Do I need a survey?

First Posted: 3/13/2015

Transferring land (giving, selling or even changing the owner’s name for land) has many requirements. These requirements can take days, weeks, or even months to complete before the government will allow a parcel of land to be transferred to someone else. The biggest issue usually relates to the property’s description. Is the property to be transferred described adequately?

If the transfer will not adequately identify the property (kept or transferred), a new survey will be required. Sometimes, that survey will even include surveying some land that will not be transferred.

When the federal government opened the “Western Reserve,” our area was divided into counties, which were divided into townships, which were divided into numbered sections, each of which was usually one square mile (640 acres). Corners of sections were identified by stone markers or buried cotton gin spindles. The surveyors of that era used chains (think of the chains used by football officials to measure first downs) and other rudimentary tools. Of course, each surveyor’s chain was slightly longer or shorter than another, and the wet and wooded character of the landscape made precision difficult.

That survey of the landscape facilitated almost two centuries of real estate transfers that identified each piece of real estate as a version of the following: “the eighty acres that is the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 25 in whatever township in whatever county.” Some parcels of real estate are still identified in this way.

However, as surveyors’ tools became better; it was easier to describe a property’s boundary as being “x feet at this angle then y feet another angle.” That description is called a “metes and bounds” description. As traditional 640-acre sections were re-surveyed by metes and bounds, some sections were found to contain several acres more or several acres less than the recited 640 acres.

It would be impractical to re-survey our entire region. However, as parcels are transferred or as parts of parcels are transferred, local county engineers require that new surveys be undertaken in certain instances. Each county handles this differently.

For example, in Allen County, if a parcel was transferred previously, and the entirety of that parcel is being transferred, the parcel description is sometimes adequate and might not require a new survey. However, if the parcel is sold in part, the part to be sold and the remaining part must each be described by new metes and bounds descriptions.

In Van Wert County, even if a parcel has been transferred before, if that parcel is sold outside the family and is not described by metes and bounds, that parcel will need to be re-surveyed with a metes and bounds description before it is transferred.

In Putnam County, if a part of a parcel is sold, the part to be sold can be described in metes and bounds and usually simply define the remaining (unsold) portion as being “the original description save and except the new part that is described by metes and bounds.”