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VA: Physical Survey vs Boundary Survey  

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A physical survey was done on my property in 2015 and 2017. Monuments were found in 2015 fronting the road, but none were found in the rear of the lot.  Irons were set in 2015 for rear. In 2018, a developer is building a subdivision rear of my lot. Their survey marks a difference of 5 feet on one point and 8 feet on another than what was marked in 2015 and 2017, this more recent survey claims to have found irons too at the rear of my lot. They also say that because of this, the lot shifts south 8 feet into the road, ignoring the irons that are at the edge of the road. Our legal description, found in our deed and historic deeds from at least 1946 (lot is from 1891), state our lot begins at the edge of the road, not in the road. There are no road easements found in our title search. The original surveyor remeasured the lot and now agrees with the other surveyor, because that matches the other surveys. I was under the impression that a survey of my lot is supposed to be based on my deed, and if there is overlap between neighboring surveys it then goes to courts to settle. I am confused that my deed and the surveys are different. I have been reading that a physical is not in fact a boundary survey, is that true? Do physical surveys actually define the boundary (legally) or does that require a Boundary Survey?

Just curious, did either surveyor work for a firm named Exacta?

I would argue a physical survey is required to determine the boundary, just not set monuments.  But if the physical survey results (now corrected) didn't result in any harm, then you have nothing to complain about.  If the correct line goes through your house or something, then you may have a cause for legal action.

https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title54.1/chapter4/section54.1-407/

But there could be other VA laws or codes that show the contrary.

13 Answers
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It sounds like the 2015 surveyor did not do enough to ensure the proper location of the boundary.  A physical survey usually is done to located physical features on a subject parcel when there are no obvious errors with monumentation defining the parcel, but when there are discrepancies with the boundary versus records,  you should have been notified that a full boundary survey was warranted.  This involves much more field work and research because adjoining parcels would need to be researched and surveyed.

Jason Gordon
VA LS 2867
NC PLS L-5098

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The description in your deed is like a bar code. It identifies your unique property, but rarely do the measurements in the deed exactly match a survey done on the ground. A competent surveyor will use your deed, all the deeds in your chain of title, your neighbors' deeds, past deeds for your neighbors' property, any surveys that have been done in your immediate area, evidence of past surveys physically in the ground, evidence of what past owners have done to claim ownership, and more a lot more to actually locate your property on the ground. 

One of many reasons that your deed might not match your survey is that no measurement is perfect. The farther back in time the property was originally measured the bigger difference there is likely to be. You may even find that it was actually never measured and the distances and bearings in your deed were just guesses; then even bigger differences are likely. If surveyors were to literally stake the description in the deed, every survey would result in a gap or an overlap between neighbors. This is why the law requires more than measuring to determine where your boundary is. 

The "original surveyor" who has changed his mind is probably the best person to explain the particular differences between your deed and the survey. If he can't, or won't, explain it to you, I would suggest hiring another surveyor to review his work. Any answers you get on a message board will be wild guesses. Not because there are not many competent and knowledgeable surveyors here, but because no one will be aware of the full set of facts. 

I can't answer your questions about the differences between a physical survey and a boundary survey because I have never heard the term, "physical survey". It may be a term surveyors who practice in Virginia are familiar with. 

(I can't answer your questions about the differences between a physical survey and a boundary survey because I have never heard the term, "physical survey". It may be a term surveyors who practice in Virginia are familiar with. )

In Virginia, there are regulations for performing boundary surveys, physical improvement surveys and topographic surveys.

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The two surveyors involved need to explain to you what the heck is going on.

Holding the rear monuments and shoving the Deed geometry into the street doesn't sound right, especially if the Deed calls for the street R/W.  It's possible the four found monuments define your boundaries and your property is 5 to 8' smaller than expected.  I couldn't say for sure, though.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? -1 Corinthians 15:55

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Posted by: VA LS 2867

(I can't answer your questions about the differences between a physical survey and a boundary survey because I have never heard the term, "physical survey". It may be a term surveyors who practice in Virginia are familiar with. )

In Virginia, there are regulations for performing boundary surveys, physical improvement surveys and topographic surveys.

Thanks, "Physical improvement survey"makes sense. "physical survey" didn't. These are called different things in different places, and are usually only useful to design improvements far away from the boundaries or to to cheaply transfer some liability to a survey. 

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Posted by: VA LS 2867

(I can't answer your questions about the differences between a physical survey and a boundary survey because I have never heard the term, "physical survey". It may be a term surveyors who practice in Virginia are familiar with. )

In Virginia, there are regulations for performing boundary surveys, physical improvement surveys and topographic surveys.

