What is the difference between GIS, Mortgage Location, and a Boundary Survey?

A Q + A with Molly Woeste, VP of McSteen Land Surveyors

In a recent conversation with Janelle Keifer from Ohio Real Title, our Vice President, Molly Woeste, answered some questions common to title and real estate clients about the different types of land surveys and their roles in real estate transactions.

What is GIS? 

In Ohio, all 88 counties have a GIS – Geographic Information System online that is available to anyone to access for free. It provides a good birdseye view of your real estate transaction, as it essentially lays property lines over Google maps. We use it ourselves and it is a valuable resource, but it does not offer a complete picture or a high level of accuracy, especially when it comes to real estate transactions. In fact, there is a disclaimer when using GIS that they are not calculated boundary lines. As a result, there is no one to hold accountable if using the data for the purposes of a real estate transaction.

Is a Mortgage Location Survey the most common type of survey in a residential real estate transaction?

Yes, probably 80-90% of people are going to get a Mortgage Location Survey – or MLS – when they are buying or selling their home. Although it is not free like GIS images, it is relatively low cost and offers much higher accuracy, to a tolerance of about +/- half-a-foot to a foot. 

To conduct an MLS, we use the legal description provided by the title company, which tells us what the property is supposed to be. We then go out and confirm that what is happening on paper is happening in reality. We are really the eyes and ears for our title and lending clients to give them that picture that confirms that what is about to transfer on paper is what is actually transferring in real life.

So what if someone actually wants to have their boundaries staked? 

After an MLS, the next survey in terms of the level of accuracy is a Boundary Survey – it is the highest and most accurate survey. It provides a tolerance of +/-.02 feet. This type of survey requires a lot of independent research and calculations, and it is what’s required if we are actually going to put stakes into the ground. 

All of the responsibility falls to the surveyor on the Boundary Survey since we are piecing together all of the research and calculations to ensure that our boundary lines make sense. It requires not just looking at one set of property lines, but at all of the adjoining property lines. It is the only survey that you want to rely on if you are building or adding an improvement to your home, adding a fence, or installing a pool.

Our Boundary Survey and Mortgage Location Surveys are two separate departments at McSteen and have different personnel, use different tools, and different methodology. So it’s not like you can “add on a boundary survey” to an MLS or vice versa. They are two very different services with different intentions. 

The Final Summary

The GIS is a great free tool for a birds-eye view, but should not be relied upon for a real estate transaction. An MLS is likely sufficient (and usually required) when buying or selling a home to secure your transaction. Its sole intent is for title and lending purposes, not to be used by the property owner for determining boundary lines or making property improvements. And finally, a boundary survey is a highly accurate calculation of your property lines that can be relied upon for property construction, installing a fence, or other property improvements.

All three have great value. Just know how and when to use them appropriately! Unsure of which one fits your current needs?  That’s what we’re here for. With 50 years of experience in surveying in all 88 counties of Ohio, McSteen Land Surveyors is a leader in the industry. Contact us or order a survey and let our team of survey professionals take on your surveying needs.

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