New Hampshire state law defines a land surveyor as “a professional specialist in the techniques of measuring land, educated in the basic principles of mathematics, the related physical and applied sciences, and the relevant requirements of law for adequate evidence and all requisite to the surveying of real property….”
Up until the latter part of the last century, most land in rural New Hampshire was subdivided by deed, not by survey. The seller and buyer agreed on the scope of the property to be conveyed and the seller prepared a deed describing that property to the best of his or her ability.
Most local subdivision regulations put in place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s required that land be surveyed and a plan prepared and approved by the local planning board as part of the subdivision process. Following approval, the deed descriptions of the lots to be sold would be prepared from the information on the approved plan.
Fast-forward to today, and your neighbor says half of your recently paved driveway is on his property. If your deed refers to a plan and therefore was part of a surveyed subdivision, you don’t need a new survey. You need a surveyor to mark the corners of your property based on the approved plan. This is referred to as “staking a lot”, and is the most basic level of service offered by most surveyors.
No new survey plan is prepared and all work is based on the original subdivision plan, the plan of record. If you own a vacant lot and are planning on building, the lot should be staked early on in the construction process. Some towns now require that the lot corners be staked by a land surveyor prior to the issuance of a building permit.
Preparing a survey of a property is a far lengthier process than staking a lot. It begins with research, the foundation of any accurate survey. This foundation typically includes research at the county registry of deeds to trace the subject property back to its origin, as well as checking the descriptions of abutting deeds and any abutting surveys of record. How and when your property was created in relationship to your neighbor’s property can often mean the difference between the newly paved driveway being over the line or not.
Old deed descriptions often contain very little detail, simply stating that the land runs north by land of Jones, east by land of Smith, etc. These are known as bounding descriptions. To find a description that contains distances, directions and monuments, it is sometimes necessary to research the property back to the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War when the cultural prestige and profitability of farming in New Hampshire was at its highest. After the 1830’s, following completion of the Erie Canal, construction of large mill-powered factories and the spread of early railroads, agriculture in New Hampshire began its steady decline, accompanied by a steady decline in the quality of property descriptions.
Deed research also tells the surveyor what to look for during field reconnaissance, i.e. the northwest corner should be an iron pipe next to a large flat rock, the southwest corner is the junction of two stone walls, and the east line is two feet from and parallel to the west side of the old barn. Upon completion of field reconnaissance, measurements are taken to determine the distance and direction of the property lines, the location of buildings, driveways and watercourses as well as any possible encroachments by or upon neighboring properties.
Once the field work is complete, a plan is prepared showing the lot corners found or set, the lengths and directions of each property line as well as any improvements, structures and encroachments. This plan is then recorded at the county registry of deeds and when the property is conveyed a new deed description is prepared from the survey plan, replacing the earlier, often less accurate original deed description.
If you are planning on subdividing or adjusting an existing property line with a neighbor, most local regulations require that the land be surveyed as part of that process. If you simply want to know where or how much land you own, the best time to have a survey done is before you actually own it, for a couple of reasons.
Donald R. Mellen, Wilbur C. Nylander and Norman Marquis during winter survey. Houlton, Maine - January, 1943.
Donald R. Mellen, James C. Schoenthaler, Wilbur C. Nylander and Norman Marquis outside U.S. Engineer Office, Norridgewock, Maine, summer 1943.
1948 Winter survey, Loosac Lodge, Bedford, Massachusetts.