What's a normal price for a topographic survey?

Does anyone have any experience ordering a topographic (contour) survey?

I’ve worked with plenty of “normal” boundary surveys in my time, and I’m familiar with what they’ll tell me and how much they cost, but a topo survey is something quite different. It tells you the elevations and topography of the property (kind of like a 3D layout of the land), which is important to know if you’re trying to develop it. If there are any crazy variations in the topography, soil will need to be moved from one place to another in order to flatten it out.

Anyway… I got one estimate from a surveyor earlier this week for almost $6,000 - which gave me sticker shock. Is that normal?

This is a fairly straightforward property - about 6.5 acres on a well-traveled intersection with easy access.

If anyone else out there has ever ordered a topo survey before, what price did you have to pay?

@retipsterseth that does sound high. Topo surveys are definitely more involved than a boundary survey, but I don’t think they’re THAT complicated. In my experience, these run are about half that cost, maybe even cheaper. Have you tried getting estimates from any other surveyors yet?

1 Like

Hey @retipsterseth ,

We do this quite often in my “real job” and for a typical 5-6 acre parcel we pay $3500 - $4000 but this probably includes a more detailed deliverable than what you’re after. I know we also receive a competitive rate given the amount of survey work we order. All that said, the bid you received seems a bit high but not by much.

@retipsterseth Have you ever messed around with the elevation profile within Google Earth? I found this super helpful!

I’m sure a topography survey is infinitely more detailed but this might be a good free alternative!


@dvucak great tutorial! Thanks for sharing that, I’ve never seen that kind of measurement in Google Earth before.

I think one of the inherent issues of doing anything in Google Earth, though, is that while it’s almost always worth looking at as a first assessment, it’s ultimately nowhere near as accurate or reliable as getting an actual topo survey.

As I was reading in this interesting article, it sounds like Google Earth (depending on which data set its using at the given location) could have variances up to several meters, or it could be within centimeters… so it’s probably pretty accurate, but there’s no way to know with absolute confidence until you get a topo survey, which will have variances within millimeters.

@retipsterseth Seth, whats the reason for the survey?

Topo survey requires manually walking and measuring individual points of a piece and then post-processing to get the contour.

I’ve been a surveyor and done these before, and I’m not surprised…$1k/Acre isn’t that far off…It’s probably measuring and processing probably 1500-2000 individual points…crew of three- three days…plus 10-15 hours engineering at $150 an hour. It all adds up.

@cory I’m looking at a pretty involved project near me, where I would be developing the land and moving dirt, so the topography (among other things) is important to understand before getting an excavator involved and getting much further along in mapping out where buildings will go on the property.

I actually didn’t realize there would be that many individual points to measure, I can see now how that cost isn’t quite as ridiculous as I thought.

To @braden-sanderson and @mattpayne’s point though, I did get estimates from two other surveyors earlier this week. One of them came in at $3,000 and the other one came in at $2,500 for the exact same parcel. Both are well-established and respected surveyors in the area.

Both of these less-expensive quotes came in from shops that do surveys only, and nothing else, whereas the first quote came from a company that does all kinds of stuff - civil engineering, environmental reports, geotechnical investigations, site planning, etc. It seems there is a significant cost difference when working with a company that literally does nothing else other than surveys.

@retipsterseth $6000 seems high for just a 6-acre parcel, however, there’s going to be a “minimum job” cost of schlepping out the equipment and flying the drone with lidar or whatever they are using. The $2-3k number seems much more reasonable though, their overhead should be relatively low, travel cost and the tech’s wage, unless they’re flying a helicopter or something. We have this work done at my day job for powerlines and wind farms etc. and it can get pricey, but you’re talking about 50-100 miles of t-line ROW or 100s or 1000s acres sites and you’re getting lidar, ortho photos, everything you need to make a full CAD model so just a simple topographic lines for a single small parcel should be much less IMO

1 Like

Update: I finally got this survey done last week.

I asked the surveyor if I could interview them about what topo surveys are all about and they obliged. Here’s what came out…

If you’re doing surveys anywhere in Michigan, here’s a link to their website.

1 Like

Happy for you that everything turned out great! Still, if there’s anyone searching for help, here’s the solution. Back in the day, I needed help with one project including a topographic survey. I looked for a good value for money type of service and found a company, which helps with community participation strategies. I decided to contact them and I didn’t regret it. I got my request done surprisingly quickly and at a high-quality level. If you’re considering getting help with such questions, do not hesitate to take your time and make the right decision. Hope this helps!