While there is no universal set of rules on how a land survey should be conducted, there is definitely a best practice standard that all surveyors strive to reach. Land surveys are not just about the procedure of marking out a plot of land; existing evidence plays an equal role in determining the true boundaries of any property, and a land surveyor must be qualified to follow the trail of evidence, however scarce it might be. Modifications may have to be made depending on each individual situation, but the major action phases can be used as a guideline.
We start with evidence. Even before setting foot on the property to be surveyed, all pertinent documents must be studied. This can include deeds, contracts, maps, wills, or any other document that contains a description of the property. These documents can usually be found in a city or county records office. At times, there are conflicting documents, and this is when the skills of the surveyor are truly tested. It is the responsibility of the surveyor to wade through all the supporting and conflicting documentation and interpret what truly best represents the property lines.
After the study of the documents and other related evidence, the surveyor determine if there is any physical evidence of what the boundaries are (or were purported to be) on the property itself. This could be in the form of a marker, existing fence, or landmarks mentioned in documents related to the property. With many older properties, the surveyor may run into problems as the original markers are often not permanent in nature (e.g., a tree or a building that existed at the time of the previous survey). The current surveyor cannot use this evidence to help determine his ruling. For new monuments, it is imperative that an object with a permanent location, whether natural or man-made, be used.
Based on the evidence found both through research of documents and physical examination in the field, the surveyor must now establish the boundary of the property. Even if none of the property lines have changed and the surveyor’s findings are the same as previous surveys, the surveyor will set, reference, and mark the points of the property lines with new markers. This will aid any future surveyors that are called upon to perform a survey on the property.
Once the surveyor establishes the true boundaries, the property description must be prepared. There are many elements that need to be included, such as the direction and length of each line surveyed, corner monuments, the relationship to any adjoining official surveys, delineation of the topography of the property, and a representation of any man-made works within the survey limits. The scale of the survey should also be clearly listed. The title block of the survey should always include the name of the owner, the location of the property, the name of the surveyor, the date of the survey, the scale of the plat, and any other data that is unique to the property that the surveyor feels should be included. In many states, a Surveyor’s Certificate is required, in which the surveyor makes a personal and professional affidavit as to the accuracy of the survey.
As can be seen from the steps needed to assess evidence and follow correct procedures, land surveying relies heavily on the skill of the surveyor. Land surveyors are required to have both the skills needed to research and assess the documents concerning a property as well as the scientific aptitude to measure and record the physical aspects of the property.