Homebuyers in Maryland must now ask themselves one more question during the course of choosing a neighborhood, house and type of loan: How would they like their property surveyed?
The answer could mean a difference of several hundred dollars at closing. It also could make a difference for buyers who intend to build an addition or put up a fence.
Anyone who signs a sales contract -- or entered into one after March 1 -- must be given a choice under new state regulations that set the first standards of practice for land surveyors. Consumers applying for mortgages will choose between cursory house location drawings and time-intensive, costlier boundary surveys.
A disclosure form explaining the products has been distributed to all licensed land surveyors, said Milena Trust, an assistant attorney general and counsel to the state Board of Professional Land Surveyors, which adopted the standards.
Under the regulations, surveyors are responsible for passing information or copies of the form to real estate agents and lenders, who deal directly with consumers. Buyers must sign the form before surveyors can proceed with work. "Ultimately, the surveyor is responsible for making sure the form is signed," Ms. Trust said.
State officials are in the midst of alerting real estate agents, lenders and title attorneys, many of whom have flooded the attorney general's office with phone calls and questions during the past week and a half.
Once the forms become a matter of routine in property transactions, they should not prove confusing for consumers, Ms. Trust said.
The forms explain that location drawings do not identify property boundary lines. Mortgage lenders and title insurers usually require no more than this type of drawing to approve a mortgage, with the $100 to $200 fee charged at closing.
Boundary surveys, on the other hand, identify property lines and mark property corners. They could cost hundreds more. Homebuyers need such surveys to make improvements such as erecting a fence.
The regulations -- designed to protect consumers -- prompted months of debate between the surveyors board and a surveyors' professional group.
The Maryland Society of Surveyors Inc. eventually sued the state, charging that consumers would be forced to pay $1,000 or more for boundary surveys.
Board members had feared that consumers believed they were getting more than they actually got, with most homebuyers assuming location surveys adequately prove boundaries. Both sides arrived at the survey disclosure form as part of a compromise. The surveyors' group agreed to withdraw its suit.