A property survey shows the boundaries of the property indicating the lot size, and includes a written description of the property. Property surveys, which resemble a map, are carried out during the original construction of a house and are provided to the buyer at that time. However, if the house you are buying is older you may find that the original survey has long been lost. Sometimes a copy has been kept at the city planning department and they will gladly give you a copy, but I’ve never been that lucky.
Surveys indicate right-of-ways and easements. Right-of-ways detail the right of others to access certain areas of the property (for example, it may allow access to hydro or telephone companies for servicing or a shared lane or driveway). Easements are a right that's assigned to the property and cannot be removed very easily, if at all. Surveys may also indicate issues such as a fence located outside the property line or an overhanging roof from a detached garage and in these instances, the buyer can ask the seller to correct the problem before closing.
If you're thinking of buying a home, you may be wondering if you need an up-to-date property survey. It's definitely in your best interests to have one as your lender may insist on one before approval of your financing, however, Title Insurance may suffice. Your lawyer will most likely suggest that you purchase Title Insurance anyway, and it may soon be mandatory for all real estate property purchases. If you are buying a condo you won’t need a survey, not even for a condo townhouse as essentially the condo corporation will own the land, not you. A simple way to find out if it's a requirement is to get pre-approved for a mortgage before you buy and quite frankly I insist that all of my clients get pre-approved before we start looking at homes.
Over time, you may want to add a fence, a pool, a deck or even an extension and you will need a survey when you make these improvements. Many times such changes have occurred since the last survey making it out of date and therefore it has little value in the real estate transaction, but could still be suffice for your own needs.
It should be noted that not every transaction requires a new survey, and Title Insurance may satisfy your lender. Ask your real estate lawyer to verify this before you purchase the property. It can also depend on when the last survey was completed and what physical changes have taken place since the survey was done. If a new survey is needed, you need to determine who will pay the cost in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale.