Getting a land survey on a plot you intend to acquire has a range of costs. So how much does a land survey cost, and what factors go into the price?
A land survey is often required for the purchase of land, and can be part of the reason why a land buyer needs to have more cash saved up to buy land. So what costs go into a land survey?
Land survey prices vary based on the property. You'll usually start at $200 for a basic and obvious residential property, but prices can go up to $1000 depending on the property type. Larger lots result in paying several hundred per acre for a complex lot with multiple boundaries.
We'll give a more thorough explanation about the purpose of a land survey. We'll also explain why some land surveys cost more than others.
We've done lots of research and reading about land surveys and their costs so we can help you figure out roughly what a land survey will cost when the time comes that you need one. Knowing prices can also help you make sure you are getting the right service done.
Table of Contents
What is a land survey?
A land survey involves having a surveyor team come to your property to examine what is there and what the exact boundaries are on the land. There are a variety of reasons to need a land survey.
Getting a land survey can both help solve boundary disputes with neighbors, as well as prevent them from happening in the first place. Sometimes the lay of the land and boundaries can be a bit confusing for people who don't quite know where property boundaries actually end. One of the purposes of having a land survey done is to know from the city's initial drawing on a land plot, exactly where the boundaries actually are, in a precise manner.
You'll need a land survey if your plot of land will require the installation of utilities, like water, gas, or electricity. This information can be communicated to these organizations so they can find a way to install utilities on your land.
Plan to make multiple plots out of your current plot for homes or business buildings. You'll need a land survey to establish boundaries first, then to be able to divide up the plot the way you wish.
If you are getting a mortgage for your land, the bank might require a land survey to get more information about what is available on the land. This is partially for legal reasons, and to ensure that the bank also knows what is on the land that they technically bought until you pay it off.
How is a land survey done?
Here is part of the process that not everyone knows about, and one of the factors that can raise prices for a land survey. The land survey process is done in three parts.
Government bodies record the information for boundaries amongst divded land. A good example of this is the same information that goes into your local property tax search. If you haven't seen this, look it up – it's interesting to see the actual plot shapes of your neighborhood. This includes getting exact descriptions of the land that was purchased, and how surveyors described it before. This can take a few days because surveyors might need to contact governmental bodies to get additional information.
Working in the field
You've likely seen images of field surveyors. They are often portrayed as a person in a field (or a plot of land) with a hard hat and a mounted scope that is actually a level to read elevation between two points. A surveyor also brings highly accurate measuring equipment for the purpose of telling exactly how far between two points.
The land surveyor uses the data they gathered in the field to make a land survey map, complete with topography, for communication to government sources, the bank, and the buyer and seller. This can take a while because maps can be complex.
So how much do land surveys cost?
The answer depends on the complexity of the survey and size of the plot of land. Here is a breakdown of a few factors.
These are usually the least complex. A boundary survey uses a combination of the description within the deed for a land and the actual physical markings, ranging from trees to intentionally buried metal pins designed to mark the end of property lines. These are more more confirmation to ensure that the land matches the seller and government's description. A boundary survey is often priced at around $450 to $600.
American Land Title Association Survey
Also known as an ALTA survey, this kind of survey provides information for an insurance policy and is sent to a title company and lender. These are most often done when buying a property or beginning a new home. The cost is usually $1,500 to $4,500. The map drawn will show existing improvements like utilities, and make record of any easements on the property. One element that can drive the price of an ALTA survey up is inquiring about things like building height as well as potentially zoning issues, as they require measurements and discussions with city hall.
These apply especially to plots of undeveloped land that have some amount of nature on them. You might recognize topographic as the type of map that shows changes in elevation, hills, and valleys. This kind of survey is done by property improvement plans and will include locations for roads, water, trees, and a mix of man made and natural elements. The price can range from $400 to a small area to nearly $10,000 for large, complex lots with lots of nature.
These are very common and are like smaller ALTA surveys. A mortgage surveys confirms that structures that were on the property are still there, and that the property is what both the seller and local governmental authorities think it is. These are lesser in price, and aren't often over $600.
What makes the cost of a survey go higher?
Size and complexity makes prices go higher. On average, you'll pay 50 cents to 70 cents per square foot of land. These are for flat land, and a small plot – like a quarter of an acre which is typical in a city.
