When buying vacant land, it’s customary to get a survey of the property to ensure that you know where the boundaries are and if there are any easements or servitudes (a right possessed by one person to use another’s property) that prohibit building on a portion of the land. In the New Orleans area there are typically utility servitudes for the power company. You own the land, but cannot build a permanent structure on the servitude. Pretty simple and straightforward.
In an established neighborhood, most home buyers don’t get a property survey and we have not historically recommended the extra expense. However, we recently ran into a survey problem with a Gretna home that was built in the last couple of years. It turns out that the builder didn’t follow the exact plans that were filed with the city when the land was subdivided. Instead, the fence (that the builder installed) was 18″ into the neighbor’s yard and the house was too close to the street.
Now, of course the city was not going to force the house to be moved – that would be ludicrous. But, it caused a delay in closing while a variance was approved. Fortunately, the city of Gretna is pretty easy to work with. Had this been in New Orleans, it might have taken months to get this worked out and possibly cost the home owner a sale.
Despite this, I still don’t think that the cost of a survey is generally warranted in older neighborhoods. The exception would be if the property is not fenced, since there are no clear markers for where one property ends and another starts.
If you have concerns about property boundaries, be sure to address this during your negotiations. Asking the home seller to provide a survey for your review can help put your mind at ease that you are getting what you are paying for.