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What Drives the Cost of a Boundary Survey?

by Cindy on June 13, 2014

Professional surveyors must abide by their state laws in order to perform a boundary survey; and each state is different in their requirements. If an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey is requested, a surveyor must abide by their state laws and the requirements for the ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey.
 
If a tract of land is located in a downtown area, or in an area that is otherwise platted, the entire block may need to be surveyed in order to determine where the boundary lines are for the subject tract of land.  This because the monumentation, rights-of-way, and platted lot lines within the block need to be recreated in order to properly determine boundary lines of any tracts within the block. Depending on the amount of evidence found, additional evidence may even be needed outside the block.
 
In the state of Indiana, if the tract of land is located in a rural area, the land description is most likely based upon the location of section corners.  These corners were originally set in the 1800s as wood posts.  The records for these corners are found in the County Surveyor’s Office as Section Corner Reference Ties.  Some counties have very good records for the corners; and others have very poor records. When the documentation for these corners is lacking, it can be very time consuming to recreate where the corner was or find any evidence of the corner.  If Section Corner Reference Ties are not available at all, additional research will be need to done. 
 
Copies of the original government surveyor’s notes can be acquired from the state archives. If the location falls within a roadway, permitting and special traffic control will be needed to dig in the roadway to try to find evidence of the corner. Yet, the law is that these points control boundaries, so surveyors cannot do an accurate survey that meets the requirements of the law without spending the time and money to determine these corner locations.
 
The time of year can also add to the cost of the survey due to weather conditions and foliage on the trees.  Foliage on the trees will drastically increase the fee for a survey in a wooded area.  Trees and shrubs hinder the line of sight and affect what equipment can be used for the survey. For example, GPS cannot be used in heavily wooded areas when survey-grade precision is required.  The tree canopy can cause poor reception for GPS equipment.
 
Courthouse research for the subject deed, adjoining deeds, section corner ties, plats and recorded surveys can add cost to the survey.  Some courthouses have everything digital and available online, while others do not.  Thus, even which county the land lies in will affect cost when the research takes longer.  Also, some counties will not even provide copies on the same day that the research is being conducted, so an extra trip to the courthouse will be needed to pick up the documents.  There are also fees at the courthouse for copies; these are normally charged back to the client as reimbursables.
 
The property size and location can also affect the cost of the survey.  A larger size tract of land with difficult access will take longer in the field to survey.  On the other hand, smaller tracts of land that are located in congested areas will take longer in the field as well due to a variety of factors including traffic and other safety considerations. 
 
Many people think surveyors have a formula to figure the fee of a survey, but due to the many varying factors, fees can only be on a case by case basis.  Each property is unique, although in a newer residential subdivision that has been developed in the last 20 years, surveyors can generally know what to expect and the fees will generally be lower.  So, when you call a surveyor asking for a fee, don’t be surprised if they take down all your information and call or email you back later with a number.