Land Surveying – What is it and why is it important?

What is land surveying?

Blueprint With Pencil And Drawing CompassIf you’re buying a property with the intention of developing or significantly renovating it, well you need to know about land surveying.

If you’re a first-time small developer or renovator, the only time you’ve probably seen land surveyors is when they’re on the side of a road with their special equipment looking at something that you can’t see!

Surveyors work on a diverse variety of projects from planning and design of new or existing infrastructure, land and building development, construction (buildings, roads, bridges, sports fields, farming, etc.), to monitoring and environmental measuring.

They’re experts in determining land size and measurements, and give advice and provide information to guide the work of engineers, architects, town planners, geologists and developers. They also work with all levels of government as well as service authorities such as water, sewer and power authorities.

Surveyors are often the first people on any construction or development site, measuring and mapping the land. Their measurements are then used by architects to understand and make the most of the landscape when designing, and engineers to plan structures accurately and safely – ensuring buildings not only fit with the landscape but are able to be constructed.

Why do renovators and developers need their land surveyed?


If your structural renovation or development project requires constructing new rooms or additional dwellings after subdividing a block, you need to understand whether it’s actually possible, including if it adheres to all town planning codes, and that’s why your land needs to be surveyed.

It’s also because if you’re proposing to build, renovate, develop, subdivide, or change the land use, a planning permit is often required. These are lodged with the relevant local government department and are assessed against the land zoning, permitted land uses, overlays, municipal strategic statements and various other planning documents.

It’s important to understand there are a whole host of different zones that allow for different land uses to be conducted. There also may be overlays such as wildfire, heritage, vegetation
protection on the land as well as particular local provisions such as minimum and maximum land size for subdivision, building heights and plot ratio that you need to know.

What is an Existing Conditions Survey?

So, for structural renovation or development projects, a type of survey may be required, which is called an Existing Conditions Survey. It also can be known as a site and context plan.

A qualified land surveyor will survey the site to provide information including the location of features such as buildings, vegetation and fences, the slope of the land, building heights, road features and any utility services that are currently present.

If your project requires a town planning application, the adjoining property buildings are also surveyed including the location of habitable windows, doors, roof ridgelines and leaves.

The land surveyor may also have to carry out a title re-establishment survey to determine the exact location of the property boundaries because sometimes the boundary is different to the existing fence lines. Of course, this survey is necessary if any of your proposed works are near the boundary.

In areas close to waterways, or in flatter parts of land, the location and heights of drainage and sewer infrastructure is also vitally important. This information can often determines future dwelling floor levels or the ability of increased density developments to be serviced as existing infrastructure may not have capacity.

What happens to the land survey information?

By using specialised equipment such as levels, electronic theodolites, tapes and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) units, surveyors can accurately measure land and define boundaries.

Once they have surveyed a property, they draw up a plan for their client and if necessary, they lodge the subdivision plan with Land Victoria or the equivalent State Government department.

The boundaries registered by land surveyors are then recorded in the State’s land information system, which includes the boundaries of privately owned and government land, survey plans, survey field records, ownership information, easements and other land information.

Why you must use a licensed surveyor

Professional Concept

Licensed surveyors are registered by the Surveyors Registration Board of Victoria (SRBV)

The SRBV is a statutory body responsible for establishing and maintaining the competency and educational standards for licensed surveyors, maintaining a register of licensed surveyors and managing disciplinary procedures.

A licensed surveyor is the only person legally entitled to undertake a survey to mark the boundaries of your property.

A licensed surveyor will define your land boundaries and upon request should provide a certified plan that confirms the work has been completed correctly.

It’s vitally important to understand that surveys prepared by non-licensed surveyors do not have legal standing and will not be recognised as evidence in the event of a boundary dispute.

It’s not worth the risk, so make sure you only use a licensed professional to survey your land.

Non-licensed surveyors are able to carry out many other forms of surveying including Existing Conditions Surveys, engineering, construction, environmental and monitoring surveys.

How much does land surveying cost?

Complimentary Consultation

Fees for land surveying can range anywhere from $500 to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the scope of works required.

When calculating the total surveying costs, a number of factors have to be considered including:

  • Site location– The area where the property is located directly affects the price. You may be charged a higher rate if there are plenty of trees present or if the property is not easily accessible to vehicles.
  • Size of the property– The larger the property, the longer it will take to survey the land.
  • Shape of the property– It is cheaper to have a rectangular-sized property measured and surveyed compared to a piece of land with irregular borders.
  • Physical features of the land– You may be charged higher surveying rates for properties located in a mountainous terrain with plenty of foliage. Apart from the difficulty of surveying these lands, they’re not easily accessible as well.

Given a structural renovation or development costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of having the land professionally surveyed is small change in comparison to the total project cost, isn’t it?


Intuitive Finance – the smart choice

Undertaking a structural renovation or small development project requires a lot of planning to help secure its financial viability.

A key part of that is land surveying to ensure that your project is physically possible as well as complies with all relevant codes and zoning.

The world of banking and finance can be a pretty daunting one for both novice and sophisticated investors and since our establishment in 2002 we’ve focused on providing outstanding service and business standards.

This approach was vindicated when we were named Victoria’s favourite mortgage broker at the Investors Choice Awards.

So, if you’re about to embark on major property project, why now contact Intuitive Finance today to ensure you have the right information and expert support on your side from the very beginning.

Discuss your specific needs & formulate the right strategy for you. Get in touch to organise your complimentary 60min session today!


The information provided in this article is general in nature and does not constitute personal financial advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information you should consider the appropriateness of the information with regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.

