Embarking on a home-improvement or development project requires meticulous planning. A crucial aspect of that planning is selecting a reputable land surveyor (aka cadastral surveyor).

The choice of a land surveyor can significantly impact the success and legal standing of your project. In this post, we will explore the 3 most important factors to consider when choosing a land surveyor:

 

  1. Understanding your Survey Needs
    (How to get what you need and nothing more) 

  2. Asking the Right Questions
    (How to figure out if they're the right Survey firm for you)

  3. Ensuring Apples to Apples Quote Comparisons
    (How to decode Survey Quotes and avoid Hidden Costs)
  •  

1. Understanding Your Survey Needs:

Before you begin the process of choosing a land surveyor, it's imperative to have a clear understanding of the type of survey your property requires. Land surveys come in various forms, each serving a specific purpose. Common types include boundary surveys, topographic surveys, location certificate/surveys, and construction set-out surveys.

  • Boundary/Identification Surveys: If you're dealing with property lines, boundary disputes, or planning a new construction/extension project, a boundary survey is essential. It precisely defines the boundaries of your property.

  • Contour and Detail Surveys: Also known as a Topographic Survey, a contour and detail survey is ideal for construction and development projects. A contour and detail survey provides detailed information about the contours, elevation, and natural features of the land. It is also used to identify the location of structures and large vegetation to assist with planning and design services.

  • Location Certificate / Surveys: Required for commercial real estate transactions in some Australian states, the purpose of a Location Certificate is to ensure that the land described in a purchase contract is accurate, to confirm that any improvements appear to be within the boundaries of the land and that there are no encroachments.

    NB. In Queensland, the only legal mechanism to perform this task is via an Identification Survey. See "Boundary/Identification Surveys" above for further details.  

  • Construction Set-out Surveys: Essential during the construction phase, these surveys mark out the physical positions of structures and infrastructure before construction commences, ensuring they align with the design plans. They provide millimetre accurate locations that guide the installation of everything from the footing, slab, plumbing and frame of the building or structure.

There are many other types of surveys depending on the scope of your project. To learn more about these surveys, see this article for a full list and description of all Surveying Services that might be applicable to your project.

By understanding your specific survey needs, you can communicate more effectively with potential surveyors, ensuring that they are well-equipped to handle the intricacies of your project and you’re only paying for the services that you require.

 

2. Asking the Right Questions:

Once you've identified the type of survey you require and potential surveying firms, the next step is to ask the right questions to assess their suitability for your project. Here are some crucial inquiries to make:

a. Qualifications and Experience:

    • What are the qualifications and licensing of the surveyors in the firm?

      For example, if you require a Boundary/Identification Survey, you will require a Registered Surveyor to perform the work.

      If this work is not performed by a Registered Surveyor, you risk building your structure over the boundaries or outside of your local councils approved setbacks. If challenged by a neighbour, you may be required to tear down the structure and repeat the process from the beginning; a potentially costly mistake that can be easily avoided.

      You can search the Board of Surveyors for your state to find out if the Surveyor you’re enquiring with is registered.

    • How long has the firm been in business, and what is their experience with projects similar to yours?
      To ensure the surveying firm you’re looking to engage won’t cease trading at short notice, be sure to select a firm that’s been trading for a decade or longer. This provides the added benefit of ensuring they have adequate experience with projects similar to yours so you get the best possible outcome.

    • Can they provide examples of past projects similar to yours, including references
      Unless you’re happy to be a guinea pig, be sure to select a firm that can prove that they’ve performed many jobs like yours. Even on the same type of survey, there are often significant differences between different council jurisdictions, inner vs outer city suburbs and even between specific streets.

b. Technology and Methodology:

    •   What technology and equipment do they use for surveys?
      Land surveys require an expensive instrument called a theodolite, which often cost upwards of $75,000 for the full suite of equipment. However, Surveying technology has advanced significantly in the past decade and the older equipment just isn’t as accurate as the newer equipment.

      To ensure your survey is performed accurately and with data that can be relied upon, ask what is the age of the equipment being used by the firm; ideally it’ll be less than five years old, but shouldn’t be more than 10.


    • Are they familiar with the latest advancements in surveying technology, such as GPS, GIS, and laser scanning?
       
      • GPS (Global Positioning System) ensures precise location data, facilitating accurate location of structures and vegetation.
      • GIS (Geographic Information System) integrates diverse spatial information, aiding in accurate design of construction plans.
      • Laser scanning captures intricate 3D details of structures and landscapes, enabling precise modelling for the design of construction plans.

Together, these technologies optimise whole of project efficiency, reduce errors, and provide valuable insights for navigating the complexities of development, renovation and extension projects. Utilising the full suite of surveying technologies can help ensure your project aligns with local regulations and are executed with meticulous accuracy.

c. Communication and Timelines:

    • How do they communicate with clients throughout the surveying process?
      A good surveying firm should excel at client communication and this means communicating with you in your preferred medium. This starts from the very first interaction during the quotation phase and should include helping educate you about the entire surveying process; this is particularly important if you’re unfamiliar with surveying.

      Effective communication includes being transparent about when they can commence your project and how long it should realistically take to produce your survey plan. They should provide regular updates on your project’s progress and promptly address your inquiries or concerns.

