One aspect of professional land surveying that is most overlooked by the general public is the role surveyors play in protecting property rights. You can argue that this is one of the reasons for all of the focus on precise measurement. The profession is regulated because the opinions on property boundaries offered by professional surveyors can have financial and other significant consequences. 

When my former neighbor started building a fence without a survey, he encroached on one of the adjoining properties by, let’s say, 6 inches along a 20-foot span. Even on a suburban parcel with reasonably good property values, the amount of property involved had a pretty minimal financial value. The adjoiner whose property was affected immediately discovered that if they parked their car in their driveway, they couldn’t open the passenger side doors completely without hitting the fence. This was more than an inconvenience because they were planning on selling their home. A buyer’s perception of the tight clearance could influence their decision and their negotiations. After all, when you are negotiating, you want to line up all of the arguments you can on your side, no matter how inconsequential.

A survey resolved the tight clearance issue by establishing the correct boundary. (The fence builder repositioned the fence to the correct boundary.) 

A number of years ago, I got a call from an adjoining property owner about some family acreage. He said a timber company was harvesting lumber, and he believed they were across the boundary on my family’s property. On a 66-acre parcel, we’re talking about much more than 6 inches by 20 feet, and the value of the timber and any other consequential effects on the property begin to mount up. 

Precise measurement will help resolve these immediate disputes, and when the surveyor sets proper monuments defining those boundaries, it helps avoid future conflicts. 

In a 1984 TV commercial for cough syrup, a popular soap opera character announced, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” The ad campaign was hugely successful despite the fact the pitch man offering pseudo-medical advice had no healthcare credentials and openly said so. Surveyors are increasingly facing this challenge from services that offer products that look like surveys, even though they openly announce they are not legal surveys.

Jeff Lucas talks about a current case in his column “Unauthorized Practice of Surveying.” This is not just something to watch; it requires a response. Part of that response is reinforcing the value of licensed surveys. And, as Tony Novotny adds in “What are Boundary Monuments Worth?” we need to protect the visible product of that survey. Whether the consequence is 10 square feet of suburban property or an acre’s worth of trees, it comes down to preservation of wealth.

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