Welcome to the world of William Penn and old property records. Most home buyers in our state do not obtain a survey of their property, and many owners of older properties don't know exactly where the lots lines run. While these uncertainties do concern homeowners, in my experience the actual harm is often not that great.
Why no surveys? Because PA lenders do not require them. Why not? Because Pennsylvania title insurers have traditionally insured the LENDER ONLY against this risk. They assume, I guess, that a lender’s position would not be harmed by a claim involving a line dispute, so they “insure over’ this possibility. Owners have to pay a premium for the same protection.
The alternative – a survey – is usually deemed too costly. Further, the period between signing an agreement of sale and completing due diligence is typically 10-15 days, rarely enough time to complete a survey. I wish surveyors would come up with a “quick survey” option at a reasonable price, so we could start to remedy this issue.
Because I'm a lawyer, my clients sometimes ask me to read their deed and tell them where the lot lines run. But while I can approximate the distances and corners based on the text, unless you can find old iron pins in the ground, only a surveyor can be sure. Often, the beginning point is in the middle of the road, and it takes surveying equipment to find it.
Important: standard agreements of sale do not protect a buyer from inaccurate descriptions of lot lines or acreage unless specifically noted. All representations from public records and marketing materials are deemed erased by the sales agreement. If it really matters to you that you're buying 3 acres, or that the big chestnut tree is on your lot, make sure it's spelled out.
The bottom line? If you're not planning to put in a fence, you probably don't need to know exactly where your lot lines are. Many PA residents who have no idea where their land begins and ends have made their peace with this uncertainty. It’s been that way for decades. So, buy the home you love after asking the neighbors where they think the lines are, then do a survey at your leisure.