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How Much Does a Land Survey Cost?

Posted 10.08.18

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So you want to know how much a land survey costs and you don’t want to hear back, “how long is a piece of string? ”, perfectly understandable. 

It's not an easy answer to give which is  probably the reason why there isn't much written about the cost of a land survey, particularly in the UK. This post will do it's best to provide some answers. We're focusing on topographic land surveys including as-built surveys, re-surveys, updates and extensions. 

It's worth mentioning that if you found this page because you're wondering what a boundary survey costs or you have a boundary issue and you think a measured survey will resolve it - then get in touch with a land surveyor. Predicting the cost of a boundary survey is very difficult without first considering specific details. You really need to speak to a surveyor and help them build a detailed knowledge of the issue before hearing their options. Many land registry related survey/mapping tasks do not require a full measured survey of the land.

There are many variables to account for in a topographic survey specification and this is further compounded by the fact that no two sites are the same. Survey specifications vary and access issues can hinder progress on site. You might think that size-of-site is a pretty good indicator of cost-to-survey but it's surprising how much open ground a surveyor can cover when working with a GPS unit, let alone when using a UAV (drone) solution to gather topographic data or a terrestrial 3d laser scanner

In contrast to open ground, an urban environment such as a hectic city centre is typically dense with topographic features, people and traffic- there's just no quick solution. Even if terrestrial laser scanners are used to gather all that juicy data in an astonishingly short amount of time on site - all those topographic features need to be identified in/extracted from the resultant model. Automated extraction techniques are improving but it's just not reliable enough for many applications.

Depending on how a firm structures their cost calculation, equipment selection may factor into the price quoted. Let's say GPS units cost 15k, total stations 25k and 3d scanners 50k - for arguments sake. If a scanner is required, does the surveyor try to recoup a percentage of the outlay on the equipment, correlated to the length of time it is on each job? Or do equipment costs remain firmly as a fixed cost, being absorbed into a firm's base day rate?

Most conventional land surveys of a topographic nature are going to be based on a day rate. You won't find many firms publishing this on their website but it is undoubtedly affected by region. This is one of the reasons why clients in London award contracts to land surveyors in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. Timescales are another reason. Sometimes your go-to surveyor is flat-out and your design teams are running out of things to work on in Cad - getting the survey quicker saves money.

Day rates

A conventional topographic survey is likely to be carried out by a land surveyor with a robotic (remote controlled) total station and a GPS unit. Often the surveyor will have an assistant who can operate the total station in non robotic mode or work independently with a GPS unit to gather data on soft detail around the site - at the same time as the lead surveyor is working in robotic mode.

We went through the first few pages of google and found 2 land surveying firms in the UK who indicate their rates (excluding VAT). 

Land Surveyors Company A
£425 Base rate - gets you a two man team with a total station or a GPS team.
£55 GPS fix - often necessary to relate the survey to Ordnance Survey National Grid or check an existing link to the network.
£50 3D CAD drawing - often included as standard.
£0.49 Mileage - per mile

So for a site 35 miles away, that could be completed in 1 day using that staffing format, the grand total would be £564.30 + VAT

Most sites aren't going to take exactly one day to complete though, so staff working overtime is very common within the industry to save jobs running into part of the next day. If anticipated by the quoting surveyor, the overtime and associated costs would also be built into the price as well as any accommodation requirements for surveyors to avoid travel and stay local to the site. Equally if the survey should take less time, expect to receive a half-day rate based price, bringing the cost down a bit - but not by half. 

Land Surveyors Company B
From the same region, this company suggest a day rate starting at £400 up to £1000 subject to specification. This may seem like a broad range but it probably better reflects the varying complexity that is present from one site survey to another.

How many days?

So within the constraints of rounding up in half day measures and providing quotes on a fixed price basis, the next variable is "how many days?" This refers to woman/man days. If three or four surveyors can travel to a site together to complete a 3 day job in 1 day, some variable costs will be lower but the quote will still resemble a 3 day job. 

Much like how a good estate agent can accurately estimate a property value in their local area, an experienced land surveyor can view a site plan and specification and draw comparisons from years of surveying similar sites to predict how many "days" it will take. But there is a more scientific approach available too.

Land surveyors have all the information on hand to use an algorithmic approach to costing. Through adopting a GIS (geographical information system) and integrating workflows into the GIS database - it's easy to find highly relevant comparable areas using metrics such as size, land use, point density and time taken.

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What about billable hours?

Some firms arrive at their day rates internally by setting hourly charge out rates for surveyors. Others calculate the fixed costs contribution requirement for the length of time resources are employed for and tag on the variable costs associated with the job and their own margin. 

For works that are strictly office/desktop based, such as visibility/volume analysis, transformations and file conversions, an hourly rate may be offered. Expect this to vary from £40 - £80, or more for tasks requiring a very specific skill set.

To conclude

The cost of a land survey is primarily connected to how quickly the surveyor can complete the survey and how their rates are calculated. Day rates start at around £400-£500 for the basics but it's likely to vary according to the site, specification and equipment selection. If you have access to a previous survey and knowledge of time taken to complete it - you can compare this with the contract price for a rough idea for that particular firm.

The most common format for a land survey quote is fixed price, regardless of how long it ultimately takes. You shouldn't have to pay for a quote and all firms that we're aware of will quote free of charge and engage in pre-contract discussion and advice where appropriate. 

A good rule of thumb is to obtain 3 quotations each time you require a land survey.

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