What is a survey, and when do I need one?

We are often approached by clients who are eager to start on planning or engineering for a piece of land but they are surprised to hear that they first need to obtain a property survey. Whether you are studying a piece of land to understand its development potential or planning a new project on your property, it is usually required that you obtain a survey of the property before engineering can begin. A survey is an important first step in most property development projects, but many people don’t know why or how to get one. Here, we’ve outlined some information on what a survey is, when you need it, and how to get one, so you can be prepared for the planning and/or engineering phases of your project. 

What is a survey? 

A survey is a professionally prepared document that identifies the exact boundaries and features of a piece of property. It may also detail the locations of structures on the property and critical areas, setbacks, utilities, and land features. Land surveys are completed by a licensed surveyor and recorded with the building department or land recorder’s office in your jurisdiction. Depending on the scope of your project, a professional surveyor will need to create a survey that details the locations of one, a few, or all of these items. 

Land surveys legally identify important aspects of a property. Some of them include:

  • Locating and identifying the correct location of property lines
  • Identifying setbacks and encroachments on the property
  • Establishing new lot lines for a subdivision
  • Illustrating the topography of the land

When do I need a survey? 

In general, anytime you are preparing to alter a piece of land, you will need a survey of your property before any other work can begin. The planner and/or engineer will take the information from the survey to create the plans needed to permit your project. Without the survey information, the engineer will not be able to identify critical areas, building locations, or account for proper zoning requirements. Even if you don’t plan to build anything, a survey is required for boundary changes and land altering activities such as short platting, subdividing or the addition of impervious surfaces, such as adding a paved driveway. 

There are a few cases when a survey may not be required during the land development planning process. For example: 

  • For feasibility studies for property sellers who want to demonstrate broadly what can be built on the property for potential buyers, and when no critical areas are present on or very near the site.
  • For feasibility studies where the client may want to develop but is not sure, and there are enough records online to be able to approximately recreate an existing site plan.

Tips for getting a survey

At CG Engineering, we work with a number of local surveyors that we can recommend. Always ensure that your surveyor is licensed in the state where your project is located and has experience working on surveying for the type of project you are asking for help with. Here are a few other tips for obtaining a survey:

  1. If you recently purchased the property, it may be worth going back through your sale records to see if the previous owner provided a survey. Depending on the age and condition of an existing survey, we may recommend getting a new one, but we may also be able to work with an old one.
  2. If there are wetlands on your property, have the wetland biologist visit the property before the surveyor to flag the wetland boundaries.
  3. The surveyor should generally finish and produce a PDF/CAD survey before we begin our work. It is wise to plan ahead in your project timeline to account for survey time. 

If you are interested in engaging with CG Engineering for your project, contact us here

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250 4th Ave S Suite 200 Edmonds, WA 98020

1910 Bickford Ave Suite G Snohomish, WA 98290