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“I am trying to get a sanity check on a price quote we received for surveying our property lines”

by Prince Of Petworth June 14, 2017 at 2:45 pm 34 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Paul Sirajuddin

“Dear PoPville,

I am trying to get a sanity check on a price quote we received for surveying our property lines and obtaining a fence permit. It took us forever to even get a surveyor to get back to us so we only got one quote. I was wondering if you might be willing to post this on POPville to see if anyone has any feedback on whether the quote is reasonable.

We were quoted $1,200 for a field run survey of our property (a row house in NW DC) and to mark our rear lot lines for construction of a fence.
We were quoted $1,000 for this same company to prepare and submit applications and packages to obtain permits from the city pertaining to construction of the fence.

I’ve got no frame of reference for the survey quote so have no idea whether it’s reasonable. But charging me $1,000 just to go through the fence permitting process sounds like I’m being fleeced and/or somebody’s palms are getting greased. Could it really cost that much to get this done? Appreciate any feedback on this.”

  • Anon

    People in this city routinely pay hundreds of dollars to eat “small plates” meals. This may satisfy hunger for a few hours before the next meal. Fences should last decades, so costs on the order of thousands of dollars does not seem unreasonable compared to the aforementioned dining habits of many people.

  • dcduchess

    I also got a quote of $900 from a plumbing company to get the permit to dig down to a faulty pipe in my front yard, so watching this space with interest.

    I will not be paying $900 for a permit. I’d rather take a day off work than do that.

  • topherrobin

    That’s insanely HUUUGE, they’re seriously trying to screw you.

    As far as the surveyor’s plat for your property, you should have gotten one in your closing documents when you bought the house. If you no longer have it, you can request it here, looks like it’ll be $55: https://dcra.dc.gov/service/get-building-plat

    You can actually submit the permit yourself at DCRA. Here is the link for DCRA so you can make an appointment and talk to them with what you’re trying to do and guide you. They accept some drawings by hand for what you’re trying to get a permit for https://planning.dc.gov/page/homeowners

    • dangerous dave


    • DF

      Just to add, we also got a survey plat when we closed but upon trying to get a permit to build a rear deck, they wouldn’t accept that survey and wanted a new one. Just an FYI on our experience.

      • HaileUnlikely

        DCRA will require your drawings to be shown on a plat issued by DCRA within the last 6 months and signed by the Office of the Surveyor. This is a different thing, though. A plat is nothing but a rectangle that shows the length and width of your lot. In your drawing, you show where your improvements will go in relation to your property lines. What the plat does not do, however, is locate your property lines in space, i.e., relative to an established reference point. To put it another way, if your fence builder walks into your yard and asks you “where’s your property line,” that is not a question that can be answered just by looking at the plat. (Note: for this purpose, I really don’t think OP should need a field survey, for reasons specified in another post below. However, the purpose of the field survey is to produce a different kind of information than what is on the plat provided by DCRA.)

  • Ugly Betty

    You can request a plat map from the Office of the Surveyor (type plat map in the dc.gov search box).
    You can get the permit yourself once you have the plat and have designated on the plat where the fence will be going. If it’s a party fence you have to have approval from the neighbor who “shares” the fence with you.
    The Homeowner’s Center will walk you through the process — they are one of the efficient parts of dc gov

    • Anonymous

      plats are available online now, though it seems to be more for information and you’d still need an official plat from DCFA. But, yes, go to the homeowner’s center. A fence permit was a couple hour’s worth of work over two days to get our permit a couple years ago.


    • dcd

      “The Homeowner’s Center will walk you through the process — they are one of the efficient parts of dc gov”
      So there’s that, the dump at Fr. Totten, apparently the rush hour tick and tow crew – what else?

      • ymous

        The department that issues birth certificates is a well-oiled machine.

