Land surveys - All you need to know

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

Surveying is an essential part of any land purchase. Utilised correctly, a land survey will make your development go as smoothly as possible.

A land survey can:

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

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

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:

  • Boundary surveys: a 2D map of a property’s boundaries and structures.
  • 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.

You’ll almost always need surveying services whenever you’re buying or building on land. At the very least, a boundary survey will let you know exactly where your plot begins and ends, and ensure your development doesn’t encroach on your neighbours’ land. The exact location of your plot's legal boundaries could be key in any future boundary disputes or development. If you're planning on buying land for a commercial building then you may also need a 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 boundary positions. 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 land on or near an industrial site, surveyors can 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 go as smoothly as possible.

The land surveying process

Land surveying process

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. 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. 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.

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.

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. 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 qualified surveyor. 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.

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 surveyors 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 land surveyors and be sure to ask for references and look online for trusted reviews.
  • Give as much information to the surveyor 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.

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

Published: 27 April 2021
Last updated: 18 January 2023

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