How To Survey Land

Knowing how to survey land and find your own property markers can save you a lot of time, money and trouble. Surveys can be expensive. Of course, by law, only a licensed surveyor can set or move property lines. But you can find the already-established property lines by yourself.

Know the legal boundaries of your property before landscaping or building a fence or a shed, and you can avoid moving them later. Knowing your property lines can allow you to live peacefully with your neighbor. Best of all, you will be able to fully enjoy your rights as a property owner. To learn how to survey your own land, read on.


  • Property deed
  • Public records
  • Measuring tape
  • Compass
  • Ribbon or twine
  • Level
  • Plumb bob
  • An assistant


  1. Read your property deed. When surveying land, the paperwork always comes first. Start with a copy of your property deed. Carefully read the legal description, which describes in words your property line and boundaries.
  2. Determine surveying method. One of two common surveying methods will apply to your property. One is the public land survey system. The other is called the “metes and bounds” method. Knowing the surveying method will help you read and understand your deed and other property records.
  3. Search information sources. Search for other documents about your property. Make a trip to city hall, the county courthouse or the tax appraisal district office. There you will find a public records archive or database. Look for a surveyor’s map, or plat, for your property as well as the neighborhood. Keep your eyes open for other things, too, such as early descriptions of your property, surveyor’s notes and road descriptions.
  4. Gather supplies and equipment. Before donning your surveyor hat, gather your supplies and equipment. This includes a long measuring tape, ribbon or string, a level and a plumb bob. You may also need a compass. Since this is a job for two people, you will also need an assistant, your spouse or a friend, for instance.
  5. Begin the fieldwork. Think of surveying your land as detective work or a scavenger hunt. Start from a known point — something from the written record, or a boundary marker, like a section corner or road crossing. Measure the course, direction and distance according to the deed. Use ribbon or string to flag your line as you go.
  6. Prepare for hills and dips. Surveyors always measure on the horizontal, not along a slope. If you are crossing hilly terrain, you and your assistant should use a measuring tape, plumb bob and level to measure the horizontal distance.
  7. Search for boundary markers. After you have traveled the entire distance of your property line in one direction, look for a boundary marker. This is the fun detective or scavenger hunt part. Depending on the age of the original survey, the marker may be a pipe, a survey rod, a railroad spike, a wooden stake or even glass from an old whiskey bottle. Use your compass if you are seeking a buried pin.
  8. Complete the survey. Proceed to the next corner of your property, and the next, and so on, until you have found all of the property markers. Preserve the ones that you find. Do not move them, as they are considered legal boundaries. Only a licensed surveyor can move them. If you are experiencing serious legal problems with a neighbor regarding property lines, seek the assistance of a professional surveyor.
  9. Determine property size. Your land survey work is done, but you may wish to calculate the size of your property from your survey measurements. If your land is a simple rectangle shape, area computations will be easy to determine. Odd-shaped lots will require some effort to calculate lot size or acreage. Using grid paper, a pencil and a calculator with sine and cosine functions (think high school trigonometry), then calculate the distance to determine the size of your surveyed property.
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