        • GW

          Assuming that the hospital doesn’t just tell you something will arrive in the mail, and after your kid is 3 months old you start to wonder why that hasn’t happened, and the vital records people berate you for not coming sooner to pay your $10.

      • nathan

        The emissions testing place at the DMV isn’t bad.

        • OP Anon

          They are awesome. Those folks hustle and churn out hundreds of cars per day.

          • JayDC

            +1000 – DC emissions testing place rocks – especially if you make an appointment online before you go. Appointments fill up, so make sure you schedule 2 weeks before you need to go.

      • Itsuo

        The Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants was very helpful in getting me set up and reimbursed for my home security camera system.

  • permits r us

    the survey itself is probably the correct pricing, with the bulk of that being a mobilization fee. permitting fee is maybe a bit high, but not unreasonably so for a small project like this; paperwork and time invested for the permit processing is probably 3 hours + 10% profit margin = $500~750ish.

  • B

    I recently paid $1,900 for a survey of my back yard property lines. Like you, I had a real tough time getting surveyors to get back to me. Ultimately, my architect said this was not out of line, so I went with it. Sounds like I could have used your surveyor. :) In any event, my response is the $1,200 sounds damn good to me.

  • Hopefully Helpful

    I had a boundary survey and drawing done on my 1 acre property in Montgomery County for $1,000. Just the survey would have been $675. This was for a home purchase so the option to submit permit applications wasn’t on the table but they did register the survey with the county for that price and we can use that survey for a fence permit down the road.

    I’m not sure if the rules are different in the city but that seems high to me.

    I also don’t know if the company I used works in DC but it is called Cloverlea Land Survey and I really enjoyed working with them.

  • Anon

    The fee for the permit package is both reasonable and completely unreasonable at the same time. It shouldn’t really be thing because it shouldn’t be that hard to do. But Bureaucratic inertia and fairly significant city dysfunction have made the process harder than it needs to be. Lots of nagging and routing documents around. It’s a question of how much time not spent wrangling bureaucrats is worth.

  • Anon

    I would talk to fence builders to see if you need a survey. Some lots are marked out by the alley. If you are replacing an existing fence, it should be easy unless you are trying to reclaim property from a neighbor, in which case a survey might be necessary. I didn’t have a survey done when I put in my fence. The risk of course is that somewhere down the line, a neighbor gets one done and makes you move the fence.

  • APRO

    $1500-$2000 is right in the ballpark for survey and drawings stamped by a licensed surveyor.

    The cost of permitting is high because one has to spend time down at DCRA. However, homeowners are free to go down to the homeowners center and get a permit pulled for a fence pretty easily. If you’re not in a historic district you may even be able to apply online.

    You can pull a plat but you’d be guessing exactly where your property line is and risk issues with adjacent neighbors when you build your fence.

  • HaileUnlikely

    Based on my experience attempting to get permits for a fence in DC, my advice here is contradictory to the “better safe than sorry” approach that I take to all other aspects of life:
    One doesn’t typically need a survey to get a permit for a fence in DC. You definitely need a plat from DCRA, which will cost something like $55 or $60. Using the plat, you draw in where you are going to put the fence. You should have received a “mortgage survey” (which will be labeled prominently that it is not to be used to establish property lines, but will give you the idea to within a couple inches) when you bought your house. (If you can’t find yours, your settlement company you worked with for your closing very likely has it on file and can very likely email it to you.) You can use this to *approximately* locate the property lines in relation to the walls of your house. Most people will typically start with that, and then build the fence a few inches inside of where they believe the property line is, to ensure that they are not building outside of their property lines. The property lines to both sides will be sufficiently obvious based on the location of the walls of the house. The only real question is how far back the property goes before you’re into public space. Again, the mortgage survey is not to be used for establishing property lines in the strict sense, but it’s not going to be off by a matter of several feet on a lot of the size plausibly in question here, so I’d use that and be conservative (i.e., build several inches inside of where I believe the line to be). It is exceedingly improbable that a neighbor to the side or the city (public space to the rear) will challenge you on the location of your fence and require you to remove it unless you screw up badly and build way off your property. In the extraordinarily improbable worst-case scenario, a neighbor might take action to require you to move or remove it, and oh hell, that’ll probably still cost less than it would have cost to have the freaking survey done.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Upon re-reading I see that this is just to mark the rear lot line. Use the previously-mentioned mortgage survey to figure out how far back from your house it is, measure it carefully, multiple times, bring it in 6 more inches from there, and call it good. Unless you put the fence in what is obviously public space (further back than any neighbor’s fence and impeding traffic/garbage trucks/etc), there is no way the city is going to challenge the location of your fence. There is absolutely no reason you need a real live surveyor to come out and conduct an actual field survey for this purpose.

