Buying Land In The Philippines Part 1: Survey and Subdivision

Buying Land In The Philippines Part 1: Survey and Subdivision

Posts In This Series:


This post has been a long time coming and a long time dreaded due to the complexity of the issue. I feel that the series of posts that will develop on this topic will become a cornerstone of this website, so I want to make sure that I get it done right and complete as possible. As always, nothing you read here is to be taken as legal advice or professional guidance. This is our personal experience that we are sharing with you. So caveat lectorum.

Table of Contents:

    Only A Filipino Citizen Can Legally Buy Land In The Philippines

    There is the possible exception of hereditary heirship through being a compulsory heir, whereby a foreign spouse might obtain title to real estate. That is a topic with which I have no personal experience. I can tell you that a competent and trusted attorney might be necessary.

    Condominium ownership is not an exception to the land ownership rule because, as the foreign owner of a condo you would not typically own any land.

    Therefore, this post and subsequent posts in this series assume that you are Filipino or that you are the spouse of a Filipino.

    Exercise Caution When Buying Land

    It is of utmost importance to begin by making certain that the person selling the land a) has a legitimate and unencumbered title and b) is the person named on the title OR has been given proper and legal power of attorney to act on behalf of the person whose name is on the title. If I could not guarantee myself of those facts I would WALK AWAY.

    Any person can obtain a copy of the approved survey map from the Land Management Bureau (LMB) and a copy of the land title from the Land Registration Authority (LRA). You must provide the name of the owner, the lot number and the location of the lot. Then fill out the application and pay the fee. This is public information that you should obtain before moving forward so that you can be sure that you are buying an unencumbered lot with a clear title from the person who has the legal right to sell it.

    I would also check to see whose name is listed as paying the yearly taxes with the Municipal Treasurer's Office. You can also get this information from the tax receipt. The tax receipt will show the owner of the property and it will also show the name of the person who has actually been getting credit for paying the taxes. Be cautious if someone other than the owner of the property has been paying taxes. This could indicate that there is or may arise a dispute in ownership. There can be legitimate reasons for a party other than the owner to be paying taxes on the property, but one must be sure to know the details and if necessary consult with an attorney.

    Are You Sure You Want To Subdivide?

    When you settle on a parcel of land that you like and a seller you trust you might find yourself at a couple of different starting points in the buying process. It is most convenient to begin with a developer or a private seller who is offering a lot or house and lot that does not need to be surveyed/subdivided.

    However, in other cases you will need to have land surveyed and subdivided into separate lots. Many land owners in the Philippines are "land poor." They own much land, but they have no cash, so you as the buyer will have to bear all expenses. This means that you will need to pay the survey and subdivision costs (among many other costs associated with the titling process).

    My wife and I have been through this survey and subdivision process twice and the titling process for three different lots.

    Selecting A Land Surveyor

    If you are paying for the survey you need to find a geodetic engineer that you trust to execute the survey. You can verify that a surveyor's license is current through the Online Verification System of the Professional Regulatory Commission. You can verify them by license number or by name. If you choose to verify by name first select "Geodetic Engineer" from the "Profession" drop-down box. Next type in the complete first name and not just the initial followed by the last name. I get a successful record return on my engineer, but if yours does not show up, then try it by license number.

    Contract And Scope Of Work

    Once you settle on a surveyor that you like you will need to nail down the price and get a contract that details exactly what you will pay and exactly what the deliverables to you will be. This contract will also detail schedule of payment(s) and timeline of deliverables.

    You can view my sample surveyor contract that I created as a template based upon our actual contract.

    Relocation Survey

    Note "Relocation Survey" In the sample contract under the Scope of Work and Quotation sections. Quite frequently and for numerous reasons someone or something may have moved, removed or otherwise destroyed one or more cornerstones. For this reason the surveyor may advise you to execute a Relocation Survey. This is done to set in place all monuments in their proper locations. If you do not do this before executing the subdivision survey, then you run the risk of later finding out that your lot is encroaching a neighboring lot or their lot is encroaching yours. It is a very good idea to have a Relocation Survey done.

