Property disputes almost always require review of a survey plat. A survey plat is a drawing prepared by a licensed land surveyor showing the actual location of a parcel of property.
A survey plat will usually contain information about the surveyor, a brief title of the document, data regarding its preparation, a legend identifying symbols on the plat, identification of adjoining property owners and a “metes and bounds” description of the property. “Metes and bounds” refers to the surveyor’s measurements of each portion of the property boundary.
To read a plat, first locate the North arrow. This will orient you to the property’s actual location on the ground. Next, find the survey legend. You will see symbols indicating where pins from prior surveys were found (existing pin), where pins were placed by the surveyor who prepared the survey (pin placed), monuments, easements, structures and other information on the survey plat.
Now find the point of beginning for the parcel. Survey plats will usually “tie in” to a United States Geological Survey Marker or some easily identified point such as the intersection of two highway rights of way or a corner of some previously surveyed tract of land. From that point (the “starting point”) the survey plat will show a line or series of lines, with various points along the line marked, leading to the parcel that was surveyed. The point where the lines reach the surveyed parcel is referred to as “the point of beginning” or the “beginning point.” Some surveys will specifically identify these points as the “starting point” and “point of beginning.”
Once you find the beginning point you can follow each segment of the boundary until you return to the point of beginning. Each segment will contain numbers and letters indicating the direction from North that the line proceeds as well as the distance to the next point. For example, a segment may have the notation N 15° 30′ 45″ E on one side of the line and the notation 166.25′ on the other side of the line. This indicates that the line is 166.25 feet long and is pointing 15 degrees 30 minutes and 45 seconds in a Northeast direction. Minutes and seconds are small subdivisions of degrees.
To better understand this concept, imagine that you are facing North. Directly to your right (East) would be 90 degrees East of North. If you turned around you would be facing South and would be 180 degrees South of North. As you continue to turn you would face West, located 90 degrees West of North.
Survey plats can also be read in reverse. A line showing it travels N 15° 30′ 45″ E can also be described as traveling S 15° 30′ 45″ W. It all depends on which direction you are facing when following the line.
You may also see numbers indicating lot numbers on mapped subdivisions or parcels of land as well as deed references indicating where descriptions of other property can be found in land records.
If a survey plat indicates that it has been recorded in the office of the Register of Deeds (North Carolina) or the Clerk of Superior Court (Georgia), you can obtain a copy from that office or possibly download a copy from the appropriate office. However, some plats are not recorded. You will need to request a copy from the surveyor and, in some instances, the permission of the person that obtained the survey may be required.