Buyer’s Series Part 1: Surveys – Buying Real Estate on Lake Martin


Part 1 of our Mini-Series on the key items buyers need to know when closing a transaction for a home or property on Lake Martin.

By: Adam Yager, Realtor® – Lake Martin Realty


Surveys are a paramount counterpart to the closing of a real estate transaction and the list of reasons that supports this statement is a mile long. However, knowing how I like to keep it simple, here is a bullet point list of not only WHY surveys are so important, but those key points you need to watch out for.


First, know WHAT you are getting:

  • Property Lines (obviously)
  • How many feet of water front will you own?
  • What is part of your property and what isn’t?
  • Seems pretty simple so far, right?

Second, know your SET BACK LINES.

  • This is very important – especially for homes that reside in certain developments around the lake.
  • These lines will determine where your home can be placed, where additions to the home can be placed, or where any other type of structure and improvement can be placed in reference to not only your property lines but also ALPCO guidelines (AKA – anything to do with a boat dock or pier) and neighborhood/development guidelines/HOA Covenants. You do NOT want to end up with an HOA fee because you built a structure that was in a “common area” that you didn’t even know existed!
  • In reference to Alabama Power Company guidelines for dock structures:
    • As your survey will provide your property lines, here is how the ALPCO looks at these lines to determine where you are able to place a boat dock structure.
      • Property lines run to “infinity” at whatever angle they are positioned. That means, they run all the way to the water. No matter the angle of how your property lines run, your boat dock structure must be at LEAST 15 ft. away from your property line, ON EITHER SIDE.

Third, become aware of HIDDEN SURPRISES:

  • Is there an easement that runs slap down the middle of your driveway or maybe even right down the center of the row of knock-out roses that you don’t want to move because they are just so stinking pretty?
  • What about if ‘ol Jim-Bob next door’s mother used to live in the home you are purchasing and he claims he has the right to use your boat ramp like he has been doing for the last 50 years. Guess what? The survey will help you uncover all those potential disputes you always want to avoid.
  • There may be a number of other easements that reside on your property (i.e. Utility easements, community boat dock easements, Common Area easements, etc.). Your survey will reveal all these to you.

Fourth, for NEW property or Unimproved Property:

  • Know what your buildable area will be. Now, your agent will really be able to help you out here. If this property is in a development, your agent should have already provided you with a copy of the HOA (Homeowners Association) Covenant and Restrictions.
  • With this information, which will include architectural guidelines and setbacks set forth by the developments governing ARC (Architectural Review Committee), the surveyor will and should provide you with a “buildable area” sketch on your survey that you can then use to pick out your home plans and send to your builder.

Lastly, who PAYS for the survey?:

  • In my personal opinion and in accordance to how I generally write contracts for my buyers, the SELLER pays for the survey. You are purchasing their property, so the way I see it, they should provide you with complete documentation of what you are buying.
  • However, a survey is also one of those items that is regularly negotiated in a real estate contract. Always refer to your contract or purchase agreement to see who is covering which costs. Some sellers will cover this costs, some won’t. You never know until you ask is always my philosophy. 

Exceptions to the rules:

There are in fact some structures in some developments, dependent upon location on the lake that will be ruled as an exception to the standard survey guidelines. This is especially true with certain boat dock structures that are considered “grandfathered-in”. These will be reviewed case-by-case.


Commonly Asked Questions:

  1. Well, the seller only had the property two years and he had a survey done before he moved in, so can’t we just use that one?
    1. Sure, you can. But what if he made other improvements you are not aware of that were not recorded on the last survey. Now the neighbor next door, even though she is as sweet as she can be, wants you to take that structure off her property line and wants YOU to PAY for it. What then?


In Summary, I hope this has brought to your attention some of the more noteworthy points of the importance of a survey in a real estate transaction. It is equally important to have the survey done by a LICENSED SURVEYOR and I would even say a surveyor who actually knows Lake Martin. Your friend who is a land surveyor in Atlanta is very smart I am sure, but he/she may not do you much good considering he/she does not know the lake.


As always, it helps to have an agent on your side who is your advocate and teammate throughout the home buying process. I would love nothing more than to be that advocate for you. Give me a call or send me an email. Let me know how I can serve you.



Have a blessed week.

– Adam