DIY: Property Survey

While surveying land is a professional endeavor, you can do it yourself and in the process save money. While the adjustment of property lines can only be done by a licensed surveyor, you can determine your existing property lines. Doing this yourself requires some research and diligence, and it helps if you have a natural grasp of spatial relations.

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You can do your own property survey.
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The deed states the boundaries of your land.

Start by reading your property deed. This describes the boundaries of your land. It will state the county and state where the land is located. It may state natural boundaries such as a a river. For example, "The eastern boundary of the property is located 10 feet from the fencing surrounding the Joe Louis Arena on 3rd St., Detroit, Michigan."

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The public land survey system groups property into 160-acre divisions.

Determine which method is used in your state to survey land. Some states use the public land survey system. Others use the metes and bounds system. The public land survey system is based on an allotment of 160 acres, or a quarter section. The boundaries of the land are called quartercorners. A compass coordinate will identify each quarter of the section. For example, "The NW ¼ of section 1." If you are dealing with less than 160 acres, divide it by 4 so that you are addressing 40 acres. This would read, "The NW ¼ of the NW ¼. For even smaller acreage, repeat the division process. The metes and bounds system starts by locating property lines and gives a description based on distances and compass coordinates. So it would read, for instance, "beginning at a point 100 feet due north of the Detroit River, then N50E, 200 feet, then N105, 200 feet, then N20W, 200 feet."

Step 3

Locate all the documents that relate to your property. You can find them at city hall or at a county courthouse. Find a plan for your property and one for the neighborhood. You may find previous descriptions of the property and notes from surveyors.

Step 4

Before you hit the field, you will need a compass, measuring tape, string, and plumb bob (a weight suspended from a string). Find an assistant who can help you with the process.

Step 5

Take a specific point found in a description of the property and measure from this location. Use the deed for measurements of direction and distance. Mark the line you measured with the string. While property measurements are done on a horizontal line, actual land includes hills and slopes. On hilly land, use the level to determine the horizontal line. Hold your measuring tape along this line. Attach the plumb bob to the tape and allow it to slide vertically to the ground to locate the place on the ground where you measure the distance.

Step 6

After you hit the end of your property line in one direction, see if you can find a boundary marker. What is used may have something to with when the original survey was done. It may be a stake or a pipe. If the marker is buried, you may be able to find it with your compass.

Step 7

From here you need to move to each corner of the property until you have found all of the property markers. Do not move or remove a property marker, as they are used to designate legal boundaries.


John Toivonen

John Toivonen is an attorney in Lansing, Mich., and has been a professional writer since 1999. His work has appeared in "The Washington Times." He holds a Juris Doctor from Thomas M. Cooley Law School and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Guilford College.