Finally, we're back to good old surveying after mentioning it as a potential basic cost in the lot-buying process. When you look at property boundaries on a map (in real estate, often called a plat) it won't be immediately evident how those boundaries line up with the land itself. That's where surveying comes in. Professional surveyors research your property and use a plat to determine and mark the exact property boundaries of your vacant lot. When you look into buying a piece of property, it's possible a survey has been done recently. The evidence of a survey should be visible on the property with markers identifying the corner boundaries [source: Leslie and Associates]. You may even come across evidence of a survey when investigating the paperwork of a vacant lot yourself.
Even if a survey's been done, it could be old and outdated. Getting a new survey will clearly define your property line -- quite important when you delve into legal matters like easements. And surveys can serve purposes beyond plotting out property boundaries. For example, a construction survey can help you make precise elevation determinations and plan out the dimensions of a house. And floodplain surveys, which we'll talk about more next, provide critical information about the chance of flooding on your lot [source: LandSurveyor].
The cost of a survey will hinge on a number of factors: the size of your property, the amount of time it takes to complete the survey and how much research the surveyor has to do to with plats. And, of course, the type of survey will impact the cost. While a floodplain survey could end up costing you more, few things could wreck your building plans like being caught unaware in a flood zone.