Peter Mirams

Peter Mirams

Peter Mirams is the owner of Step Surveying and has 23 years consulting experience working on small to large projects for both government and private clients. Step Surveying provides quality, timely information that value adds to projects from the initial idea to the end result.
Peter Mirams

24 Comments. Leave new

Avatar for Peter Mirams
Taylor Bishop
July 27, 2017 10:08 pm

Thanks for helping me understand land surveying. I didn’t actually know about a tile re-establishment survey, and that it’s used to determine where a property’s boundaries are. I can definitely understand how important it is, especially if you are near other boundaries, like you said. After all, it’s important to know so that you can use the space to it’s fullest without crossing into other properties. I’d be interested in learning more about the details of land surveying, and the specifics of the measurements and planning processes that are used to determine these factors.

Avatar for Peter Mirams
Andrew Mirams
July 28, 2017 2:24 pm

Thanks for the feedback Taylor, we’ll look to add some stories and commentaries on this in the near future. Is there anything in particular you’d like to know about?


Hi Taylor,

Depending on where you are in the world, these surveys may be know by a different name. The building and planning sections at your local council, or the Surveying Regulator / Authority in your state would be the best contact.


It really helped when you talked about how a land surveyor would provide information about slopes and vegetation in your property. I can see that anyone looking into this would want to make sure they take the time to compare several surveyors before choosing the one that works best for you. As I see it, checking with the BBB and reading online reviews can help you find the best professional to evaluate your land.


Hi Peter Mirams

You have covered good information related to land surveying. Neglecting to establish property lines can be expensive and time consuming. And it may also cause legal problems. So it is advisable to go for land surveying before constructing any property.


Hi Leo,
Yes is it advisable to boundaries determined prior to any works being undertaken on land. As mentioned in my article, it is also advisable to have the site surveyed to measure existing site features (buildings, services, vegetation etc) that may impact on design works. Having good, accurate information to use as a base will save time and money over the course of a construction project, along with a good knowledge of town planning controls where your project is.


I think that it’s fascinating that legal disputes can only be validated through the input of a licensed surveyor. That means that not just anyone can mark out land or lay claim to property; you need a licensed agent in order to really make your claim. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind for my own property in the future.

Avatar for Peter Mirams
Ridley Fitzgerald
November 7, 2017 10:43 am

It’s great to learn more about land surveys. I’m glad that now it’s I know that if I want to add stuff to my house that I should get one of these done. I guess I should get one done now, to know if I can even add a room.


Hi Ridley,

Before you obtain quotes and proceed with a land survey you could contact your local council to determine if you need one. You may not need one for minor projects, but sometimes planning overlays require a planning permit application which in turn requires a site survey. For example, bushfire attack levels (BAL) are determined by the slope and direction of the land, along with types and density of vegetation. This then requires additional design works by your design professional to design cladding, alternate water supply, and areas of defendable space.


It’s interesting to know that a land surveyor can visit a site and offer information about where to place things like fences, vegetation, and the building itself. I also think that being able to provide the necessary documentation to pull permits for renovations or add-ons would be a huge help. It seems like there’s more and more construction going on. Having a professional land surveyor to come in and help with the permits and proposed location of things would be a huge help.


Hi Lucy,

Yes, I agree. Any development or change to your property (no matter the size) should engage a land surveyor so you are sure that you are getting exactly what you are paying for.
Incorrect boundaries and alignments are a very common matter.


Hi Lucy,

I often receive queries from people wanting to know if they can carry out additions (or change of use) to there existing buildings or property use. We often do initial site visits to determine the opportunities, and having a thorough understanding of planning controls is valuable and provides early guidance to clients. Surveyors can often do the planning permit application works, but for complex and detailed planning applications it is best to contact a town planning professional.


Finding the right place for a new building can be a real challenge. My dad is a general contractor so I learned about building materials and construction from him. I liked how you mentioned that licensed surveyors are great for helping you define land boundaries and certify a plan and dates that a project can be completed. Thanks for the great info!


A land surveyor has a comprehensive knowledge of different zoning areas and knows the laws that are associated with building on land. A lot of projects require the expertise of a land surveying hunter valley professional to help expedite the process.

Avatar for Peter Mirams
Andrew Mirams
May 2, 2018 8:21 am

Great point John. Land surveyors know exactly what zoning and local government authority requirements are.


Land surveying can be quite important for any major construction plans that you might have. Because of that, it really does help to know how much it will cost and what it will entail. For example, depending on the size of your property, the surveyor will have a longer, more expensive job to do.


Great points Duncan


Correct Duncan, no 2 jobs are ever the same. Things to consider in determining cost and time to complete a survey are size of land (larger = more site time), access (it the site easy to get around), amount of site features (buildings, services, vegetation), slope of the land (steep slopes takes longer). These then flow on to processing time to generate a survey plan that can be used to make informed decisions. Also consider for boundary re-establishment surveys the amount of previous surveying works in the area (only your surveyor will be able to determine this), and if you need to measure adjoining buildings and there eave, ridge, window locations. This is required for design works and can be very time consuming.


Peter, I didn’t know that a professional land survey can help you figure out what permits you need to obtain before building on land. I am not very educated in this aspect, so I would put my trust in a land surveying service to ensure the smoothest building process possible. There are many different benefits of a land survey, but I really like knowing that there is a service I can trust if I ever need it.


Glad it was helpful Joy.


Hi Joy,

Also consider contacting your local council to discuss exactly what permits are required.


It is nice to know that you can rely on a surveyor to let you know about the characteristics of the land. This is a great way to make sure that you know what you are getting the right land. My cousin that was looking up surveying would love knowing this.


Our pleasure Camille


I appreciate it when you said that it might be a little more expensive if the person needs to have a property filled with trees or located in a secluded area surveyed. At least that made me more aware that I need to save money in order to get the place checked. After all, the place that needs to be surveyed is an old place that is not surrounded by tall trees. Surely it will be hard for the surveyor to do their job.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *