Re: Survey Stakes vs. Dimensions
Newton and LS gave you solid info. When I read about you comparing to dimensions to the house, I thought of a Mortgage report right away as well. But corner monuments are not often set as part of a mortgage report. Because of the level of care exercised in a mortgage "survey" (and I use those terms very loosely when used together) as compared to a real survey for the purpose of determining a boundary location, it truly would be a fraud, as in misrepresentation that would carry liability to the surveyor for any detrimental reliance by landowners on the bogus stakes, and in terms of putting the surveyor's licence in jeopardy for setting boundary markers under an inappropriately low standard of practice.
Take a close look at the objects you are referring to as survey stakes. First of all, what are they made of and are there any markings on them. If you are looking at fairly new (as in set during a recent survey) wood stakes, notice if anything is written on them. Surveyors don't always write on the stakes, but if you see something like "Trav. Pt #3" or "Ctrl #10", you are looking at the surveyors traverse or control points, which are placed in convenient locations for the surveyor to make measurements from and most often do not coincide with any boundary corners. Traverse points are also sometimes designated on the stake with a graphic shorthand such as a triangle with a dot in it.
Regardless of what you find marked on the wood stake, carefully check the ground in the immediate vicinity around it. Look for a metal pipe, 1/2" to 2" in diameter, or a metal rod or rebar, 1/4" to 1" in diameter with or without some sort of cap on it. In most areas I've worked, the most common sizes used over the past 30+/- years are either a 3/4" inside dia. iron pipe or a 5/8" dia rebar, with yellow or red plastic, or aluminum caps also being most common). If you find a nail or smaller wood stake, you either have a traverse point or a temporary corner marker. A call to the surveyor should clear up which they are. If the surveyor indicates them to be temporary corner markers, ask when he plans to set the permanent ones. As LS said, and it's the same where I currently practice, boundary monuments set must be durable in nature (wood don't cut it) and must be marked with the license number of the surveyor responsible for setting it. If you are given some double speak that they are temporary corners, but there is no plan to set permanent ones (i.e. set as courtesy for client, or used by the filed crew only for reference while conducting the survey, or some other nice sounding but weak excuse) mention something about checking with the State Board.
Moving on and presuming that you find metal markers that appear to be substantial enough to mark a boundary, just how much validity they have over any dimensions depends upon a whole lot more than any of us can adequately explain here. Some of the questions we seek to answer when considering whether monuments that we find during the course of a survey are... Who set them? Are they marked with the licensee's name & number? How old do they appear to be? Were they set at the time one or all affected parcels was/were created? Has anyone moved them since they were first set? Were the affected parcels created all at the same time (i.e. lots of a subdivision) or were they created at different times? If at different times, which came first, and was the monument I'm considering set during a survey of the senior parcel or of a junior one? What knowledge do the affected landowners have of the particulars of their boundaries; have they recognized this point for a significantly long time or are they even aware of it?... and many, many others, depending upon the unique circumstances of the properties being surveyed.
A permanent survey monument may or may not be definitive in controlling the location of your boundary. Far more often than not, it is.
The bottom line for an affected landowner is that if a licensed surveyor (and that doesn't mean any person working on his or her crew, but the licensed surveyor in charge of the work) hasn't definitively stated that it is meaningless to you, you should presume that it is a point that directly marks your boundary or somehow indirectly controls it. If you doubt the correctness of the points you are aware of, or are not certain of their significance to your boundary, you need to hire a surveyor to determine those answers for you before either you or your neighbor make any improvements, such as a driveway in reliance to a belief that they properly mark the boundary line.
A couple final comments on Mortgage Reports, also commonly referred to as Mortgage Surveys, and even more commonly referred to by real estate agents simply as "the survey" for the property in the transaction: I am in complete agreement with LandSurveyor on this topic. They are a total fraud on the purchaser of real property.
I have heard, ad nauseum, the argument that they serve a purpose for the lender, that they are simply and only for the lender and onl provided to the purchaser as a courtesy. Well, herein lies the fraud.
They serve a purpose for the lender, who presumably understands their purpose and limitations. But throughout the transaction, the requirement for a Mortgage Report is presented to the buyer as a requirement for a "survey". The paperwork may even refer to a "survey". The work is performed by a licensed surveyor. The final map is signed and stamped by a licensed surveyor, giving it on cursory inspection the appearance of an authoritative document. Most buyers are given this map together with an imposing stack of other documents signed at closing, most of which they may never look at again. They are not specifically shown the note that essentially says "this survey is not a survey and you shouldn't rely on it for anything", nor are they specifically advised of the limitations. More than 9 times out of 10, the landowner who recieved such a drawing with his closing materials glanced at it for a few minutes, just long enough to note that all of the things he owuld expect to be on his property were drawn fully within the dark lines with the bearings and distances written along them. Survey says... it's all good and it's all mine! And they never pull it out of the folder of all the closing documents again until years later, a neighbor wants to build something uncomfortably close to our landowners house, garden, pool, swing set, whatever.