    Placement Of Cornerstone Monuments:

    The image above shows our fence inside the cornerstone. The property line is in the middle of the cornerstone, so you can see that the fence column is also inside the boundary.

    These concrete monuments are cylindrical, 4" in diameter, 2' long and weigh about 30 pounds. They cost roughly 40PHP. Not all places that manufacture concrete blocks make these monuments, but you can check with one of them and they probably know who does.

    Survey Cost And Payment Schedule

    When we had our first subdivision survey done close to ten years ago the common price was 5,000PHP per lot surveyed. A few years later we paid 8,000PHP. I have heard that the price is now up to 10,000PHP. The relocation survey will be a bit less. If you are subdividing a lot into two then that is two surveys that you are paying for; if dividing into three lots that is three surveys and so on. You may be able to get a better price deal depending on where the survey is performed and who performs it. Just be careful and read the end of this post.

    Typically, you will pay 50% when you accept and sign the surveyor's proposal; 25% when they complete the map and have buyer and seller sign it; and then the remaining 25% when the final LMB approved map is delivered to you.

    Requirements For Map Approval

    Basic Requirements for map approval and registration with LMB:
    • Original Deed/Instrument 
      • If you do not have the original Deed/Instrument, then you will have to provide an affidavit explaining the reason why it is not available.
      • Owner’s copy of the Certificate of Title and all issued co-owner’s copies if any. 
      The two items above are provided by you to the surveyor who submits them to LMB.

      All subdivision/consolidation transactions require the following documents aside from the basic requirements:
      • The following items are created by the surveyor who then submits them to LMB: 
        • Letter Request for Subdivision/Consolidation
        • Original Technical Description (duly approved)
        • Sepia or polyethylene film of the Plan duly approved by Land Registration Authority or the Land Management Bureau
        • Blue print copy of the Subdivision Plan
        Note: For clarification, the Sepia and Technical Description refer to the mother lot. There would be no duly approved Plan or Technical Description for the Subdivision Plan at this point in the process. You can provide these to the surveyor if you have them, but the surveyor can get them from LMB.
        • The following items are provided by you to the surveyor who submits them to LMB:
          • Real Estate Tax Clearance 
        Obtained from the Municipal Treasury Office where the property is located and shows that there are no delinquent taxes on the property. Our surveyor asked us for a Tax Declaration and Tax receipt for the most recent tax year, which together served the same purpose as a Tax Clearance.

          Survey Deliverables

          At the end of this process we received three deliverables from the surveyor: Sepia copy of Subdivision Plan; Blueprint copy of Subdivision Plan; Technical Description of Subdivided Lot(s).

          Nine months passed from the commencement of the survey until we received our deliverables. That was for our second survey. The first time we went through the process for another lot it took years to get our approved map.

          The Bottom Line

          A licensed surveyor is motivated by the fact that he can lose his license. Do not hire an unlicensed engineer. Shop around for a geodetic engineer, check their license and note their business office or lack thereof. Use your better judgment in picking the right team for the job.

          The easy option is to just buy a complete lot that will not be subdivided or has already been subdivided. Usually, if you are going through the headache of the subdivision process it is for a good reason that makes it your best option, despite being a hassle.


          Unknown said...

          Hello. My cousin bought a lot last year. Lot is under mother title and 3 heirs. Only 1 of them signed the deed of absolute sale. My cousin want to process the title of her parcel. The problem is, it was not subdived. She went to provicial RD and was advised to go to bir. The bir then qouted her to pay huge amount of money because the doas was notarized last november.

          Mr Bubble said...

          From another page

          Once you execute the notarization of your DoAS You have thirty (30) days to file a Capital Gains Tax Return. A Documentary Stamp Tax Declaration Return must also be filed within five (5) days after the close of the month when the taxable document was made.

