Switch to Land Surveyor ?


Anyone ever hear or know an architect that switched to Land Surveying? It is a great field and really not that many people go into it, and salaries are high at the ownership level and you get to be outside 40-50% of the time.

Nov 8, 15 6:28 pm
Thomas Jefferson did it.
Nov 8, 15 6:48 pm

Why would you assume salaries are high?  Those guys are so cheap - probably have to do 50 surveys a year just to make ends meet - cover overhead and pay themselves 40k/year.

Nov 8, 15 7:33 pm

From what I've heard, surveyors are getting replaced by technology and GPS:  they can fly over a site and do the topo, etc.  I'd be worried.

Nov 8, 15 7:34 pm

they charge about 400$ to survey a 1/2 acre residential site...alot of work for 400$...

Nov 8, 15 8:17 pm

and talk about liability....many lawsuits are over property line disputes...

Nov 8, 15 8:18 pm
null pointer

You think those dudes actually show up to measure shit?


There's two types of surveyors here in the city.

The dicks that derive data from the city map and mash it up with deed information and the guys that actually show up and measure land. The ones that measure land charge a bunch (2.5k to 8k to take points on top of a building (1/2 day of work)).

Nov 8, 15 9:17 pm

Abraham Lincoln taught himself to be a surveyor before he taught himself to be a lawyer. He plotted out several towns in the lower Midwestern states.

Nov 8, 15 9:41 pm

Hehehe, well, I am going out measuring a building and some site features... Shit... have to do it by myself between using measuring tape, handheld laser, profile tool and a Theodolite for some of the measuring.... don't tell me that a theodolite can only measure angles. I know it reads out angles but there is techniques to derive measurements from angle information. There are tricks to getting that information with some surprising accuracy.

It is just a little tedious. Thank goodness you probably won't be doing this kind of PITA method.

Nov 8, 15 11:46 pm

You guys are just bashing a profession that you clearly have no idea what they even do or go through, it's hard work but surveyors get paid pretty well. Technology won't just be replacing surveyors as it requires someone to operate machines, process and do the calculations. Beepbeep I can answer questions you why to know better than any fool here that bashes a profession everytime someone asks. From experience the biggest problem we have is architects who don't understand how to use coordinates... I was a surveyor for about a year and currently work at one of the largest construction survey companies, what do you need to know?

Nov 9, 15 2:07 am

Well I was just wondering, I hear of endless amounts of people going into Architecture which can be pretty poor career for many years and we are stuck behind a screen 12 hours a day. Many people go into engineering which is a good field, we actually need engineers architects I am not so sure anymore, but I never really hear of  younger people wanting to go out and become professional licensed surveyors it is a licensed profession just the, and they seem to be in greater need generally, each land transaction, construction, civil work, pretty much everything. I have some family that has a surveying firm and compared to my work and salary as an architect they have a much better quality of life, money is higher they work in multiple places and out in the field some and even in the woods or mountains sometimes, they do not have to dress fancy or be judged by the other narcissistic architecture employees who each feel themselves to be superior to the next...I mean architecture is almost a joke.

Nov 9, 15 7:32 am

I have met some fantastic people working in surveying and very interesting work, don't think of your traditional survey. Have a look at "Scottish Ten" have met them a hand full of times and they do some amazing stuff, one guy was sent to China to survey a ancient tomb on his first day of the job, Digitalsurveys do some good stuff and ScanLab have been dishing out crazy stuff lately.

Nov 9, 15 7:49 am

If people are leaving this profession as fast as it gets posted on here maybe there will actually be a shortage of architects soon????

Nov 9, 15 2:55 pm

you should try googling 'shortage of architects.'  there were a bunch of articles about that happening a few years ago.

Nov 9, 15 3:49 pm


It just means the builders will practice architecture without a license and the building officials would start issuing permits regardless and if there is any questions on a complex projects, than there would be an engineer's stamp. Basically, builders and engineers will make architects obsolete before long. Architects as a profession involved in anything would eventually become non-existent. Now... what will architects do to be relevant.

Nov 9, 15 7:27 pm

There are like 1 post a week about people leaving, whilst 100s joining.

Nov 10, 15 2:42 am

I am not even leaving architecture I am in to deep to get out . I am just making an observation that everyone wants to become an architect while it is a pretty rough road...I was just making a point that Land Surveying looked like a good option that you really never hear of any young guys pursuing it as a career it seems to be just as good of an option as engineering.

Nov 10, 15 7:23 am

"there are like 1 post a week about people leaving, whilst 100s joining."

"everyone wants to become an architect while it is a pretty rough road [...]"

I was the only student in my high school's graduating class of 535 students to major in architecture. The years I graduated, both high school and college, I was the only kid in my entire hometown of 50,000 to major in architecture and get that degree.

So I guess I could move back there and just become Mike Brady.

