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When Do I Need a Surveyor?


You’ve likely seen surveyors around before, working on street corners or at a new development with their camera-like apparatuses. Perhaps you get the gist of what they do or find their line of work completely mystifying.

Eventually, there may come a time when you need to hire a surveyor. Here’s how to recognize that time when it comes, and what that process will look like for you.

What Does a Surveyor Do?

Surveyors are responsible for accurately capturing the border lines and measurements of a piece of property. The way they measure a piece of property takes into account the peaks and valleys of the land, to ensure that the measurements are precise (source: This sometimes incorporates measuring points above, along, and below the surface of the ground.

The main function of a surveyor is to update any data regarding the size and shape of a piece of land to prevent any legal challenges in the future. It’s important to have up-to-date surveying as the shape of the earth changes over time. Erosion and washouts may change how the borders of your property line up.

Surveyors use a tool called a theodolite to measure angles between visible points. They will also use GPS, measuring tape, levels, 3D scanners, and other tools as needed to get an accurate reading.

When Do You Need a Surveyor?

If you’re doing a land development project or a major construction job, you’ll need a surveyor to make sure everything is as it should be. But what about if you’re selling or purchasing a house?

Ideally, you should have a survey completed when you decide to put your house on the market. This way, you know exactly what you’re selling and can advertise accordingly. If your property hasn’t been surveyed in a long time, the buyer may ask for you to complete one before the sale goes through. This can be frustrating and time-consuming; it’s best to have it done beforehand.

As a buyer, you have every right to request a survey. Sometimes you’ll move to a house that has conflicting blueprints and property borders. This can lead to unpleasant surprises when you discover that you don’t actually own the piece of land upon which you built your inground pool, and the new neighbors decide to demolish it.

Ideally, you should have a land survey done every time a piece of property is being transferred from one owner to another. The cost of the service is an investment in insurance.

Costs and Considerations

The cost of having a survey completed can vary significantly depending on the type of project, where you’re located, and what you want involved. A land developer who is planning on subdividing lots is going to pay a lot more than someone selling their home and updating their deed. Someone who needs to have a floodplain assessment completed in addition to their basic survey will also pay more.

To get a better idea of the cost, speak with a local real estate agent to see what they recommend for your area and what their clients have done in the past. Then, reach out to a surveying company to get a quote. This will often lead to a series of questions and a quick view of the property.

When You Get Bad News

Many home sellers try to avoid having surveys done based on the fear that they might receive bad news. Perhaps they’ll discover an easement on their property or that their lot isn’t as big as the previous seller indicated. When it comes to surveying, the ugly truth will always be better than a pretty lie. Knowing what you’re dealing with can help you plan accordingly.


If you’re planning a major construction project, subdividing lots, buying or building a new home, invest in a land survey to avoid complications down the road.

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