In the most simple terms, a surveyor measures the land. There's more to it, however. A land surveyor is an expert at measuring, but he also must have a strong understanding of mathematics, statistics, mapping, drafting, computers and other natural sciences. Land surveyors must be able to perform research of old records, gather and process measurements, perform calculations, make objective decisions, prepare drawings and relate technical information and sometimes abstract concepts to laymen.
Survey projects can cover small areas, such as part of a subdivision lot, or very large areas over multiple states or countries. Survey measurements were traditionally made with steel measuring tapes and telescope like instruments called theodolites. Today, survey measurements are usually performed with electronic measuring equipment, which use microwaves or lasers, and even radio signals from satellites orbiting the earth (GPS, or Global Positioning System).
The surveyor performs field measurements and calculations then often prepares a drawing to help illustrate and create a record of the results of the survey. Today, these drawings are most often prepared using computer aided drafting programs.
Survey drawings are often recorded at the county Recorder's or county Engineer's office, and used by public agencies to track property ownership and assist in property valuation for tax purposes.
Professional surveyors and engineers must be licensed by the state in which they work. This is a years-long process that involves training at an accredited college or university, proven work experience and rigorous testing. In Ohio, a registered and licensed professional surveyor will have the letters "P.S." behind his name; likewise, a licensed professional engineer uses "P.E."
Why do you need a surveyor?
Some examples of when you need a land surveyor's expertise are:
When you are buying or selling real property.
When you develop or subdivide land.
Before you construct a building, fence or other improvements on your land.
When a boundary dispute arises.
What will a land surveyor do for you?
When you hire a professional land surveyor he is working for you, but his performance will be governed by city, county, state and/or federal laws and regulations. This work should be performed with the highest standards of ethics and practice.
Some tasks a professional land surveyor undertakes to perform a typical survey for which the general public might hire him include:Consult with you in order to understand the exact nature of your project and suggest what type of survey is required.
Study and collect existing records concerning your property and the adjoining properties. This information comes from a number of sources including public records on the internet and at county and state offices.
Visit your property in the field - this will allow the surveyor to gain a full understanding of the project and develop an accurate estimate of the time required to perform the work required for the successful completion of your project.
Provide you with a cost estimate and schedule to perform the work. The surveyor might request the client to sign a contract which specifically states the work to be performed and the cost of the services.
Conduct a field survey (this work might be performed by a field crew in the employment of the professional surveyor). The survey crew might need to access adjoining properties as well as the subject property.
Most survey work requires a technical drawing to be prepared by the surveyor as part of the project. A reasonable number of copies of this drawing should be provided to you as part of the contract. The surveyor might also be required to file copies of this drawing with county agencies. Drawings should be signed, dated and sealed by the Professional Surveyor. A legal description of real property might also be prepared by the surveyor for some types of work.
Set permanent monuments at property corners - these monuments are typically 30" long iron rods which are driven into the ground then topped with a cap containing the Professional Surveyor's name and state registration number. The surveyor should walk you around the site and show you these monuments so you know where they are and what they look like.
Coordinate survey work and exchange information with other parties involved in your land project such as attorneys, bankers, realtors, engineers and architects.