Foundation to the Foundation
Wikipedia defines a foundation as “the element of an architectural structure which connects it to the ground, and transfers loads from the structure to the ground.” The foundation is a critical structure to the integrity of the home and determines in many cases the durability of the entire house for decades to come.
Just like every house has a foundation, the real estate foundation is the buyer and seller transaction. Real estate buyers, the ones assuming all of the risks, often use home inspectors to routinely inspect the home. For example, when a prospective buyer is thinking about purchasing a home, they are often advised to hire a house inspector to create a report as to the condition of all of the critical items of the house. Items listed could be issues relating to plumbing, Sheetrock, electrical outlets and many other things including the foundation. Many buyers, in fact, go to great lengths to ensure that every detail and potential hazard is uncovered or discussed as part of the negotiating process, and rightfully so. It is critical that the buyer knows exactly what is being purchased and the ramifications of potential problems related to the house for sale.
Here's where the wheels come off. As a society and an industry, we are missing the forest for the trees. Many times, we are so preoccupied with the caulking around the trim, just as an example, we are completely oblivious to the land portion of the purchase. The land the house actually sits on may have real and very expensive property line issues.
Let's say a potential buyer is looking for a house with a nice fenced backyard. The buyer thinks to himself “Surely the fence is the property line” and never gives it a second consideration. NOT SO FAST!! Very few states and even fewer municipalities require a survey to be performed in order to attain a fence construction permit. Heck, very few municipalities even have a fence construction permit or even know what it is.
Did you know that the fence, after meeting several key criteria, is considered the property line? It’s true, in fact per a famous Georgia case from Riley vs. Griffin (16 GA. 141 cir. 1854) and subsequent dispute decision by then Georgia Superior Court Justice Lumpkin, the court ruled and a portion of his decision states “Suppose the line sworn to, is not that which was marked by the original Surveyor; still, if it were agreed on by the coterminous proprietors, and acquiesced in, and possession to it held for eighteen or twenty years, the parties, and those claiming under them, would be bound by it, no matter when nor by whom the line was run and chopped."
Although the language is dated, the principles are the same. A fence is sometimes more than just a fence. It is especially important for the homeowner/property owner to know what that fence represents and the time frame for said fence and many times it takes someone who has dedicated their entire career to be able to distinguish the difference between boundary line fences and just fences. Enter the Professional Surveyor.
So sometimes that seemingly innocuous fence is not so harmless. You could literally be walking into a real problem with the neighbors. Like I always tell my clients and kids, the two things that seemingly reasonable people will absolutely go crazy over are 1. Their children and the perceived slight their children may receive at the hands of a coach, teacher, other parent or other children and 2. Their own property lines, because even though very very few people have any clue as to what a survey is or what the significance of the boundary line means to them, we all become experts when our own property lines come into question by third parties.
Moral of the story? Before you sign on the dotted line and inherit a potential bag of problems have a survey done along with the a home inspection. Afterall, the land is the foundation to the foundation of your home or business.