A survey is a plan prepared by a Registered Surveyor depicting a parcel of registered land for the purpose of legally identifying its dimensions and boundaries. A survey will also reveal the existence of any easements, covenants or restrictions on land use and identify any encroaching improvements on the land.
Is it compulsory for a vendor to provide a survey of the land with the contract?
No, not in New South Wales. If the buyer wants a survey of the land and none is available, it needs to commission one itself.
I can see a ‘sketch’ of the land included in the contract – isn’t that good enough?
Check with your solicitor but what you are looking (about midway through the contract) is probably a ‘deposited plan’ which is a basic sketch of the land held by the Land Registry in New South Wales. It is a helpful depiction of the land but it won’t necessarily give accurate dimensions or boundaries nor will it disclose any encroaching structures or mislaid fences. Similarly, floor plans prepared by a vendor’s agent cannot be regarded as an accurate or legally enforceable plan of the land you are purchasing.
How does a buyer otherwise obtain a survey?
One needs to be ordered from a Registered Surveyor. The cost varies from $700 – $2,000 depending on the nature of the land and the type of survey. A simple ‘identification survey’ is towards the lower end of the range but if a more specialist survey is required (for example, if the property is ‘limited title’ or ‘old system title’) then it will be more expensive.
Surveys generally take 2-3 days to be turned around, but depending on where the land is located and how much work is required.
Your solicitor or conveyancer can normally appoint a Registered Surveyor on your behalf.
Do solicitors always recommend a survey be undertaken?
In an ideal world, a buyer would always obtain a survey prior to purchasing. A survey is really the one definitive record of the physical dimensions of the legal title of the land you are purchasing. It can help identify encroaching structures from or onto neighbouring properties and avoid costly disputes with your neighbours down the track.
However it would be wrong to say that it is regular practice in NSW for buyers to obtain surveys on every occasion. For example, one would almost never need to be done for a strata property or community title purchase (since the definitive ‘plan’ of a unitholder’s entitlement is located on the plan of subdivision already prepared by a surveyor and registered).
Secondly, the costs involved in appointing a surveyor are not insignificant and it may be that the size of the investment may not warrant it. It may be a cheaper alternative to instead purchase a policy of title insurance to cover off certain risks regarding encroachments or boundary disputes.
Similarly, there may not enough time to commission a survey prior to the property being sold if there’s a lot interest in the property and the market is hot.
If this is the case, you should ask your solicitor/conveyancer if it is still worth commissioning a survey prior to settlement (but after exchange) since you may still have a remedy against the vendor if a survey subsequently discloses an encroachment.
As general advice, buyers should try to obtain a survey prior to purchasing a property (or at least prior to settlement). Whilst it is easy to try and avoid this extra cost and process (and indeed becoming increasingly common), buyers should consider it a valuable piece of insurance for their investment and should also remember that a survey will be of some value when they come to sell the property in the future. This is because their own buyers will take some comfort from a survey being made available.
If you have any questions about this article, please contact the office on 1800 870 407 and one of our solicitors/conveyancers will be able to assist.