A land survey has been called the single most important document in a Real Estate transaction by noted practitioner Bob Aaron. I agree. The current standard Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) standard Purchase Agreement calls for the Seller to produce any title documents (including surveys) in its control. The Purchaser never, in fact, receives a survey. We recommend to our clients as follows;

Firstly, as a Seller, a diligent effort should be made to locate the survey from either your previous lawyer or from your reporting letter or from your own records. If you are aware that a survey was done, copies are kept by law, by the original surveyor and can be cheaply obtained.

If you don’t know the name of the surveyor, there are online search resources that can with your legal description entered advise you who the surveyor is and a copy can be provided to you online, usually for a cost of about $100.00. Currently our favorite site for this is a company called Land Survey Records . When acting for purchasers we would like to see the OREA clause modified to say that any survey dated while the seller owned the property will result in the seller being liable for the purchaser’s cost in obtaining same.

Why the big deal about surveys?

In addition to verifying lot size the survey will show many other useful bits of information. Survey markers greatly assist dealing with a dispute with a neighbour. It is said good fences make good neighbours, but where do you site the fence? A dated survey will indicate the date of any build outs of the property so as to establish legal non-conforming uses or indicate possible zoning by-law infractions that could result in serious cost of the new owner. Zoning infractions may not come to light until years later when the owner is applying for a minor variance or a dispute arises with the neighbour. As the cost of a new survey is normally about $2,000.00 for a single family home, find the existing survey instead. As a seller we always recommend that a copy of the survey highlighting any issues be attached to the Agreement of Purchase and Sale and initialled by the purchaser. This happens far too infrequently.

Many agents and even some lawyers tell clients that a survey is not necessary with title insurance. The majority in the real estate bar and the title insurer’s themselves would certainly not agree with this statement. The reasons for this are the subject of a separate article.

The take away is that you should ignore doing a “survey search” when buying at your peril, not ours.