I have never heard the term "physical survey" before either, so I'm not exactly sure just what that is, either.

I recently did a survey of a rural property that had been platted in the early 1970's. Subsequent recorded surveys showed measurements made from  roughly parallel streets to the back resulted in an overlap of about 5 feet. Nobody bothered themselves to search for original plat monuments along the back line because, I suppose, it was too hard to do - being back in the woods.

For the benefit of the OP: Those original plat monuments govern, not the measurements from the original plat or any survey map that follows. The fact that surveyors have failed to do a thorough job, for whatever reason, does not change that fact.    "Running out the deed", which a lot of clients want, or rather are willing to pay for, is not the same as "recovering the boundary", which is a far more rigorous task. Deeds frequently conflict with one another.      

 

"Convention is like the shell to the chick, a protection till he is strong enough to break it through." Learned Hand

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Posted by: VA LS 2867

(I can't answer your questions about the differences between a physical survey and a boundary survey because I have never heard the term, "physical survey". It may be a term surveyors who practice in Virginia are familiar with. )

In Virginia, there are regulations for performing boundary surveys, physical improvement surveys and topographic surveys.

A physical survey sounds like a mortgage or loan survey; we called them plot plans in Nebraska; they don't do them here in Washington.

The first company I worked for, in Nebraska, did a thorough job on these types of surveys; looking for any red flags that might put a cloud on your title. Other company's, not so much; they looked at the 10% or so, of the surveys that could potentially come back to bite them, as part of doing business. Go ahead and sue me, see if I care...

Sounds like the surveyor missed this red flag in the first go around and was shown the way by the second surveyor; who he now agrees with.

You have 2 choices:

  • Hire an attorney and sue the first surveyor for any damages you think you've incurred.

or

  • Cut your losses and go with what the current survey.

I know it sucks; but that's why a lot of places don't allow these "Physical Improvement Surveys", or they put explicit restrictions in the state laws...We all know how that works.

Dougie

I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.--Thomas A. Edison

Citius, altius, fortius

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The plat definitely says "Physical Survey" , though it does include things like house, retaining wall, water main, set backs etc, driveway etc.

If the first surveyor is at fault we will plan to sue as damages have been occurred. However, I don't think he was wrong the first time. When he surveyed in 2015, he found monuments at the edge of the road, which is consistent with my deed. Now they are ignoring those irons and claim that my lot starts 8 feet into a road. Which is very unusual as there are no documented road easements in my lot.

Regardless, even if they're were no irons, the legal description of my lot says 125 from the road, if the deed doesn't matter and automatically gets super secede by surveys that may have been done by neighbors, what's the point of the deed? In my mind every survey should be based on their respective deeds, when there is over lap or dispute, it then goes to a judge clean it up, or the parties agree, and some sort of descion is made and the deeds than change.

You say your deed says 125' from the road. Is the edge of the road today in the same location of the edge of the road when your deed was originally created?

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Posted by: Nosi

The plat definitely says "Physical Survey" , though it does include things like house, retaining wall, water main, set backs etc, driveway etc.

Keep reading; I'm sure, somewhere on the "plat", it has a disclaimer that says something like; this is not a real survey, it is provided for loan purposes only and should not be used or relied upon for any improvements...

A diligent surveyor will not only look at the deed they are surveying, but the adjoining deeds as well. If there is a gap or overlap; the line in the senior deed usually holds. But you are right, a judge can also make this determination. Judges hate boundary issues; they need to remain impartial and there's so many variables that it is extremely difficult. The first thing he's going to say is "you need to work this out among yourselves"

Lawyers love these kinds of cases; they milk them for all they are worth; usually in the 10's of thousands of dollars...on both sides.

Good luck my friend...

I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.--Thomas A. Edison

Citius, altius, fortius

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Lay people tend to assume the measurements in the Deed control, as in my Deed says my lot is 125' deep so it must be exactly 125'-0" deep.  This is not the case.  Since time immemorial the Courts have held that the physically established boundaries control over the measurements in the Deed.  Measurements are an abstract value which tend to vary each time the Tract is surveyed (particularly in decades past) but the monuments set up by the property owners (or seller and buyer) are concrete and hold especially if they are called for in the Deed.