Nov 10, 15 12:15 pm

For the most part surveying involves a lot of tedious tasks (digging through deeds, entering survey points) and rather unpleasant wild flora/fauna (hornet nests, poison ivy/oak, bears, bramble) so while the notion sounds romantic, it's not an easy task.  The precision and accuracy bit is where you make your money as survey documents are legal documents and you are liable for a large chunk of information. 

On the business side, it takes time to be very profitable: the value of a survey firm is in the surveys it holds - so the 2nd, 3rd time the documents are needed, you make bigger profits because the work necessary is smaller.  But the first surveys can be a tedious task (I remember finding 4 property corners in a 3 foot radius and having to resolve which was the 'correct' one).

Surveying degrees are becoming rarer, though a few civil engineers go that route as many schools teach it in civil programs and often the firms do basic civil services (sanitary design, etc).

Nov 11, 15 5:26 pm


Although not exactly "land surveying" but "'building surveying", I have the fun of documenting the building using a variation of tangential tacheometry using a theodolite. 

Given my distance to the building in which I would be within and the angular resolution of the K&E Vectron theodolite, it would be pretty precise when done right. It should be... mathematically. 

Since it would be the first time having to do this, it is a learning curve for having to do something not typically done but not necessarily something entirely difficult. Tedious but workable. Part of it is developing a strategy for this method.

I'm finding inventive ways to use drafting dots... lol.

Nov 11, 15 9:09 pm
RWCB that's the most ridiculous thing I've heard in ages.
Nov 11, 15 9:11 pm

LOL!  It depends on what you have in equipment to work with. It isn't like you got a total station for me to use that you can get to me in say.... 24 hours.

The method isn't that ridiculous considering that they teach tacheometry in land surveying still.

Nov 11, 15 9:58 pm

RWCB that's ridiculous, you should be getting help from a real surveyor who knows what they're doing.

Nov 12, 15 3:24 am

I'm not getting paid that much. A surveyor would cost me more than what I would be getting archiwutm8.

What am I going to make on this if I were to pay a surveyor to do it for me?

I would end up having to pay money out of my pocket on the surveyor and be in the negative on the whole project. 

It isn't that much in the first place. This is building surveying not land surveying as I am not going after property boundary information. 

Nov 12, 15 6:00 am

RWCB I won't bother you with legalities of doing this, but thanks for the long ass lecture about surveying to someone who is in the survey industry and atm doing construction and building as you will.

Nov 12, 15 6:07 am

Archiwtm8 So did you switch to it from architecture? Do they give you any credit for schooling such as they do with civil engineering? I wonder if you could switch then get your PLS after working 4-6 years?

Nov 12, 15 7:27 am

It's a long story, I was a fresh graduate and wasn't fond of getting an architect intern job, somehow landed myself a job with a new surveying company where I was trained up as a junior surveyor without the traditional education..

Nov 12, 15 8:03 am


Building survey such as HABS survey for example is not land surveying. Basically, I am doing a HABS-like building survey for existing building documentation. That is not land surveying. HABS is not exclusive domain of land surveying. Even in HABS work, a total station or other precision instruments maybe used.

Just so you know. I'm just using instruments and techniques found in land surveying but I am not doing this for property boundary location or specific geophysical position to the globe as any claim for things like that. I may use reference points just so I have mathematically get the dimensions right. 

There is always contentions in domain where licensed professions tries to take more domains for themselves. 

The end result is not for definitive determination of property boundary and building location in reference to physical boundaries. Contractors can take a theodolite or total station and make measurements between buildings for relationship of buildings and other site structures in relationship to each other and their dimensions but not in relation to property boundaries. So can a land surveyor but then it isn't land surveying specifically but just additional business services a land surveyor maybe doing to keep busy. There is what the law is about protecting as land surveying. 

If they want to survey to reference to property boundary for definitive position of building and site features to the legal boundary, then they can have the land surveyors for that. I'm not doing that. 

Use of a theodolite is not legally only allowed to be used by a land surveyor.

Basically, I am doing what I would need to do as a building designer or as an architect (if licensed as an architect) of making field documentation and preparation of plans of an existing building. 

I may use methods from surveying field but the purpose is not to prepare land surveying documentation but for preparation of an existing building documentation using angular surveying techniques and methods to derive dimensional information such as tacheometry methods. Tacheometry itself does not mean in and of itself is practice of land surveying even though it is common in land surveying. The documentation falls back to basic building documentation as would be found in building design or architecture.

People don't tend to pay that much to have As-Is (or As-Built) drawings prepared and this may or may not result in further building design services but regardless is a different strategy. 

