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The Business Side

May 28, 2002
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Who do we think we are fooling?



Recently I did something I don’t do very often—I took a few days off work to visit old friends. This visit resulted in one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had in a long time. While I went to get away from everything surveying-related, our profession followed me and gave me insight into the working of this business in a way I had never experienced. I think there is a lesson in this story for all of us.

Let me give you some information about my friends without giving their location (to help protect the guilty). I have known this couple for just short of 40 years. They are now retired from owning a very successful auto repair business. They recently sold their company and are enjoying retirement in a manner all of you would enjoy. This couple understands what it takes to run a successful and profitable business.

They have one grown son who still lived at home. He wanted to get out on his own and saved the money for a down payment on a house. He was able to do this because of the good money management principals his parents taught him. He found a nice starter home not too far from his parents that was in his price range. The mother, who at one time worked for a title company, understands property ownership and called the realtor to inquire who would provide a survey of the property at the closing. She was informed that if they wanted a survey they would have to pay for one, as the seller did not provide a survey. Wanting to make sure everything at the site was in good order, she called a local surveyor her realtor had recommended and agreed to pay for the work.

This is where I come into the picture, like the neighbor, Wilson, from the television series Home Improvement. (You know, the one peering over the fence that you can never see his face, but takes every opportunity to insert his opinion into the situation?) The first question I was asked was, “What should a survey such as this cost?” After beating around the bush, I told them about $500 but maybe as low as $250. They surrendered the information that they had agreed to a price of $300. They seemed to feel $300 was high for such a small lot of about 76 x 106; they wanted to know what they were going to get for their money.

At this point it started to get interesting. The mother informed me she had ordered the survey about two months ago but did not yet have the final plat yet. She had called a number of times and was assured that the survey would be delivered in time. The son was then only two days from closing and there was no field evidence of any work having been done on the site. An additional call was made to the surveyor the day prior to the closing. His answer was that he was writing the legal description and promised that the plat could be picked up the morning of the closing. At some time a crew must have shown up at the site leaving evidence of the typical survey flagging and stakes at the corners. The fieldwork could not have taken more than two hours.

After the closing, I had an opportunity to review the plat. Remember the excuse about working on writing the legal description? Also recall that the father is a good businessman. When he saw the legal description that the surveyor claimed he was working so hard to write, he flew into a rage about surveyors having a rip-off racket and that they all should be put out of business. The legal description read: “Lot 2, Doe Subdivision, as recorded in book 6, page 9 in the public records, in Said County, Said State.”

I was ashamed of our profession. Who are we trying to kid? Do we think the general public is so dumb that they cannot see through our lies?

Just wait…the story gets better. The map or plat was hand-drawn on a master sheet that had been copied so many times that the border was running off the sheet. You know how an original keeps growing in size the more times it is copied? All the lettering was handwritten, and the title block showed a check by someone with the same initials as the registered surveyor. The drawing said it was checked, but a quick trip to the property revealed that the distance to the block corner shown on the drawing was 38 feet instead of 380 feet! A small blunder, but these clients paid good money for a correct drawing and field survey of this property delivered in a timely manner.

I felt a little sad that day. I don’t know if I felt worse for the client or the loss of our professional credibility. Maybe a little of both. What should have happened in this case is this: when the survey was ordered, a written work order form should have been sent to the client, the field and office work scheduled and the final product delivered in a month or so. The surveyor should have made an effort to join the modern world with the use of CAD to draw the map. (Even one of my daughters who is in an interior design program at a major university has found that using CAD in designing projects has made her life much easier.) I think if any real checking had been done, the problem of the distance to the corner would have been found. It only took me two minutes—without a copy of the subdivision plat.

So, where do you think this leaves us as surveyors? I know this type of work is not typical of all surveyors, or even a large number of the registered surveyors. But, I think this scenario may fit more people then we care to admit. I have a feeling that the realtor recommended this surveyor because he is the cheapest one in town. I know nothing about this person; in fact, I did not ask around because I did not want to know. So stop and evaluate your business practices. With some of those little white lies you tell, you are fooling no one but yourself.

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