enough to use for farm rental purposes, for example.  The county forestry office may have aerials of your place for woodland resource purposes.  NRCS has the soil survey mapping, if it has been done in that county.  Soils help you understand a lot about elevations, if you knwo which are hydric, for example.  Topos should be in the county zoning office, or ask if they have FEMA mapping done...they probably do. 

If you are planning to harvest timber, the cruiser you hire can advise you as to whether or not a survey is required.   Often , the timber stands around you have been cut at times different from your own, perhaps re-seeded, and the step from one property to the next is very obvious.  This is sometimes extremely clear from the aerials.  Still, you will have to work with whoever needs to know where your lines are for whatever reason they need ot know them.

I sit as planning board chair in our county, so deal with plats often. Here in our county, you do have to have a professionally-prepared surveyor's plat to get a building permit for a new house, for example, or a zoning permit to set a mobile home.  Most landowners get around the expense of a whole parcel survey by cutting out a subdivision lot, but that can really hamper future uses if you do not know what you are doing, and do it wrong for the local code. 

Find a couple of surveyors in the area of that  county, talk to them about teh parcel - they may want a number so they can consult the resources I've written about above - and ask them for an estimate.  I hve done a coupel of different lines here and thereover the years, so as to know where I could set barns, drill wells, and run fencelines,  and such...setbacks do need to be observed for structures, if the county has zoning. 

Sometimes, it is just good to let the guy next door know that you know where the line is....

The state should have a database of surveyors online, with their contact info. 

Senior Advisor

Re: Price to survey farm

The NRCS can be helpful with GPS or anyone with this option--ground position takes away a lot of guess work and is not cost prohibitive --good luck 

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Jim Meade / Iowa City
Senior Advisor

Re: Price to survey farm

I assume you want to know where your legal boundaries are.  The best thing to do is simply call up a surveyor and ask.  In Iowa, I paid for a survey of a 40 about 15 years ago and it cost me about $1500.  The surveyor will find the baseline pins or whatever is used for a demarcation and go from there.  A non-standard farm like yours is not going to be all on logical section lines.

Once you get the info, you may be addressing issues of whether every one is in their technically correct boundary and what your recourse is.  That may involve a lawyer.   I assume the lawyer will cost a couple of hundred dollars to review the survey and let you know what yor options are if there are issues.  Any action after that will cost more.

If your apparent boundary lines don't line up with your legal boundary lines, then you have issues.  It may well be that lines are in disagreement a few feet.  Then, you'll need to decide what, if anything, you'll want to do about that and will start learning about the details of property law.

Get a reputable and competent surveyor.  Then, get a reputable and competent attorney.

Whether you decide to spend the money to survey or not may well depend on how comfortable you are with the apparent boundaries.  Also, with whether you have good access to your land and whether there are any issues of others having access to your land to get to theirs.

If you're wondering or worried and not sure, it may be the first step is to talk to your attorney and pay a couple of hundred bucks (tell them your story and get their impression without a survey), then decide if there are any questions that require a survey (over $1000 or more)  and then be parepared to talk to an attorney again (more money).

If you have doubts, things don't get better with time and you can't will your problems to your heirs and assume it will be easier on them.  If you are just wondering and don't have any doubts, then it is up to you how much it's worth.  Again, ask some questions and ask for prices when you do.  If you have a really good real estate agent or appraiser as a friend and can get some free advice, as them if they see any issues to be concerned about.

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Frequent Contributor

Re: Price to survey farm

Have you ever used the NRCS soil maps on their website?   I spend a lot of time using it and have found it to be invaluable when evaluating land.  Can get soil types, elevations, etc.  Great resource.  

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Re: Price to survey farm

Jim, you are right that surveys here in the East are not as easy to perform.  It is often not easy to find a property with any square corners and/or straight lines outside of a housing subdivision.  Our places all have oddities about the lay of them, and I'd say there is no logic to a single one of them.  I think the Louisiana Purchase and beyond were done on a Euclidean grid, if my very-long-ago zoning seminar is right in my memory. 

This tends to make surveying around here more complicated, I think, and thus probably more expensive.  Trees ten to make a survey cost more, too, if choplines have to be made to shoot sight lines. 

Roads here ran where they ran, and moved over time...many that the state took over to pave and maintain have no legal right of way.  I can find an old roadbed way in the backside of one field here, and another that cuts across to a homestead that has fallen completely to the ground.   Mike's farm in VA had one that ran through it and on to several homesteads that have been abandoned for probably a hundred years or more now. 

Line trees do not live forever.  Houses come and go.  In the case of the farm I own that was mined, virtually nothing in the entire area loooks as it did when I took over the holding, except one small wetland.  I will add: something worth a couple million bucks an acre will cause people to survey to the fraction of an inch.  In some respects, unless you have timber or some other valuable asset that is at stake, there may be not really important rationale for a fresh survey. 

I had one college instructor who had been a surveyor's helper, and he once told me that one element that rarely changes is road culverts.  That makes sense, since they rely on the overall topogpraphy and drainage of al area...the low point remains the low point.  Just about everything else is up for grabs. 

We've been perfectly at peace for 16 years with no survey, except for two relatively short lines where we wanted to put up fences and/or build barns.  We have surveyed one small parcel of roughly six acres for our daughter and her husband's homestead, and did 23 another acres in the open for the conditional use permit for her riding school.  That small amount of work cost more than your entire farm survey. 

Mike's VA farm has no plats.  My two either have no plat (a parcel about the size of this guy's place) , or relied on one from 1923 - which was not all that accurate - until 2009, when I had to require the mining company to do one in resolving a road dispute it had created.  That was all in the open, only one line shot over open water/mining pits, and it cost over $7,000 for less than ninety acres.  You could see all sorts of differences in several different surveyor's work in the area in the past five years, so I insisted on my own guy. 

Surveying is an entirely site-specific activity, at least here where land was broken up like a jigsaw puzzle.  Sometimes, you only need to find one corrner, or one side, to gain the piece of mind you require.  I'd agree that legal advice might be the best place to start. 

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