"You can't build that there, that's my property. I have a survey that says so!". Off to the attic they go. After several hours of looking through boxes, (or if they're concerned about the safey of their important documents, it's in one of those folders in the safe, stuffed in between the deer rifle and the box of baby pictures) they come back out approaching their neighbor with the utmost confidence as they put all of their faith in this signed, stamped, official... worthless piece of crap. Except that they still don't know it's a piece of crap because they just looked at it for the information they needed, "my property line is 16.4 feet from the side of my house". But the neighbor has a similar "survey" which says that the property line is 16 feet from the edge of his house, and the problem is that the houses are only 30 feet apart.
There they stand, each with his "survey" in one hand, a Stanley pocket tape in the other, making an enemies of each other over a foot or two, or maybe even a few inches of land, relying primarily on very official looking non-surveys that no one ever bothered to inform them were deficient for that purpose.
So here comes the next argument of the defenders of Mortgage Reports: "They state plainly in the notes that they are not boundary surveys and shouldn't be relied on for that purpose."
Yeah, so? Do you read all the provisions of every contract for services you sign - for appliance repair, for your mechanic, the forms you signed on your first visit to each of your doctors? Did you read every provision of every form you signed at the closing of your home? I sure didn't, and I'm a land professional who supposedly knows better. I didn't have time even if I wanted to, there was a stack of forms about 2" thick, and I must have signed my name about 80 times over 50 different forms and copies of forms requiring original signatures. I don't think that I am unlike nearly all homeowners in that I paused just long enough to catch the highlights of what each form was about and scanning to ensure that there were no words like "devil", "soul", or "first born" in any of them. OK, maybe most aren't quite that paranoid, but you get my drift.
When the landowner finally does have reason to pull out that "survey" to support their claim against their neighbor, they aren't interested in reading the fine print, they're looking for that info that's going to allow them to definitively show the neighbor where the line is according to their "survey".
Case in point to illustrate the typical misconception, my Dad. I'm rapidly closing in on 50 years old and have a 30+ year career in surveying. I am fairly well known and fairly well respected among my peers in the state/region I work in, but Dad doesn't know any of that. He still thinks of me as barely past my teens, and although it's been more than 30 years, it seems like just yesterday that I was moving out to him. Until a couple of years ago when we had this discussion, he thought my job was all about dodging traffic on the side of the road, making a few measurements and pounding stakes in the ground. It never occurred to him that he should ask me if the "survey" made of his property was any good. It came up when he started thinking of selling his home and thought maybe he should replace some of the fence as part of getting the place ready to sell. While he was at it, he was going to have the fence builder make sure the fence was on the property line.
"Have you ever had a survey of this place done, Dad?"
"Sure, there was one done when your Mom and I bought the place."
[Uh, oh] "Do you have a copy of the map?"
"Yeah, it's around somewhere. I'll see if I can find it." And sometime later he found it and showed it to me.
I showed him the title of the drawing [no reaction yet], and then showed him the note that stated that what he had in front of him was not a boundary survey and should not be relied on as such. That's when the recognition came, and the outrage that he paid for something that wasn't what he thought it was even though it looked like what he thought it was. He felt ripped off. My Dad's experience represents the belief that a Mortgage report is something far more than it is, and the feeling of having had the wool pulled over their eyes when the recognition of the service for what it was finally happens.
The majority of homeowners who have one of these drawings in their "home ownership documents" file, because it was signed and sealed by a licensed surveyor, and because quite often, their name is on the face of it
_______________"MORTGAGE REPORT OF THE _______________
JOHN SMITH PROPERTY
__________________AT 1234 OAK ST", __________________
and because they paid for it, they think that they have an official property survey performed for them. It's a fraud devised by the title insurance and lending industries as a means to make an approximate assessment of risk, aided and abetted by real estate agents who would far rather recommend the lender's required "survey" product because it costs 1/3 to 1/10 of what a real survey costs and any costs potentially discourage the sale or eat into the commission, and by surveyors who wish to make quick money at work that requires very little application of professional judgment, almost no research, and far less physical work than a real survey entails.
OK, my couple comments turned into a somewhat lengthy rant, but homebuyers should be aware of these things so that they can make informed decisions about what they spend their money on in a real estate transaction.
I'm a surveyor, not your surveyor & not an attorney.
Advice is general survey, not legal. Hire a local professional for specific advice.