    • What is their typical turnaround time for completing a survey?
      Some surveying firms specialise in large scale infrastructure and development projects, and only perform small scale projects in-between these large projects. Therefore, be sure to get a written estimate of the likely turnaround time for the completion of your survey. Otherwise you may be waiting a month or longer for your survey to be completed which will hold up other aspects of your project.

    • Will they keep you informed of any potential delays or challenges that may arise?

      Surveying schedules are largely impacted by the weather due to the outdoor nature of the work. Excessive heat waves, rain and or flooding can all impact the ability of surveyors to perform field work, therefore there is always a possibility of delays.

      Because access to your property is usually required to perform field work, it’s essential that the surveying firm you engage keeps you informed of any potential delays as early as possible. Not only is this a matter of common courtesy, but this will ensure that you can effectively plan your work, personal or family life accordingly.

d. Legal Understanding:

    • How well-versed are they in local zoning laws, regulations, and permitting processes?

      Land surveyors must be well-versed in local zoning laws, regulations, and permitting processes to ensure project compliance and success. Understanding these intricacies allows surveyors to accurately determine property boundaries, assess land use limitations, and navigate legal requirements.

      Compliance minimises the risk of disputes, delays, and costly revisions. Moreover, this expertise facilitates effective communication between yourself, your designer and or builder, and local government. This ensures a streamlined surveying process that aligns with legal standards and facilitates successful project outcomes.

e. Insurance and Liability:

    • Do they carry professional liability insurance, and what does it cover?

      Professional liability insurance is crucial for land surveyors as it safeguards you against potential errors, oversights, or disputes in their work. It provides financial protection for both the surveyor and yourself in case of legal claims, ensuring fair compensation for any potential damages.

      The coverage should encompass errors and omissions, negligence, and professional misconduct. This insurance not only establishes the surveyor's commitment to accountability but also instills confidence in yourself by demonstrating a proactive approach to mitigating risks and upholding the highest standards of professionalism in land surveying.

    • How do they handle potential errors or disputes?

      Land surveyors should approach potential errors or disputes with transparency and a proactive resolution mindset. This includes communicating potential errors promptly with yourself, acknowledging any concerns, providing a detailed analysis of the issue and offering solutions.

      If necessary, your land surveyor should implement corrective measures and ensure documentation of the resolution process. Having professional liability insurance in place can also aid in managing disputes.


Asking these questions not only provides valuable insights into the surveyor's capabilities but also establishes a foundation for transparent communication throughout the project.

 

3. Ensuring Apples-to-Apples Quote Comparisons:

One common pitfall in choosing a land surveyor is comparing quotes that differ in scope or inclusions. To make an informed decision, ensure that the quotes you receive from potential surveyors include the same services and deliverables. Here's a checklist to guide you:

a. Scope of Work:

    • Confirm that the scope of work aligns with your project requirements.

      As discussed above in point 1. Understand your Survey Needs, you should have a clear understanding of the type of survey you require. When comparing quotes, ensure each proposal covers each and every survey required for your project.

      If a surveying firm has only provided you with a partial quotation, be sure to ask them to resubmit it with all survey types so you can compare more effectively.

    • Ensure that each quote outlines the specific tasks and services the surveyor will perform.

b. Deliverables:

    • Clearly define the deliverables you expect from the survey, such as plans, reports, or digital files.

    • Verify that each surveyor can provide the same type and level of deliverables.

c. Ancillary Costs:

    • Inquire about any additional or hidden costs that may arise during the survey process.

      Different survey firms have different methods for quoting. Some provide fixed-price, all-inclusive quotes that cover you for all likely aspects of the work to be performed.

      Whereas others provide a bare-bones quote that only cover the basics and insert outgoings and extra costs into the terms and conditions that are payable upon their occurrence; some of these will occur on every job.

      Make sure you check your quote for the presence of these additional costs that may effect your project:

Boundary/Identification Surveys

Locate & display encroachments on survey plan

$200 - $300

Identifying and Pegging Easements

$300 - $500

Encroachment letters

Up to $200
(per adjoining property affected by encroachment)

Title & Encumbrance Search

$200 - $300

Purchase of Survey Plans

$100 - $200

Total Potential Extra Costs

$1,000 - $1,500
(More if multiple encroachments)

Table 1. Additional costs to check for in Boundary/Identification Survey Quotes

Contour and Detail Surveys

Natural Ground Contours (Ground Level Plan)

$300 - $550

Sewerage & Stormwater Plot

$150 - $200

Purchase of Survey Plans

$100 - $200

Total Potential Extra Costs

$550 - $950

Table 2. Additional costs to check for in Contour and Detail Survey Quotes

All up, a bare-bones quote with additional outgoings and extra costs could end up costing you significantly more than you expected. So be sure to read the fine print for these extra costs and ensure the quote you’ve been given is all inclusive.

By ensuring consistency in the quotes you receive, you can make a more accurate comparison and select a surveyor whose services and business ethos align with you and your project's needs.

Conclusion:

Choosing the right land surveyor is a critical step in the success of your project. By understanding your survey needs, asking the right questions, and ensuring accurate and comparable quotes, you set the stage for a collaborative and successful partnership.

Remember, the investment in a reputable land surveyor is an investment in the accuracy, legality, and overall success of your project. Take the time to make an informed decision, and your project will benefit from a solid foundation laid by a qualified and capable land surveyor.

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