What is a land survey?

A land survey can range from an intensely detailed map of an area, including measurements and positioning of all property, to simply a skeletal plan with only the key features.


The world is ever-expanding and revolutionising, and this applies more so to property than any other domain. Renovations, refurbishments and extensions are just a few of the changes which people are planning to make to their homes and properties, and there is a great deal of background work which needs to be done before any of these ideas can be brought to fruition. Every inch of the United Kingdom has been documented and mostly allocated and there are many regulations and laws involved. A good source of information is the ordnance survey maps of the United Kingdom.


These have to be abided with when planning any major, and sometimes even minor, land or property development. Land surveyors are the people who plot, measure and record the site features, using previous maps as well as creating their own, so as to advise the planning and construction process. They also help to uncover any queries into measurements and details of the land, as well as disputes over allocations.

When is a Land Survey required?

When you wish to buy a property or an area of land, you need a land survey, produced by a qualified land or geomatics surveyor. Only this is able to describe exactly what the area that you are going to purchase includes or entails. It indicates the boundaries of the other properties in relation to your own, as well as determining where trees, outbuildings, fences etcetera lie.


The survey will also describe whether other people are allowed access to your property or land thus determining your legal rights. Deeds to the house can often be out of date as the previous owners might have made changes to the property, and accordingly, a land survey will also act as an up-to-date deed and can be used by a solicitor to produce a more accurate deed.


Land surveys are also required when alterations are planned to be made in certain areas to as land as well as to property. If an extension is intended to be built then a land survey is needed to mark out the boundaries which the land occupies in order to establish the ownership rights and to make sure that you are only building on your own land. This will prevent any future disputes or problems. The land survey is an accurate model of the site that can be used by the architect or builder to design, create and position projects accurately. The geomatics or land surveyor will mark on the map the exact location of the proposed building in order to guarantee that this is on your property.


Boundary disputes are one of the most important situations for which a land survey is needed. Land surveyors can produce information which stops situations like these reaching the courts, thus saving a great deal of time and money. In these situations, the surveyor acts as a professional witness who assumes the responsibility for the details even if the situation is taken to court.


Banks and trusts will often request that a survey is done before they authorise a mortgage to guarantee that all records are up to date and there is no likelihood of sudden surprise or change to the building. If you re-mortgage or refinance your house then the bank may require a survey. This is most likely if the last survey was some time ago as the details surrounding the area and the house may have changed somewhat since.

Are there different types of land surveyors?

All land surveyors start with the same basic training. For instance, a geomatics surveyor will gather, store, process, and deliver spatially referenced information and study information science. The discipline encompasses the fields of surveying, mapping, remote sensing (LiDAR or HDS Scanning), photogrammetry, hydrography, global positioning systems (GPS), and geographic information systems (GIS). All surveyors will study this to a certain level, however, most surveyors will specialise in a certain area at a point in their study or career. So you must make sure that you approach the one that will be able to deal with your specific request most appropriately.

  • Geodetic surveying provides information about the size and the shape of the planet, thus ascertaining the framework for which all other surveys are based on. All surveyors need this skill.
  • Cartography is the art of making maps, thus cartographic land surveyors provide information for the map user so they can process the details it provides. This has been enhanced by software systems.
  • Cadastral surveying is one of the exclusive functions that land surveyors must provide by law. This involves measuring the property and contributes to town planning and thus is involved with the socio-economic development of England.
  • Engineering surveying entails taking measurements of and providing plans for motorways, railways, bridges and other large structures. These types of surveyors will usually be employed by big companies or city councils when they are developing large areas.
  • Hydrographic and oceanographic surveyors map the underwater, marine world, often working closely with harbour engineers. This is a very specialised type of surveyor.

Another advantage of aerial UAV surveys is their ability to provide highly detailed images and data. With advanced cameras and sensors, UAVs can capture high-resolution images, 3D models, and other data that can be used to make informed decisions and improve project outcomes.

Finally, aerial UAV surveys are safer and more environmentally friendly than traditional methods. With drones, surveyors do not need to access hazardous or difficult-to-reach areas, reducing the risk of injury and minimizing the environmental impact.

What land surveying services are available?

Other tests or methods employing various land surveying equipment include

  • Percolation testing, used mainly to determine the water absorption rate of soil for septic systems.
  • Wetland delineation of the boundary of protected wetlands is important to determine before any development or construction is approved by various governmental agencies.
  • Site reconnaissance, including intrusive and non-intrusive sampling and testing to provide soil parameters for design and construction
  • Topographical surveys to show trees, slopes and changes in elevation, streams and rivers, streets and walkways, buildings, fences and walls, manholes, utility poles, and more.
  • 3D laser scanning (also known as lidar) combines controlled steering of laser beams with a laser rangefinder. By taking a distance measurement at every direction the scanner rapidly captures the surface shape of objects, buildings and landscapes.
  • Ground-penetrating radar surveys (GPR) is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. This nondestructive method uses electromagnetic radiation in the microwave band (UHF/VHF frequencies) of the radio spectrum and detects the reflected signals from subsurface structures.
  • Drone surveys produce a highly detailed aerial map allowing for insight into the property details without requiring a client to be there in person.
  • Setting Out is the establishment of the marks and lines to define the position and level of the elements for the construction work so that works may proceed with reference to them. This process may be contrasted with the purpose of Surveying which is to determine by measurement the positions of existing features
  • Computer-aided design (CAD) drawings illustrating three-dimensional maps and drawings.
Who issues the qualifications?
  • The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is the board which governs surveyors which apply themselves to the more rural aspect of surveying.
  • The Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors (ICES) controls qualifications for those who specialise in engineering aspects of surveying.
  • The Chartered Institute of Building’s (CIOB) Faculty for Architecture and Surveying accredits surveyors who are experienced in structural surveying.
Where can I find a qualified surveyor?

