Surveyor Definition

What Is a Surveyor?

A surveyor is a professional who measures and documents the size, location, dimensions, and features of a piece of property, such as land. Developers and buyers hire surveyors before finalizing the purchase of property or beginning a construction project.

REtipster does not provide legal advice. The information in this article can be impacted by many unique variables. Always consult with a qualified legal professional before taking action.


  • A surveyor is a professional who measures and documents property features.
  • Surveyors confirm property boundaries and create detailed land drawings for legal purposes.
  • Land surveys provide legal property descriptions, property size, and note any easements or restrictions.
  • Surveyors’ work helps resolve property disputes and aids in planning construction projects.
  • Various types of surveys serve different needs, like mortgage surveys for lenders and topographic surveys for developers.
  • Survey costs can range from $500 to $1,000 per acre, depending on the property and survey type.

What Does a Surveyor Do?

Surveyors are hired to verify property boundaries and prepare detailed drawings before finalizing the purchase of property or beginning a construction project. Surveyors handle the maps and plots for deeds and other legal documents by preparing a detailed drawing of the subject property (also known as a land survey), showing all the relevant information.

When a surveyor prepares a land survey, it can be used to determine the legal description of a property, the size of a parcel, the location of structures and any improvements on a property, the location of easements and restrictions on a property, flood areas, and encroachments, among other things.

surveyors at work land survey

For example, a property survey will:

  • Certify the legal description for the property and identify the precise property boundaries.
  • Disclose any rights-of-way, restrictions, or easements that allow other property owners or utility companies the right to access portions of a property, so the owner will know not to build in a location that infringes on the utility company’s rights.
  • Certify that there are no gores, gaps, or overlaps between the subject property and any adjacent properties.
  • Identify any surface water on the subject property, location of flood zones, and uncover evidence of suspected underground water so the owner can get a more specific inspection if needed.
  • Determine a property’s zoning classification and any zoning restrictions that affect any future plans for construction.
  • Make sure the property owner avoids building on a cemetery or family burial ground.

If a property owner is in a heated dispute with their neighbor over the placement of a fence or the ownership of a rotting tree, a surveyor can help settle the issue without conflict.

Surveyors often work for the county government or for private engineering firms. They are also hired by individual property owners to verify the metes and bounds of a property (usually prior to closing).

When to Hire a Surveyor

If you’re investing in vacant land, there are things you need to know that affect a property’s value that often can’t be seen from a satellite map or the seller’s description. Not to mention, many vacant lots don’t even have a registered street address, which makes them difficult to find with conventional mapping tools.

A land survey answers some important questions:

  • Are there any land features, such as steep hills or flood zones, that would make development difficult?
  • Is the land accessible? If there are no roads available, can you obtain an easement?
  • What utilities are available, and will you be able to arrange them on your own if they’re not?
  • Are there any restrictions that will affect your development plans?
  • Are there any easements, encroachments, or rights-of-way that might interfere with the planned use or development of the property?
  • What is the precise size, shape, and dimensions of the property?

Land surveys are put together when a surveyor creates or follows the property’s legal description (as written in the recorded deed) and referencing all the other title documents of record that affect the property.

RELATED: Legal Descriptions: How They Work and Why They Matter

If you plan to build a new structure on your land, a survey will help you verify the amount of space you have available to build in accordance with the local planning and zoning department, which plays an important role in perfecting the building plans.

what is a surveyor

For construction projects, the surveyor prepares maps and reports for site plan approval, locating the construction project, size limit of structures, proper foundation depth, elevations, use restrictions on the property, and whether any other easements cross over the subject property. The surveyor is often asked to certify the survey to the construction lender, title company, and parties interested in the construction project.

Understanding Different Types of Surveys

Because a land investor’s survey needs are different than those of a homeowner adding a garage—and both are different from the needs of a lender—there are many different types of surveys.

These are some of the most common, although the commonly known names may be slightly different depending on where you live.

Mortgage or ALTA/NSPS Survey

An ALTA/NSPS survey (formerly ALTA/ACSM survey) is a comprehensive survey most lenders need for underwriting requirements. It ensures the property is as described in the legal documents and covers all the features and characteristics of the property.

Boundary Survey

This is the survey a homeowner would get to identify and verify the legal boundaries of a property.

Location Survey

This is a boundary survey augmented with information about interior improvements. It’s usually used for lending purposes and zoning permits.

Site Planning Survey

This survey combines a topographic survey of roads, ditches, utilities, and embankments with a boundary survey. Site planning surveys are used to design home lots and subdivisions, commercial and industrial developments, transportation infrastructure, and recreational facilities.

Subdivision Survey

If you invest in vacant land and want to develop a larger parcel, a subdivision survey is necessary to divide the parcel into lots or tracts. It’s filed with the county recorder and used to design streets, drainage, and other essential elements.

Topographic Survey

A topographic survey (sometimes referred to as a contour survey) is essentially a three-dimensional map of a property that portrays all the surface features, natural features, and elevations of the property. This type of survey is often necessary as a first step in planning out new development projects, designing a road or bridge, designing or improving grading or drainage projects, among other things.

Who Pays for a Survey?

That depends on why the survey is done. If your lender needs a mortgage survey, then the borrower will pay the surveyor fees in their closing costs.

On the other hand, if an easement issue caused a lien against a property, the seller may need to hire a surveyor to get it resolved before the property can be sold. In that case, the seller pays the fee.

Surveyor costs vary depending on the size of the parcel and the complexity of the survey. According to national averages, you can expect to pay about $500 – $1,000 per acre for a property survey.

Reviewed by Mark H. Zietlow, Innovative Law Group

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