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How to Protect Your Turf: Why Property Surveys Matter

Selling a home is stressful enough without having the deal fall through right before closing because of a misplaced fence.

Title companies will refuse to insure a property's title if a fence or other structure prevents the owner from accessing a portion of the property. Generally, this means that if a fence sits more than 1 foot onto your property, you have a title problem. It often makes no difference who installed the fence. And without title insurance, a home cannot be sold.

If you or your neighbor is planning to put in a fence, row of hedges, a wider driveway, a flower bed or any other installations near the property line, make sure you have the survey of your property.

Measure the placement of the new installation and compare it with the survey. In the case of a disagreement or uncertainty, have an independent professional determine the correct placement of the structure. The survey can then be updated to include the new structure. And while you may think there is no need to sweat these details because you get along with your neighbors, they may move, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get along equally well with the new homeowners.

Ensuring that fences and other structures are properly placed can avoid litigation and title problems: issues that could make your house unmarketable and disrupt closings. It also avoids having neighbors sign and record boundary line affidavits or agreements before you can sell, which require cooperation and cost money and time, often when time is of the essence.

If you have misplaced your survey, there may be one on file with your town or village building department. If none is on file, we can help you identify a surveyor who will prepare a new survey.

Preventing encroachments onto your property requires vigilance. Address boundary-line issues before they ripen into title problems.

John P. Gordon is an attorney who practices in the Business, Real Estate and Trusts & Estates Planning Practice Groups. He can be reached at JGordon@vmmlegal.com or at 516-437-4385, ext. 143.