Let's add in lots of hills and trees though. Hills and trees can make a property prettier (assuming you don't plan to knock them down anyway) but they also present both data that a land surveyor enters, and potentially elevation to measure. A larger property with lots of hills and trees can run from $50 per acre to $500 per acre. One big factor here is that a land surveyor will often ask for less money per acre for a larger lot.
Terrain will ultimately cost more because the land surveyor may have to climb a distance up, move their level and equipment a lot, and make multiple data points several times to indicate a change in topography.
If you want a land survey done faster than normal – you might have to pay extra to get it completed on time. Land surveyors can be fairly busy, but could put it in extra hours in a week or otherwise be motivated to move clients around in order to get one done faster.
Time of year or season
A plot of land that isn't clear makes it more difficult to move or see. If the land is full of trees, the surveyor will have to slow down and find ways to measure distances. Snow and ice also cause hazards and can conceal elements of a property that a surveyor is looking for, potentially including land markers.
Want a land survey in a remote area, or want a particular surveyor to drive a ways? These can result in a more expensive survey because of the time needed to get to a location.
We discussed paperwork and looking at historical records earlier. In some cases, cities don't have electronic records that are easily searchable and might just have paper. Some counties also have their own systems, which require time and expertise to explore. These can result in paying more per hour for a surveyor.
You might end up asking the land surveyor to present the information they found to a zoning committee, seller, or another participating team on your behalf. The surveyor is an expert on the information and would be considered authoritative for the land. They will probably ask for extra money to show up to a meeting or present information.
Hiring a specialist?
Need a specialist who understands particular commercial properties, or who can handle a specific kind of terrain? These land surveyors are out there and know their particular expertise carries a premium fee. A specialist might require any of the above reasons to ask for more, including having to do specific research about land, and needing to scale hills or mountains.
Why do I need a land surveyor?
We have to put one piece of information out there: You have a land surveyor – a person with skill and expertise at interpreting local laws, making a drawing of land according to established rules, and submitting that drawing to you, likely a mortgage company, and a local government. You also have a survey, which is the previously mentioned drawing, and the product of the land surveyor's service.
You could actually do a land survey yourself, in some cases. You'd want to learn how and ultimately probably spend a fair bit of time learning how to draw a map properly and submit it to your local government. To be honest, this probably wouldn't be worth the time and effort – and we also imagine that in any cases, your mortgage company will want a professional without a conflict of interest to perform the survey.
In other words, doing your own land survey is probably not the best use of your time.
Do I need to give a land surveyor anything?
If you already have the legal description of the property available, that might help. Otherwise, a surveyor has ready access to the same information you do, and more. A land surveyor also has their own equipment for measuring distances, so they should be good to go there.
Are land surveyors licensed?
Generally speaking, yes. Land surveyors are licensed for a couple of reasons. They need to give impartial information to the buyer, seller, and government. They also have to know their local compliance issues and how to work with the government when submitting a map and information.
Are there reasons besides buying land to get a land survey done?
Yes, land buying is actually not the only reason to have a land survey done. The most common reasons to have a land survey done when land isn't being bought or sold is to clearly reestablish boundaries and codes if a person wants to build something on their land and they – or their neighbor aren't certain where exactly the property line is – and they think a new structure or development might encroach in their property lines. This is more common when something is built on a border, and if the property lines haven't been obvious for a long time. A land survey can also be done after a building is built to ensure that an existing building isn't encroaching.
A private property owner can ask a structure to be moved or even torn down if it is built on the wrong property.
Do property surveyors charge by the hour?
It's up to the surveyors. They could charge hourly, and with lots of experience, have a good idea of how many hours a plot of land will take to survey. Not knowing how long it will take – and charging upwards of $40 per hour isn't usually a good thing to do, but it might have to done for unpredictable scenarios.
While some website cite inclement weather as a reason to charge more, some surveyors just won't do a survey in more dangerous conditions. Note that snow and ice aren't often called dangerous conditions unless extreme cold gets in the way – its also possible to just wait a day or two – or in the Midwest, a couple of hours!
Who pays for a land survey?
While there are no hard rules for who pays for a land survey, the buyer normally is footing the bill. The primary reason is that the land buyer most often wants the results of the survey, and unless it is a buyer's market, the land owner is not motivated to pay the cost of a survey with an unpredictable total for a service they won't use.
Buyers also most often pay for the land survey because they could use information on it to back out of a contract. For example, if the representation of the property was inaccurate, or they learn that utilities will cost much more than they expected to replace, they could write that into the buying contract and back away if potential costs rise too high.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling