Allen Norwood

Where are the survey stakes?

If you’ve noticed fewer corner stakes with bright orange survey tape when homes are sold in your neighborhood, well, you have a good eye.

A colleague wondered whether some change in the law has reduced the number of surveys. The answer is no. But, since he asked, the house next door to us has gone under contract – with no sign of orange tape.

Surveys for home sales have been declining for a decade or more, said Jim Massman, who’s both a surveyor and a Realtor. “There is no requirement – no statute – that says you have to survey a piece of property when you buy it,” said Massman.

Years ago, he said, title insurance companies required surveys for almost every real estate sale.

Not so today. He speculates that companies crunched the numbers, realized they were paying claims for only a tiny percentage of transactions. So, weighing risk against cost, the companies cut back on surveys, which run about $400.

That’s sort of like getting rid of the off-duty policeman at the bank, he said, because the place hasn’t been robbed.

As you can tell, the surveyor thinks it’s a good idea to get a survey when you buy a house. And he makes a good case.

If you buy title insurance without a survey, the coverage is likely to have a gaping hole. Policies typically exclude coverage for anything a current survey would have revealed, Massman said.

You might get an old survey when you buy. That’s common practice, and it’s helpful. But things change. Like, say, a fence that went up after the old survey.

Real estate agents and brokers are taught to tell prospective buyers that it’s up to them whether to request a survey, he said. The pros are taught that a fence does not mark a lot line, Massman said.

Of course, the rest of us don’t get that lesson. So that deck or garage might have been built by someone who thinks that a fence is, indeed, a lot line.

Massman, wearing his surveyor’s hat, offers short presentations to groups of his fellow Realtors.

“I tell them it’s like a doctor using a 10-year-old X-ray,” he said. “You ask, ‘How does it look, doc?’ And he says, ‘Looks good to me.’”

Note: Next week, look for big changes to, which provides access to the regional MLS. The site will be easier to navigate on your tablet, desktop or smartphone. Watch The Observer for details next week.