  • hiphop anonymous

    I just submitted a copy of the plat I received after I closed on my house to the fencing company. They handled all of the permitting process for me thankfully.

  • survey suggestion

    Try Duley and Associates in Upper Marlboro. Looks like they’ve raised their price since we last hired them, now $850 for a boundary survey. They’re pretty quick too. I don’t think they can help you with the other part though.

  • not telling

    It all comes down to what you think a person’s time and expertise is worth.

    Most of the cost in this service is the time it takes to meet with you, prepare some drawings and forms, and go down to DCRA and pull a permit for you. It would be about 2 days’ worth of work. Assuming an industry average rate of overhead expenses, this equates to one person earning about $75k a year.

    Obviously that’s really not a lot in the DC area, especially for a job that requires driving a car all over the region. I bet you might object to being paid less for your expertise, whatever that is. People deserve to be paid for their time and the expertise.

    Of course, if you don’t agree, then by all means, spend $55 to obtain a plat drawing. Spend a few evenings putting together drawings at your dining room table, researching the specs for the type of fence you want to erect, and then take a half day (at least) off of work to go down to DCRA, plunk down $40 for the fence permit, and wade through the bureaucracy and various reviews. Plan a contingency day in case they reject your documents and you have to go back. You’ll have plenty of time standing in line to calculate whether or not you are actually saving money by going this route.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I completely agree with this. I maintain that a field-survey is unnecessary here, but if one wants a field-survey for whatever reason, it will cost quite a bit, for exactly this reason.

  • I’m no tree expert…

    I hate to throw a wrench in what seems is a consensus here but I paid about $500 for the survey of my row house lot in Columbia Heights about 5 years ago. I can’t imagine it’s more than doubled since then. Keep looking!

  • Anon

    That is way too high. I live across the river, so things are a bit cheaper, but that’s triple the cost of what we paid to have a single family home and lot surveyed a few months ago.

    • Anon

      Also, you do not need a permit for a fence in DC, but the cost for the permit sounds correct. For Brookland house, I think we paid around $800 for a permit to redo the electricity. Or at least that’s what the contractor charged us to obtain it. If you have not so pleasant neighbors, I would definitely pay for the survey before constructing the fence. Have them mark it with the metal and gps markers instead of the sticks and flags that could be easily pulled up.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I’m not sure whether this is a typo or a misunderstanding, but you do need a permit for a fence. You don’t need to have a new field survey done to get that permit, though. I’m guessing that’s what you meant)
        An electrical permit, other than a postcard permit for very minimal scope of work, basically costs as much as the electrician wants to charge you for it, because DCRA will only issue it to a licensed master electrician, not to an ordinary homeowner.

        • AnonV2

          The cost of the actual permit is also printed right there on the piece of paper you hang in your front window, so you can tell if a tradesman is totally ripping you off.

  • j

    yes, this is about right. this is what surveying costs.

  • Anonymous

    If it took forever for even one surveyor to get back to you and you only got one quote, that’s a pretty good indicator of why the one quote you got is expensive. Clearly, there is not a lot of competition for your business and perhaps the one surveyor that got back to you is aware of that.


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