As an architect, you may go out and field measure a building, right? Basically, I am doing that through angular information when doing direct measuring may become difficult to adequately achieve. I am doing that because I don't have the equipment ready to run EDM and Theodolite measurements which requires use of a prism reflector. Doing with tape measure may not always be accurate to do by one self. Try measuring a roof form or a 50-ft. long wall without the tape sagging or otherwise with uneven ground. It can be difficult to get done accurately by oneself. Long tape measuring will typically need 2 to 3 individuals. Efficiently, three. Two people to hold the measuring tape at each end, taught and a third person to record the measurement information. 

The handheld laser has some issues of being washed out in outdoor lighting and become problematic in measurement reading. Indoor measurements, it would be a charm.

I am not saying that a land surveyor can't do this but they would cost me too much and sometimes I have to use this method that I am using even for residential when there is no existing drawings. 

If they wanted information in connection with property boundary, then I would have a land surveyor mark out boundary and I may work with them in coordination with what I am doing and what they are doing. I'm not doing this to be a land surveyor. 

I am not interested in claiming the building or structure is so many feet from the different property boundary or staking out the property boundary lines. That's not the objective or the end result objective. 

This is not to say there isn't value in land surveyors. I don't have the budget to pay them to be on the site for this. They aren't paying me the amount to have two people involved throughout. 

Nov 12, 15 2:29 pm

Short answer,

The purpose that I am gather dimensional information of the building in what I am doing differs from the construction survey that you would be doing as a land surveyor. Your land survey role in construction survey would be about determining position of a building in relation to boundary in addition to boundary surveying to determine the property boundary.

I'm not doing that.

I'm just using a method of using a theodolite to determine dimensions. The end product of service differs.  This makes a big difference in practice and is a legal difference.

I may borrow or use methods but I am not preparing or staking out boundaries or the building. That is not the point. 

Nov 12, 15 3:51 pm

Richard why don't you start your own thread on solo techniques for field measuring existing buildings.  It's far off the topic of career changes from architect to land surveyor.

I know an architect who later also became licensed as a surveyor, and after that as an engineer, and now he's talking about law school.  But I also know a surveyor who became an architect  - he says because he was tired of being shot at by backwoods survivalists when trying to survey adjacent properties.

Nov 12, 15 3:59 pm


Fair enough point. It wasn't intended to be discussed that much. I agree, lets get keep back on the original topic. The tangent had been discussed enough in this topic.

PS: I don't start topics on Archinect that much, anymore. Too much a--holism.

Nov 12, 15 5:37 pm

RWCB, I don't need to read an essay every single thread where you defend yourself from criticism and comments. As stated if you read my post, I did building and construction surveys but w/e and you also don't need to tell me what my job is.


Don't reply to this, your word count per day is absurd already.

Nov 13, 15 4:00 am

Since it is a different day, archiwutm8,

Ok. The point is that I am not doing your job in land surveying. There is a distinction in the legal realm of things and you know it.  Enough said, here.

Nov 13, 15 5:52 am

Lol. . ..getting shot at whilst surveying? Wouldn't happen here in the UK...Surveying is getting pretty fun actually, I'm heavily influenced and interested in technology and the digital realm and with the introduction of photogrammetry, point clouds, drones, robotics and many other stuff it just makes sense for me at the moment. I plan to go back into architecture or manufacturing one day again but not as an architect.

Nov 13, 15 11:26 am

Yikes, rural surveying is always challenging and the human element is frightening.  Even in urban areas people get so upset when you start surveying the ROWs where people have claimed for their yards...

Nov 13, 15 1:46 pm

archiwutm8 and 3tk,

yep. The technology is nice to use even when not using it for "land surveying" applications.

At the same time, as with 3tk said is scary but true. Too many people are just ignorant of ownership and property boundary and they just go by the philosophy that if they aren't using, they take claim to it. 

Nov 13, 15 3:30 pm

I think in my friend's case it's been more an issue of neighboring property owners not understanding or accepting that the state's laws allow surveyors the right to trespass on others' land for the purpose of finding markers or other landmarks that define boundaries.  It does kind of run against the grain of some rural dwellers' ideas about the right to shoot anything, be it bear or human, that steps onto their territory.

Nov 13, 15 4:18 pm

I saw a surveyor get hassled in the middle of London, the guy thought she worked with the people who are "redeveloping' the area.

Nov 13, 15 4:55 pm


I think the best policy is to contact the property owners in the effected area wherever possible before going on property. 

This is because these little exceptions to the tresspassing laws that isn't ever talked about that leads to a lot of not knowing. 

I understand that concern of being shot at by an asshole.

Nov 13, 15 7:03 pm

Very interesting topic. I'm from Russia and we have similar problem. Some surveyors think of changing profession andgoing to design bureau and becoming designer, but some designers want to be land surveyors... Fortunately or maybe unfortunately there is no licencing  in Russia.

Jun 16, 16 3:53 am

I want to study architecture or land surveying, but I’m confused.. which is better? 

And which pays more. 

Jan 25, 20 7:54 pm

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