          If the DoAS is not notarized within time limits, then there may be penalties added by BIR.

          Also, if a lot is not subdivided, then BIR will charge tax for the entire lot. There is no way to charge for a lot that has no separate title. You have to have an approved plan and etchnical description for the subdivided lot.

          Additionally, if there is not a certificate of no improvement, then BIR will assess capital gains - again, this will be for the entire lot.

          A deed of sale that lacks a proper technical description cannot be properly registered - as the lot has not been subdivided.

          It may be necessary to execute a new DoAS after having properly subdivided the lot.

          The lot could be subdivided into X number of lots and every heir could pay their fair share.

          If that is not possible, then the one lot could be subdivided out and that would be charged as two lots being surveyed - the one heir's lot and the remainder.

          Even after the lot is subdivided, if there have been improvements on that particular sub-lot (made since previous titling), then capital gains may still be assessed.

          A fixer will break things worse. When you walk into government offices and you show them that you have no idea what you are doing what do you think happens next? Something good?

          Seek assisstance from a knowledgeable attorney who can be trusted.
          "who can be trusted" - the difficult part

          This is random Internet data not guidance in a particular situation and as such follow it at your own peril. Who knows. Maybe you got lucky and found a diamond. Or maybe a lump of coal.

          Philippine Destiny said...

          Just a little comment to Mr bubble above.
          You said

          "There is no way to charge for a lot that has no separate title."

          When you go to BIR after having a lot subdivided the sublot will not have a separate title at that point. I think that you mean that there is no way to charge for a lot that has no separate approved plan from LMB.

          Anonymous said...


          A "subdivision" is designed with a specific capacity for utilities that will serve that specific subdivision. When lot owners come in and begin further subdividing their lots this has a negative impact upon those utilities (and many other things). This is why many subdivisions do not allow further subdivision of lots.

          Subdivisions have HOAs. No one should buy a lot in a subdivision without being aware of the rules of that subdivision.

          The HOA are the people to talk to regarding what can and cannot be done and the question can probably be answered without even talking to them. Just READ the papers that you signed when you bought the lot.

          alejandro said...

          Looking forward to final part: Buying Land In The Philippines Part 7: Land With No Title!

          RJ said...

          Is it safe to buy a lot that has just been subdivided and still in the process of applying a Title and does not have an approve plan from LMB yet? The owner only has an Initial survey for now.. thanks..

          pd said...

          Nothing is ever 100% safe.

          Seems like a lot of things can go wrong. Depends on what if anything is mitigating the risk.

          RJ said...

          Thanks a lot for your quick response.. I will wait for the approved Plan and Title then before closing the deal.

          Anonymous said...

          When we processed our land one of the offices told us to leave our complete package of documents and full payment (thousands of pesos). They refused to give us any receipt and did not want to mark our documents as received. We refused. They held us hostage like that until we filed a case against them.

          Presidential Decree 1445 Section 68
          No payment of any nature shall be received by a collecting officer without immediately issuing an official receipt in acknowledgment thereof The receipt may be in the form of postage, internal revenue or documentary stamps and the like, or officially numbered receipts, subject to proper custody, accountability, and audit.

          NEVER accept any provisional, temporary handwritten receipt. It is your right and it is the law that all government offices provide official machine printed receipts.

          They must also stamp every page of every document that you submit as "received." Then you get a copy of every single page.

          That is your protection and your right under the law.

          If you give them your papers and money without this protection your money will disappear and so will your papers until you produce much more money and maybe not even then.

          Anonymous said...

          Hi Philippine Destiny, good pm! Just wanted to ask if what specific government agency shall we ask for an original copy of my mom’s subdivision plan, is it from ROD? We’ve only got a photocopy.

          pd said...

          Land Management Bureau should be able to provide a copy of the subdivision plan. Land Registration Authority (ROD is under this) can give you a copy of the title.