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Property Line Surveys


The land surveyor's primary task in conducting a property line survey is to determine, to the best of his professional ability, the location on the ground of original historical property lines and boundary corners. The diligent surveyor must sleuth like Sherlock Holmes! Retracing the faint footsteps of the original surveyor, he must hunt relentlessly for field evidence of the original survey monuments - no stone can be left unturned.

Fees for property line surveys such as boundary surveys and ALTA surveys often hinge on findings that are impossible to predict at the onset of a project. Every parcel of land is one-of-a-kind, and every boundary retracement survey is unique. Every land surveyor should be forthcoming in informing his client that each property line survey is, by definition, a journey into the unknown. Here's a quick sketch of some of the considerations that determine of the cost of a land survey:


Researching property records

    1. Map and deed research
    2. Legal description details
    3. Senior/Junior property rights

Recovering field evidence

    4. Land survey monuments
    5. Recovering original evidence
    6. Balancing conflicting evidence

Additional considerations

    7. Sectional surveys in U.S. public lands
    8. Record of Survey or Corner Record

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Fence along right-of-way in Riverside County pasture land
About Boundary Surveys
Highlights:

+  Sleuthing like Sherlock Holmes
+  How the words in the legal description impact the boundary survey
+  Why hunting for old survey monuments is a big deal
Recovering field evidence

4. Land Survey monuments

Original survey monuments are of critical importance in the perpetuation of real property rights. But all too often, landmarks do not survive the onslaught of Caterpillar bulldozers and Barber-Greene paving machines. Are the original monuments still existing? Can they be found? If found, are they of the exact same description as the monuments depicted on the record maps? Do they fit between each other? Do they fit all the other monuments in the vicinity? Do they fit the deed calls in the legal descriptions? The land surveyor must carefully evaluate every recovered monument to determine its provenance and validity. See Monument Preservation to learn about protecting land survey monuments.


5. Recovering original evidence

Evidence can be in the form of an old rotted wooden stake, a notched stone monument, an iron pipe with a numbered tag, a venerable oak bearing tree, even indications of former occupation such as vestiges of an ancient dilapidated fence. But sometimes the trail has gone cold, the clues lost in the mists of time. The absence of original evidence challenges every land surveyor employed in retracing boundaries.


6. Balancing contradictory evidence

The dedicated land surveyor spends long hours in the field searching painstakingly for evidence of original property corners and lines. Contradictory evidence sometimes surfaces, especially in areas where long-standing property line disputes have been prevalent. These situations can require extensive investigation and deep analysis to resolve.
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Researching property records

1. Map and deed research

A competent survey of the land begins with a close read of the title papers for the project, including detailed research of historical maps and deeds, some dating back to the late 1800's and early 1900's. Details in an old partition map, or a word buried deep in the metes and bounds legal description of a property deed can significantly impact the time and cost of the diligent surveyor's investigation and boundary line analysis. 

Conducting thorough research of the record is absolutely necessary to the ultimate success of every field survey; it should never be rushed. This crucial step is complicated by the manner in which land transactions were handled in the past, resulting in many illegible, contradictory, and poorly crafted legal descriptions in recorded documents.


2. Legal description details

The original creation date of the legal description for the property is important. Does the legal description reach back into a bygone era, perhaps even back to the time of the California Ranchos? Was the land conveyed by a metes and bounds description? Does the description reference additional underlying deeds and maps? What do those documents describe? How complete and accurate are they?


3. Senior/Junior property rights

The timing sequence of grant deed recordation has a significant impact on the determination of real property rights. There are two basic scenarios: simultaneous conveyance and sequence conveyance.

Simultaneous conveyance occurs when several grant deeds are recorded at the same moment in time. An example of this is the recording of a subdivision map in which each of the lots is created at a single snapshot in time. No senior/junior property rights are created; every lot gets treated equitably.

 Sequence conveyance occurs when grant deeds are recorded on different dates and times. Sequence conveyances were common in California; many properties were conveyed by individual deeds with metes and bounds legal descriptions. In these situations, the adage "first in time, first in line" prevails - senior/junior property rights of adjoining properties need to be evaluated carefully to determine the location of property boundary lines.

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Additional considerations

7. Sectional surveys in U.S. Public Lands

A legal description based upon section lines in the U.S. public land survey system often requires a retracement survey of the entire section of land in which the land being surveyed lies, regardless of the size of the client's parcel of land within that section. In some cases, the survey may extend to adjoining sections, depending on what original monuments can be recovered. Boundary reestablishment of sectional land is a specialized expertise. The Bureau of Land Management has developed the CFedS program, a national certification program designed to increase the skills and knowledge of those land surveyors conducting boundary surveys on federal lands.


8. Records of Survey and Corner Records

The preparation and filing of a Record of Survey or a Corner Record is often required by state law if matters addressed by the Land Surveyors Act are encountered during a boundary survey. The cost of preparing and recording these documents increases mapping costs, and requires the additional payment of checking and recording fees to local agencies. This important legal requirement helps protect the property rights of both the individual land owner and the people of California.

A land surveyor must search diligently for the survey monuments that control a property line boundary. He is the "Sherlock Holmes" of land professionals.
Original Town Site of Yorba Linda, CA
1908

THE YORBA LINDA TRACT, IN THE CITY OF YORBA LINDA, COUNTY OF ORANGE, STATE OF CALIFORNIA, PER MAP RECORDED IN BOOK 5, PAGES 17 AND 18, MISCELLANEOUS MAPS, RECORDS OF ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA.
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Ask us for our answers to 20 frequently-asked-questions about boundary surveys (see the 20 questions here). Just contact us via our contact page, or send us a quick email at AskDoug@Bell-Land-Surveying.com

Plat map of the original townsite of Yorba Linda, California, showing property boundary lines, a few property dimensions, and acreages.






Our Story
Our Clients
Selecting a Surveyor
Land Survey Info
When You Retain Us
Property Line Surveys

​About the Author:

Douglas Bell, PLS, is a Professional Land Surveyor licensed in four western states, and is a CFedS, a BLM Certified Federal Land Surveyor. He provides a range of property line, ALTA, boundary survey, topographic mapping, easement determination, encroachment investigation, and utility location services.

Mr. Bell provides land surveying services to engineers, architects, attorneys, and other land professionals in the private and public sectors in Southern California, primarily in Los Angeles County, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County. He can be reached via email: AskDoug@Bell-Land-Surveying.com.

25 year member of the California Land Surveyors Association
Doug Bell is a CFedS - a Certified Federal Surveyor
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