For example, say the Deed reads "beginning at an iron pipe on the street line, thence west 125 feet to an iron pipe, thence ...(etc)".  Say just for the sake of argument the two iron pipes are found and there is no dispute that they are the pipes called for in the Deed and say they are actually 120' apart.  The Courts have developed rules of construction under which the conflict will be resolved in favor of the iron pipes and the distance will be ignored.  It gets more difficult where the iron pipes are not actually mentioned but there is credible evidence that they were set by the original parties to the Deed.  Most Courts will hold them in this case too.

In cases of two Deeds overlapping the Land Surveyor will determine which Deed is senior, give it full measure then what is left over goes to the other Deed.

There is no need to go to Court in any of these cases.  If two neighbors with Deeds in conflict or with conflicting Surveys want to resolve the conflict they may do so by agreement.  The only reason to go to Court is if the two neighbors can't agree on a solution so they submit their problem to a Trial Court Judge to figure out for them which costs a massive amount of money.  You don't just need an Attorney (hopefully one that understands real property) but also a Land Survey who is an expert in boundary and testifying in Court (extremely expensive).  Believe me, it's a lot cheaper to have your Attorney and your Land Surveyor implement an agreeable solution with the neighbor.

Of course, if no one really cares and you are all living within your fences the other option is to do nothing.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? -1 Corinthians 15:55

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This article breaks it down nicely:

RULES OF CONSTRUCTION

 

It would be nice, though, if we could manipulate these rules to fit our specific needs...

I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.--Thomas A. Edison

Citius, altius, fortius

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Posted by: VA LS 2867

(I can't answer your questions about the differences between a physical survey and a boundary survey because I have never heard the term, "physical survey". It may be a term surveyors who practice in Virginia are familiar with. )

In Virginia, there are regulations for performing boundary surveys, physical improvement surveys and topographic surveys.

 

You are best off to find a surveyor licensed in the state you are in, than ask on a national/international forum. I suggest that you find a reputable surveyor in your area, maybe some on this forum are, and ask that person your question(s). HINT: Probably could start with VA LS 2867.

People on here, are helpful, and will give plenty of free advice, but if they aren't licensed in your state their authority or opinion isn't worth much more than a fence post.  

Take the next step in your career, pass your licensure exam with PPI2Pass

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Posted by: Nosi

The plat definitely says "Physical Survey" , though it does include things like house, retaining wall, water main, set backs etc, driveway etc.

If the first surveyor is at fault we will plan to sue as damages have been occurred. However, I don't think he was wrong the first time. When he surveyed in 2015, he found monuments at the edge of the road, which is consistent with my deed. Now they are ignoring those irons and claim that my lot starts 8 feet into a road. Which is very unusual as there are no documented road easements in my lot.

Regardless, even if they're were no irons, the legal description of my lot says 125 from the road, if the deed doesn't matter and automatically gets super secede by surveys that may have been done by neighbors, what's the point of the deed? In my mind every survey should be based on their respective deeds, when there is over lap or dispute, it then goes to a judge clean it up, or the parties agree, and some sort of descion is made and the deeds than change.

Nosi, the point of the description in the deed is to identify your property and point to where to look to find the boundary. You need to talk to the surveyor who "changed his mind". No need to be thinking about suing anyone yet. Before you get to that stage you need to understand the reasoning behind the surveys. The only thing anyone can tell you here, is that if one of the surveyors staked out the exact numbers in the deed, that surveyor was probably wrong. 

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Not to be stinky but when hired by a landowner for a cheep sale survey where I find original corners, significant discrepancies concerning actual use and a fairly good title chain I'll halt fieldwork and actually suggest we not record the map (costs $4,000 more because I'll have to survey the whole damned subdivision) and he/she settles amicably with his/her neighbor and I'll prep the descriptions cheaply.  60% happiness and a handshake for me.

Lower on the chain is a pissed off landowner whose neighbor put in a fence, road, locked off an easement, etc.  These people do not like each other and I'll quote the full meal deal for a ROS of the problem.  I'll demand up front fees with a rider if costs are lower or higher.  These people are already in my do not trust folder because they're hotheads with a possibly untenable agenda.  Consider this, your client wants a full blown ROS and it turns out you agree with the opposing survey 100%.  Ya' gonna get your money?  30% happiness and a 20% chance of getting stiffed.

The bottom of the chain is construction and preliminary (non boundary) topo surveys.  Very easy to bid and throw in your profit.  Tough to out compete your competitors but careful analysis of the bid proposal can reveal defects where change orders will boost your profits.  Also on call government contracts are guaranteed per hour profitability but there is considerable competition, sometimes affected by local politics.  10% happiness but 100% chance of getting paid, possibly losing money.