What is an Identification Survey?
An Identification Survey is undertaken by a registered surveyor to correctly identify to which property a given title deed is referring. Though it is hard to believe, it can happen that an incorrect block is bought or sold because the title deed does not match the property that the vendors or purchasers actually thought they were talking about!
HOW IS A PROPERTY IDENTIFIED ON PAPER?
A contract of sale is centred around a Title Deed. And a Title Deed makes reference to a property by its Lot and DP number. Every property in NSW belongs to a Deposited Plan, or DP.The DP defines the boundaries with respect to verified State Survey Marks, so even if the boundary marks, or corner pegs, are lost the boundaries can be remeasured and determined by a registered land surveyor. The DP shows the bearings and distances of all boundary lines in question.
Some DPs refer to a single lot. Some refer to hundreds or even thousands of lots. Every Lot, or parcel, of land in any given DP has its own unique lot number. So a parcel of land can always be described as a Lot in a certain DP. (Old plans, some decades ago, also occasionally had Sections within DPs. So those parcels have Lots within Sections within DPs. But that is for another discussion.) This Lot and DP number combination is called a Folio Identifier, and it is the number that is used for legal documentation. It is separated by a forward slash, “/”. So it is in the form 1/100000 (being Lot 1 in DP 100000).
This means that legal documents can be made up regarding transfer of ownership of large plots of land, and for very large sums of money, that do not draw a plan, they simply make reference to a Folio Identifier.
HOW IS A PROPERTY IDENTIFIED ON THE GROUND?
Here is the problem. When a property is for sale everyone generally discusses the block from on site, by pointing at it; and by walking on it, pacing it out and so on. We say, “this property is for sale”. But these conversations generally occur without regard to a Folio Identifier, but simply to a piece of land that is assumed to be the one for sale. In the case of vacant blocks, it is easy to be misaligned, and actually discussing a different lot. Because real estate agents liaise on the owners’ behalf, there is often no one part of the discussion who actually knows which block is for sale.
The other source of error is if any of the legal documentation has an error in the Folio. It could have happened before this vendor purchased the property. Or it could happen during the drawing up of these sale documents. And so the vendor thinks they are selling a certain property. And the agent knows which one they are representing. And the buyers understand which piece of land everyone is referring to. But in the eyes of the law, if the folio is wrong then actually the incorrect property can be bought and sold!
While that is unthinkable, it has happened that people have purchased the incorrect property.
SO WHAT IS AN IDENTIFICATION SURVEY?
An identification survey, or Ident Survey, or ID Survey, as it is often called bridges the gap between the documented legal side and the land on the ground. Taking accurate measurements back to the verified survey marks it confirms which property is being listed for sale or purchase. The survey does not start with an assumption from the ground. It starts with the Folio Identifier and then locates that property on the ground from the plan measurements.
A diagram is produced, along with a signed surveyor’s report, describing the property. This will confirm or clarify exactly which property is being discussed, and will accurately describe its boundary extents in a diagrammatic form.
IDENT SURVEYS ARE USUALLY NEEDED BY THE BUYER, FOR THE BANK
Generally an Ident Survey is commissioned by the purchaser. And while the general public are lax about needing one, it is usually the banks who insist. Because if a mortgage is involved then in actual fact it is the bank who stands to lose it all if they purchase the incorrect property. This will render the transaction worthless, and they will have no ownership of land with which to recover the funds.
These days banks will often forego an ident survey, instead requiring the borrower to take out insurance. It will be that insurance that will be used to protect the bank if an error is made.
However, the insurance does not protect the buyer at all, so they will be left without their deposit, legal fees, and having lost however many months it took to find and purchase it. With a correct understanding it is a highly valuable survey to undertake prior to exchanging any contracts.
IDENT SURVEYS ARE ALSO HELPFUL FOR LEARNING OF POTENTIAL PROBLEMS
An Ident Survey is often also referred to as a Surveyor’s Report. Surveyor’s Reports are not so much focused on correctly identifying which plot of land is referred to by a certain Folio Identifier, but rather in locating structures and easements on that property, and on adjoining properties.
A Registered Surveyor can describe all structures on the block with respect to the boundaries. And if there are buildings that overhang from your land to a neighbour’s land, then that is something you want to know BEFORE you purchase. There are a range of options, from knocking down the structure to purchasing an easement from your neighbour. But either way, it will be a cost that you will want to know about before you make your final offer to purchase. Problems like this, once the sale goes through, become your problem as the new legal owner of a block of land.
On the other hand, if your neighbours are encroaching on your land then that is also information that you will want to know.
Easements are another thing that are often misunderstood. A surveyor will draw and clarify the presence and location of any easements that are associated with that block of land. An easement can be said to be either benefiting or burdening a Lot. Some easements will give you the right to use a specific part of another piece of land, usually adjoining, for certain things (like draining stormwater or using for vehicle or pedestrian access). These easements benefit your Lot. In the same way, an adjoining Lot may have the right, via an easement, to use part of your land for specific purposes. These can be described as burdening your Lot.
Even if you don’t know about them during the sale process, all associated easements are inherited by you as the new owner. So it is very important to have an expert clearly identify all legal ramifications of the property you are purchasing.
It is a very good discipline to carefully read the DP for your block. Not just the Title Deed, but also find the Lot on the plan and examine the boundaries and the easements.
BOUNDARY MARKING IS NOT A REQUIREMENT OF AN ID BUT IT MAKES SENSE TO DO TOGETHER
All the measurements to get the bearings and measure the block accurately are the same as if a surveyor were to visit the site on another occasion to mark the boundaries. The actual placing of the pegs is a much smaller percentage of the time as the overall survey. An Identification Survey does not involve marking of the boundaries by default. But if there are no fences around then it is usually a very helpful extra service to coincide with that site visit. If you are thinking of building and potentially will have earth moving equipment, then it might be safer to do it later. A surveyor will be on site for marking out the new building design, and even for Council certification after construction. So you have opportunities to have the boundaries marked at that time. We recommend fencing at the end of a building project, so that damage is less likely to occur.
IDENT SURVEYS CAN ALSO BE USED FOR OCCUPATION CERTIFICATES
When building a house it will be a requirement of council to get a “Survey Report by a Registered Surveyor” prior to them issuing you with an Occupation Certificate. This report will show the new structure with respect to the boundaries to ensure that the new building complies with the setback codes. It needs to prove that the structures are entirely contained within the boundaries and any relevant easements. In low lying areas it may also measure the floor heights and certify them. Council may have stipulated a minimum floor height in order to be above the flood level. This will need to be proven in order to get final certification.