The Georgia Surveyor
The fees charged for surveying services can vary greatly. There are a few principle reasons for the variations, which are important to understand when selecting a surveyor.
Unique profession. Land surveys are unique in the realm of professional services that are customarily performed in conjunction with a real estate transaction. No two tracts are exactly alike. Unlike appraisals and title searches, the size, shape, and topography can have a huge effect on the survey fee. If responsibly priced, each survey should be examined and quoted uniquely.
Scope of service. All land surveyors don't automatically offer the same scope of service. There are many options that can change the fees charged by land surveyors. Some of these include: the extent to which property corners are marked, the extent to which the property lines are marked (if at all), the amount of detail provided in the depiction of improvements on the property, and additional optional information such as setback lines, flood plain data, zoning notations, etc. It is crucial that the land surveyor and client understand the scope of service needed and the expectations and requirements of the client and/or their lender. ALTA/NSPS land title surveys are frequently required by commercial lenders. They incorporate a rigorous set of national specifications. ALTA/NSPS surveys are typically noticeably more expensive than a standard survey that only meets the state's minimum requirements.
Insurance. Georgia does not have a requirement for land surveyors to carry professional liability insurance which is unlike the other professionals involved in real estate transactions. Although there are some very good uninsured surveyors, most of the faulty surveyors are not insured. The two main reasons for this is that they are not held accountable by a carrier for the quality of their work, and the lower quality surveyors typically are the cheapest and cut all corners possible in lowering their expense. Professional liability insurance is a formidable expense to the practicing surveyor, but it provides the client with the assurance that the work can be supported and that damages can be monetized. The alternative when seeking damages against an uninsured surveyor is to litigate for professional negligence and seek a judgement against the surveyor themselves. Collection of the judgement would often mean liquidating automobiles, furniture and equipment, possibly the surveyor's residence. Not only is a court less than likely to evict and bankrupt the surveyor and their family over a survey mistake, but the recoup is seldom enough to cover litigation expense. Using an uninsured land surveyor essentially means that you are paying for a survey "as is".
Previous work. If a surveyor has previously surveyed a parcel of land, there is cost saving benefit of going back to that same surveyor because their existing file will minimize the amount of time and effort required to complete a new survey or to update the old one.
Overhead and expenses. Most surveyors operate through either a solo operation where the surveyor does all of the work and usually works out of their home, a traditional surveying firm, and a surveying department within an engineering company. A single surveyor working out of his home with little or no overhead can choose to charge less for his services than they are worth. This happens very frequently. A surveying firm or surveying department is usually going to be better staffed, better trained and equipped, and more responsive to the client. The increased overhead costs in operating a full service firm equate to higher fees than the solo operator. There are some very good surveyors who operate as solo operators, but many do not incorporate traditional professional practices such as software and equipment updates, annual training, and adequate insurance.
In summary, the client should choose a surveyor based on their particular needs, budget, and expectations. If cost is the sole deciding factor, a sole practitioner or "economy" surveying company may suit the circumstances well, especially if the client isn't going to be needing to rely on the survey in the future such as when the client is the seller of a tract of land. If responsiveness and professional response is important to the client, a more traditional surveying firm or surveying department may better suit the needs of the client, especially if the client intends to own the property for a long period of time or has plans to develop it. Prospective clients should also inquire about professional liability coverage (which is also referred to as "errors and omissions coverage" and is not to be confused with general liability coverage). It is highly recommended that the client and surveyor sign a written agreement that details the scope of service and fees to be charged.