The best place to search for an accredited surveyor is on the RICS, ICES and CIOB websites. All those who are MRICS, MICES and MCIOB have the opportunity to be listed on these websites, and thus it is a guarantee that you are searching for a qualified surveyor. Local directories may also have details of local land surveyors but make sure you check that they have the correct certifications. However, these two methods do not offer any guidance into the abilities of these surveyors and the best way to get the top surveyor in your area is to ask for recommendations from those who should know. This way you can make sure that you will be getting a reliable surveyor, who is also accredited by a board.

What do surveys cost?

This obviously depends on the size of the area/property and what the survey is for, e.g. if you wish to build a conservatory which will then be converted into a kitchen and you needed to check whether correct drainage is possible. The location of the property may also influence the cost as the type of terrain may mean that further research and testing needs to be carried out. The surrounding terrain of the property, as well as its shape, will also influence how easy it is to conduct the field research, and the more complex and longer this is obviously the more costly the survey will be.


What you require from the survey will also help determine its cost. The complexity of the descriptions that are required from the survey affects its price; if a skeleton plan is required then much less detail is required from the surveyor. However, if an exhaustive or complex map is asked for, then that will obviously take longer and increase the cost. It is always advisable to ensure that your quote is reasonable before starting.

What does the surveyor need to know?

Before the surveyor starts on their research you need to make sure that you tell them all of your needs. You need to explain why you need the survey and what you want to use it for. For example, if it is a boundary dispute then the drainage systems don’t need to be investigated. However, using the example of water drainage for a kitchen extension again, the drainage on the property and surrounding land would be a key concern.


Telling the surveyor exactly what you want from the survey ensures that time is not wasted doing additional work that is not needed or vice versa. This will also ensure that the surveyor is able to give you an accurate estimate of the fees, which are largely based on the time required to complete the job.


You may be able to save cost by supplying the surveyor with any information you have about the area/property, particularly if it is properly documented. For example, deeds to the house will often be vital even if they are out-of-date. Copies of any previous surveys should also be provided, along with maps, records of titles or any specific knowledge you might have about the property.

Is land surveying hard?

To qualify as a surveyor requires a good deal of ability and dedication. The information below covers much of the ground in summary as opposed to the detail required to qualify.


One of the tasks is to carry out a series of measurements of the area around a property using an agreed reference point known as a benchmark.


In addition, surveyors can use geographic information systems and equipment to create maps showing the relief, soil conditions and structures within a given plot. The limits of interest can be defined on the basis of the surveying documents found at the Land Registry as well as written legal descriptions of the plots. The boundaries of a property can also be searched for in the form of a map of the property, such as an overview map or a use plan.


Surveys provide engineering, cartography and construction projects with a wide range of services such as design, CAD drawings, construction guides etc.

When a house or commercial building is bought or sold, surveyors mark the boundaries of the property to prevent and resolve disputes. This avoids litigation and surveyors do everything from updating boundary lines to preparing construction site plans.


Land surveyors are involved in surveying a property or a plot in order to define boundaries and create maps and descriptions. They will usually submit a cost estimate, a timetable in writing, and the resulting maps and drawings will usually be legally binding.


Surveys are carried out by localising the boundaries and corners of the property and protecting them so that they can be easily identified. A surveying engineer sets the limits of the basic survey. There are records of boundaries and they are necessary to confirm straightforward proper transactions.


If a property owner wants to build a fence or add an extension to his house, there is a good chance that he will need an appraisal. An appraisal is a drawing that shows exactly where the boundaries lie. Local ordinances often determine how far a building must be from its boundaries.


Simply put, it is a graphical representation that outlines the legal limits of ownership and other characteristics. There are various surveying methods based on the type of legal description available. The survey will also include a map of the entire property as well as a detailed description of all its features such as streets, sidewalks and parking areas.


Surveying is not always required in property transactions, but it is an extremely useful tool that can clear up a lot of confusion. The person doing the survey determines the exact dimensions of the property on the basis of the description, map and plot lines that should be included in the deed of the house. The reference to the legal description may not be sufficient to define the boundaries of a property.


The old property description may refer to landmarks or monuments that are no longer on the property, and the person doing the survey must make new measurements to establish precise boundary lines. The surveying engineers can also place new monuments as reference points at the corners of the borders. Hiring a surveying company helps you meet the requirements for buying or improving your property, rather than simply determining your boundaries based on your own reference.


Surveying tasks include the collection and analysis of data from previous soil surveys and monuments as well as the creation of new boundaries. He or she would travel to the relevant locations and use known reference points to determine the exact location of important features. Surveyors would collect evidence of past boundaries by comparing where the boundaries are and recording the results to ensure data accuracy.


The boundaries of the survey determine the legal boundaries of ownership, and the boundaries are set by the engineers and surveyors. Limits may also be set on the construction of nearby buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

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