Choosing the right surveyor

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

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Published: 10th April 2017

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


When selecting engineering staff to work on your project, the temptation is to go with who you know and who you perceive to offer the best value for money.

In a nutshell, trust and finances are equally important factors in any development job. Trust comes from knowing the staff you select are good at their job and will deliver the goods when required. Paying out becomes less onerous when you know you’re getting high quality staff and a high end deliverable in return for your hard earned cash.

That said, there will be occasions when a project demands the services of a professional for a specific or highly technical job and you will need to look beyond your network of regular contacts.

Employing a land surveyor is the perfect example. As with almost all the engineering trades, surveyors come in all shapes and sizes ranging from huge multi-nationals to smaller, time-served surveyors working alone or for a small firm. It’s even possible to engage the services of a surveyor through a labour or recruitment agency; there are several specialist recruitment agencies in the UK that supply engineers on both permanent and temporary contracts.

So how do you decide which type of surveyor is best for your project? With a medium to large firm comes many certainties but, on occasion, a slightly larger bill too. With a smaller firm, overheads (and therefore costs) will be reduced but risk increases. And lastly, with an agency worker there can be unexpected hidden costs that belie the low day rate that looked so attractive in the first place.


Cost will be a major consideration for most clients and, if you decide to consider at all the options, you will very quickly notice a marked difference in price.

Usually, a large surveying firm will appear to be the most expensive option – on paper. However, when you critically evaluate what you are getting for your money, the rationale for choosing one should become apparent.

As mentioned above, bigger firms will have larger overheads and this will reflect in the cost. Staff, equipment, insurance, transportation and project management will factor in the end price but, the upshot is, they are all issues you won’t need to think about.

A large company will supply briefed fully kitted out, highly trained surveyors with the means to get to and from their site of work. They will be covered by the pre-requisite insurances and will be managed by the firm. In the simplest terms, they will turn up, do the work and deliver without any hassle or management on your part.

A small company should supply a surveyor similarly prepared. However, to what extent depends on the size and capability of the company and/or the diligence of the individual business owner. Through no fault of their own, for example, a smaller business simply may not be able to provide the same level of service, technology or support that a medium or large firm may be able to deliver.

An agency worker, by far the cheapest option of the three, can sometimes end up being the most costly. The day rate, which may look attractive on paper, usually only includes the cost of the individual surveyor. This means it’s up to the client to hire his/her equipment and maybe even to arrange transport too. What’s more, it will be the client’s responsibility to see to it that he/she is fully insured whilst working on the project. These hidden costs can mount up, especially if the surveyor is needed onsite several times over an extended time period.


To accommodate the needs of the project, due to weather considerations, to verify some results or maybe just to answer a few client queries face-to-face, there are occasions when a surveyor may be called back to site. This could happen once or several times.

This is not a problem for a larger company with several staff that can respond quickly to requests for revisits. True, a client might not see the same surveyor each and every time but the project manager will ensure they are fully appraised of progress to date and should be able to pick up where their colleagues left off.

This could prove more difficult for a lone surveyor or a small company, especially if they have moved onto the next project. If the client has to wait for a surveyor to find a window in his/her schedule, this has the potential to stall a project – which will cost time and money. What if the surveyor can’t come back for several weeks? A client could be faced with the cost and inconvenience of starting all over again with a new surveyor entirely on top of delayed project costs.

There’s an added risk if employing an agency surveyor. He/she is under no obligation to stay on a job and could simply get up and leave site if they have had a better offer from elsewhere, thereby leaving the client in the lurch.

Quality control

In small firms, a business owner wears many hats. As well as carrying out their core duties, in this case those of a surveyor, they may also be required to do book keeping, business development, auditing, invoicing, quality control along with a variety of other functions vital to keeping the business running. In a larger company, there is usually enough staff in place to undertake such tasks.

One really important function of a surveying business with a direct impact on a client is quality control. A small surveying outfit may be too small to have an adequate quality control process in place simply because the manpower isn’t there.

Remember, whilst it’s essential that the surveyor checks his/her own work, it’s even more important for somebody else (somebody highly knowledgeable) to check it before it’s sent to the client. Larger companies tend to have a defined workflow – usually a two or three step checking process to ensure all work is done accurately and to a high standard. This minimises errors and callbacks and, ultimately, delivers better value for money and poses less risk to the client.

Other considerations

Similarly, sickness and annual leave can upset the progress of a client’s project. If a small surveying company is engaged, chances are, if a surveyor is off sick or on holiday, a client will have to wait until his/her return to work to commence or resume a job. This can hold up progress on a project and, potentially,could stop work on site completely.

Like all highly technical equipment, surveying tools are expensive but, looked after properly, they will give an operator years of faithful service. However, the cost of owning surveying equipment doesn’t stop with the initial purchase.

A surveying company is responsible for ensuring its equipment is kept at a serviceable standard which means annual servicing, calibration and software updates at regular intervals. All these attract a cost. For example, one Total Station costs around £1,000 per year to service and calibrate with parts, accessories, consumables and software costs on top. What’s more, this is just one of the main tools employed by your average land surveyor. 3D laser scanners, rapidly becoming ever more popular in the field of land surveying, could cost significantly more than this per year to maintain.

Software and equipment maintenance and upgrades are an essential but expensive business overhead and one that smaller companies could overlook on a cost basis. The temptation could be for a lone surveyor or small firm to service the equipment themselves which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing but could lead to serious errors if done incorrectly. Furthermore, data captured using a poorly serviced or uncalibrated instrument (i.e. without a valid calibration certificate from a recognised, reputable, manufacturer-approved body) will frequently be rejected by many clients. And for good reason.

Parting thoughts

On paper, using a large surveying firm may look to be the most expensive option but, when balanced out, in terms of value for money and security, it is by far the best option. A client will have peace of mind that staff are properly-equipped, fully-insured and using tools fit for purpose whilst being fully project managed by the company they work for.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong in using a small surveying firm or an agency worker (many clients have positive experiences of working this way, after all) if risk and cost are a major consideration on a project then it is advisable to invest at the outset and use a slightly larger, reputable firm to prevent additional outlay down the line if or when things go awry.

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