Land surveys - All you need to know

Key information
  • You will need a solicitor
  • Land surveys typically take between 2 days and 2 weeks
  • The average cost of land survey is based on a rate of £300 to £600 / day

Surveying is the technical process essential to land purchase. Utilised correctly, a land survey will make your development go as smoothly as possible.

Modern surveying techniques can:

  • Tell you the key features of your new plot
  • Highlight potential problems before you start building
  • Record land features
  • Be used to produce an up-to-date deed
  • Adhere to legal standards or settle any legal disputes that may arise

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the land surveying process, how it can help with your project, and how to tap in to the community of land surveyors.

What is a land survey, and when do you need one?

A land survey is simply a report of information about an area of land.

There are 2 main types of land surveys:

  1. Boundary surveys: a 2D map of a property’s boundaries for ownership and structures.
  2. Detailed surveys: extensive 3D drawings with details about elevation levels, land features and soil quality. This may also include video imagery, such as drone footage and require greater surveying instruments.

You’ll almost always need surveying services whenever you’re buying or building on land, but the type of land survey will depend on your plot. At the very least, a boundary survey will give you distance measurements to let you know exactly where your plot begins and ends, and ensure your development project doesn’t encroach on your neighbours’ land, but wort take more complex readings like record land features. The exact location of your plots of land legal boundaries could be key in any future boundary lines disputes or development. If you're planning on buying land for a commercial building then you may also need an survey; they're key to commercial property transactions, as they assess the technical risks for either investors or occupiers. Addland Professional also uses HM Land Registry data to display parcels of land and their official title boundaries in one of its many map layers.

But a detailed survey can include plenty more information than just property lines. Licensed surveyors can conduct drainage tests, and uncover any hidden problems like flood risks or soil pollution. They can also look at your project plans and carry out feasibility and environment impact assessments, to catch any changes you may need to make before applying for planning permission. If you're looking to develop on industrial land, licensed land surveyors can also help check for any potential contamination that may affect your planning applications.

Survey drawings can also be used by your solicitor to produce an up-to-date deed that takes into account any property changes the previous owner may have made. What’s more, banks and lenders often request a survey to be done before granting a mortgage. Building surveys may also be relevant if there are outbuildings or residential property on your land, and will give a detailed evaluation of their condition.

In certain circumstances points out Rob Oates from Arbtech, topographical surveys (also known as a topographic survey) will be required to precisely locate all salient features such as buildings, boundaries, walkways, service covers, trees, and site levels.

Used right, land surveys can be a powerful tool for making your development whether it be a self build or an housing development, go as smoothly as possible.

The land surveying process

Land surveying process

Most forms of surveying typically involves a combination of office and field work and follows these important steps.

  • The first step your surveyor will take will be to research the information about your land that’s already available. This includes existing title deeds, and records, as well as any previous surveys and maps. This paperwork will help them to establish what the property’s boundaries should be.
  • After that, your surveyor will examine the plot itself to see how the boundaries on paper match up with the physical site, and may include aerial surveying. Deeds and existing maps are often outdated, so this stage is about looking for anything that’s altered the boundaries since, like natural factors or work by previous owners. If there are any existing structures on the site, the surveyor will check their positions and measurements match up with the records.
  • Once both sets of research and any other tests have been completed, the surveyor’s findings will be combined to create your land survey using a land surveying software. How long the process will take depends largely on the size of the land and the level of detail required, and could be anywhere between two days and several weeks. If your plot is in a remote area and the physical boundary is larger the process may take longer and the land survey costs may increase beyond the verage land survey, depending on the type of surveying.

The availability of records can also be a factor, as retrieving physical paperwork from the County Clerk’s office for example will take more time than online documents. It’s important to ask your surveyor for an estimated length so that you have an idea of how long you’ll need to wait.

Land Surveying Methods

Withing the overall land surveying process. Experienced land surveyors will use various methods to complete the survey: 

Geodetic surveying

Geodetic surveying determines the precise position of permanent points on the earth's surface. Geodetic surveying takes into account the shape, size and curvature of the earth.

Aerial surveying

Aerial surveying is a survey made from above, as from an aircraft, a high point, drone etc.

Building surveying

A building survey is an expert inspection of a property's condition. It identifies any problems with the building to a prospective buyer. The inspection is completed by a surveyor who visits the property and prepares a report outlining any problems.

Cadastral survey

Cadastral surveys are the discipline of land surveying that relates to the definition or re-establishment of land parcel boundaries. Cadastral surveying involves interpreting and advising on: boundary locations. the status of land, and. the rights, restrictions and interests in property.

How much does a survey cost?

As is often the case, unfortunately there’s no clear-cut answer. The price will always depend on the size of the area in question, how long the process will take, and what type of survey you need. A simple chart of the boundaries and key features will likely cost less than drainage surveys and mapping elevation levels, for example.

If you’re wondering about saving money by doing your own surveying, that’s generally not recommended, and can lead to a very average land survey.  The smallest error can cause a lot of trouble down the line, particularly where boundary measurements are concerned. Also, if you need a land survey to secure a mortgage or settle a legal dispute, that will almost certainly have to come from a land survey expert. Members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) will generally have a degree in surveying or years of relevant experience, and be able to provide a comprehensive range of land surveys to Homes England specification standards. 

One thing you can do to make sure you don’t spend more money than you need is to be as clear as possible with your licensed land surveyor about what you’re after. This ensures you won’t end up paying for unnecessary time and work, or to have additional surveys done to get all the details you need.

Top tips for land surveys:

  • Speak to multiple licensed surveyors and be sure to ask for references and look online for trusted reviews.
  • Give as much information to the land survey experts as possible. Provide them with any deeds, paperwork or past surveys you have relating to the land, no matter how outdated the information might be. If it saves the surveyor the time spent finding it all themselves, it could save you money too.
  • If you are looking to buy property or land in an auction you should engage a surveyor to inspect and advise you on the physical aspects of the property, they will be able to identify any major issues before you submit your bid.

Addland makes it easy to find, research, and buy and sell land. Start your land journey today.

Published: 27 April 2021
Last updated: 10 August 2023

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