Imagine your neighbor has the most gorgeous 50-year-old oak tree. You love it. In fact, the mature trees are what drew you to the neighborhood. Now imagine one day you notice the tree is starting to die and that most of it is hovering over your garage! One strong wind, and that’s going to be a problem. Your problem. In the real estate world, we call that an encroachment, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why we ALWAYS recommend having a survey done BEFORE you buy!

Encroachment: “Intrusion on a person’s territory, rights, etc.”  

Notice anything in that word? The word roach sits right in the middle, which seems fitting because an encroachment is like an unwanted pest and can be hard to get rid of. Fortunately, a survey is your best shot at exterminating the issue before it becomes your problem.

An encroachment is a general term used to describe countless situations where a boundary has been crossed, a boundary that is believed to be owned and protected. In real estate terms, it’s a property line that is being breached by a neighbor’s building or extension of some feature of their property i.e. fence, shed, garage, an extension of the house.

Buying or selling your home can be stressful enough without any unwelcome surprises! 

There are far too many encroachment stories in the field of real estate. We asked 5 Points agents for their stories from the field and got a flood of responses. 

We’ll use Beverly Newell’s top 3 as an example!

Know what you’re buying

I was representing the buyer on a sale in the South Park area. I consulted the Charlotte Mecklenburg GIS system to get a look at the lot lines and structures. The GIS map showed the neighbor’s house on my buyer’s lot. My buyer’s panic set in. We had a survey done, and the survey showed that in fact, there was NOT encroachment. Until we got that survey back, it was stressful. Whew! The new updated survey was filed with the city and all was well.  

As the buyer, if you have a survey completed while under contract in the Due Diligence period, and it shows an encroachment, you have compelling evidence to ask the seller to remedy the encroachment issue before you close on the property. Once the encroachment issue is resolved a new survey can be completed. Your closing attorney then can file the survey as part of your title insurance policy. This makes you a rock-solid seller that won’t have any of these issues with your future buyer. 

Find your property lines

Another client of mine went under a purchase contract understanding that the garage was encroaching on the adjacent lot. At first, this buyer did not originally want to get a survey. This was in an older historic Charlotte neighborhood with codes and ever changing lots dating back to the 20’s. After stressing about the possibility of issues buying an older home in an older area of town presents, they agreed to a survey. Thank goodness. Once again the survey saved the day and showed the garage was safe and sound on my buyer’s property. The closing office filed the proper paperwork to correct the records and their garage stayed. 

It may seem safe if you are buying a relatively small lot in an urban area, but that is often where we see the worst issues, especially in neighborhoods that are both historic and ever-changing. Buyers don’t think it’s super necessary to spend that extra amount on a survey if they’re not buying several acres and a feed barn, but trust me, you could be in for a surprise if you don’t check the survey! 

Surveys offer built-in protection for unwanted expenses

In the 3rd scenario, I was on the seller’s side. My seller did not get a survey when they purchased their home through a relocation company. Their buyer got a survey that showed the back 50 yards of their lot had been sold to the city for the greenway during the time they bought the house. This meant the shed in that area was an encroachment on city land. Yikes! The only remedy was to move or take down the shed. My seller’s insurance would not cover any of this because they had not gotten their own survey when they were purchasing the house. My seller’s moved the shed at their expense and learned a costly lesson. EncROACHment exterminated. 

It’s common for buyers to trust an old survey provided by the seller, as in the case of Beverly’s client. But that story proves that property lines change and surveys should be updated from time to time, especially in growing metropolitan areas. 

Remember, encroachment is an issue between neighboring properties. Having an unresolved property line encroachment issue is no way to start or maintain a neighborly relationship. It’s much easier to talk to your neighbor about that dying oak tree if you have a survey to show the lines clearly. It won’t solve the problem, but it will give you a starting point for having the conversation about what to do next.

The moral of the story is always get a survey!

Your survey is a guide to show you where you can and cannot make improvements on your lot to avoid adding an encroachment. You will want to consult codes on setbacks for building any structures. It is also advised to check local code before building a fence line. It’s not advisable to build a fence right on the property line.  

Encroachments can be resolved, but it’s best to identify them in the purchasing process so you don’t adopt them and certainly don’t create more. We’ve got an office full of agents who can help you work through these kinds of issues!