What’s a Land Surveyor and do I need one?

how to find a land surveyor

The world is ever expanding and revolutionising, and this applies in England 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 materialise. Every inch of land in the United Kingdom has been documented and allocated and there are many regulations and laws which surround our topography.

If we wish to make any major, and sometimes even minor, alterations to the land and property which we own then these need to be taken into consideration when planning. Land surveyors are the people who plot, measure and record the details of the land, using previous maps as well as creating their own, so as to advise planning and construction. They also help to uncover any queries into measurements and details of the land, as well as disputes over allocations.

When would I need a Land Surveyor?

Most simply a land surveyor is needed whenever a land survey is required. 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.

There are a number of situations when this might be necessary, firstly when you wish to buy a property or an area of land. Only a licensed land survey, produced by a qualified land surveyor, 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 etc lie.

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 Deeds to the house can often be outdated, previous owners might have made changes to the property and its land, and accordingly a land survey will also act as an up-to-date deed and can be used by a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

Land surveys are also required when alterations are planned to be made on a certain area; this includes land as well as 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 proprietor’s ownership rights and 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 possessor to design, create and position projects accurately. The surveyor will mark on the map exactly what the location of the building is proposed to be in order to guarantee that this is on your property.

One of the most important situations a land survey is required for is boundary disputes. 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 qualified responsibility of the details even if the situation is ever taken to court.

Banks and trusts will often request that a survey is done before they authorise you with a mortgage to guarantee that all records are up to date and there is no likelihood of sudden demise or change to the building. If you re-mortgage or refinance your house then the bank may require a survey as the details surrounding the area and the house will often have changed somewhat since you purchased the property/land.

Are all the land surveyors the same?

In a word, no. Most surveyors will specialise in a certain area so you must make sure that you approach the appropriate one that will be able to deal with your specific request.

  • Geodetic surveying provides information about the size and the shape of the planet, thus ascertaining the framework for which all other surveys are then 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 sufficiently.
  • Cadastral surveying, by law, is one of the exclusive functions that land surveyors must provide. This involves measuring property and goes towards town planning thus has a key involvement within the socio-economic development of England.
  • Engineering surveying entails taking measurements of and providing plans for motorways, railways, bridges and large structures. Big companies or city councils when developing large areas will usually employ these types of surveyors.
  • Hydrographic and oceanographic surveyors map the underwater, marine world, often working closely with harbour engineers. This is the most specific of all types of land surveyors.

The land surveying process

Land Surveyors work both in the office and outside in the “field” in order to complete a land survey. Initially they research information from both private and public records that are already available surrounding the project, for example records, titles and deeds. Maps and paperwork, if they are available, will also be collected from the County Clerk’s offices to establish boundary details and the locations of the property and other buildings.

The surveyor will then conduct more research but this time actually on site. Field examinations take place in order to scout out any physical factors which will affect the boundaries that already exist on maps and deeds, as well as to update any out-of-date records and to see if there have been any improvements to the property. Survey equipment, such as global positioning satellites (GPS) are used to confirm positions detailed on existing maps or surveys and if these are incorrect or have changed, then it is vital that the surveyor records this so that it can be used in the planning. Other tests like percolation testing, wetland delineation or site reconnaissance, to name but a few, might also be carried out by the surveyor if these will affect the building that is to be done.

All this information is then taken back into the office where it is gathered in order to create a land survey. Research from the initial and field parts of the process are collated together and examined to determine whether the property and boundary lines match. A final report is produced relating the findings and this is then sent to the appropriate government offices as well as going to the clients themselves so they can use it in the planning process.

What qualifications does a land surveyor need to have?

What area the surveyor is experienced in determines what qualifications you should be looking for. 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) obviously controls qualifications for those who specialise in engineering aspects of surveying, and the Chartered Institute of Building's (CIOB) Faculty for Architecture and Surveying accredits surveyors who are experienced in structural surveying.

Where can I find one?

The best place to search for an accredited Land 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 sure guarantee that you are searching for an official, qualified surveyor. Local directories may also have details of local land surveyors but if you resort to this method, make sure you check that they have the necessary and 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 people for prior recommendations. This way you can make sure that you will be getting an accurate and efficient surveyor, who is also accredited by a board.

How much will it cost?

This depends on the size of the search, how much you require from it and the size of the area/property. The location of the property will also manipulate the cost of the search as the type of the terrain may mean that further research and testing needs to be carried out, or this may influence what the survey is needed 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 was possible. 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 of the survey are relative to its price, if a merely skeletal plan is required then not much detail is required of the surveyor. However if a exhaustive map is asked for, then the surveyor will have to spend longer detailing the topography of the site which will obviously take longer.

What do I need to tell the surveyor?

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 to settle a boundary dispute then the surveyor does not need to investigate drainage systems in the area. However, using the example of water drainage for a kitchen extension again, this would be a key concern.

Telling the surveyor exactly what you want from the survey ensures that you get it and unnecessary time is not spent 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 take into account the size of the survey and the amount of work and research that needs to be carried out.

You will also need to supply the surveyor with as much prior information you have about the area/property as possible. 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.

What do I need to ask the surveyor?

  • How much will the survey cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • Will I need to provide you with any knowledge on the area or with any documents?
  • Do you have any suggestions as to the best ways to proceed?
  • Have you done any surveys in this area before?
  • Have you done any surveys of this type before? (This is only applicable if a specific type of survey is being carried out, for example percolation testing.)
  • General questions into any aspects of the survey you are unsure about, or areas which you are uncertain about what will be required.

5 comments on “What’s a Land Surveyor and do I need one?

  1. David Robert Baker ) on

    Great article and interesting to see how you operate in the UK.
    Very similar to South Africa where all properties are registered in a Deeds Office on diagrams and General Plans (townships) on which their data or boundary dimensions are recorded. This coordinated data is mostly all on one national system so this enables land surveyors to connect from outside control and search and verify original corner points and replace them if necessary.
    I am a Registered Land Surveyor practising in Wilderness, Western Cape.

  2. Stewart lindsay on

    I am contemplating buying a strip of land adjoining my garden from the owner, my neighbor ( 20 feet in width by 190feet long which is the length of my garden ) My solicitor has asked for a scale map of my property as well as the adjoining strip including a compass bearing. I am an engineer and can measure, draw and create a scaled map on engineers graph paper…will this be adequate to send to the neighbors and my solicitors to satisfy land registry and all solicitors ?.the property is located in Norfolk, England.


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