Point of ViewMay 2006
The article addressing "uniform survey fees" is one I found particularly interesting, as I myself have been bidding on projects for the last 10 years. I started as a rodman 25 years ago at minimum wage and worked my way through the ranks (instrument-man, crewchief, draftsman, etc.). [Over the years] I gained tremendous real life experience, which made me capable of calculating the actual time involved in performing many types of surveys.
Twenty-five years after I entered surveying, it is still largely a supply-and-demand field. Because of the overabundance of available surveyors in an area, the low bid will usually get the job for most projects.
I still have to justify my fees to my clients when they feel I am becoming a bit pricey. For those that think I am too pricey, I recommend them to at least two other surveyors I know who could take on the project. Many times, the clients' decisions are not based so much on the final cost, but more on how fast I can get the survey to them. Time is money for both the client and for me performing the survey. So a higher price with a shorter turnaround time may be fine for some, but not all.
If I land half of all the projects I bid on, then I am a happy camper. Incidently, my rates vary considerably from $75 per hour to $200 per hour. Much of this depends on how busy I am. Call me when I am slow and the prices are cheaper. Call me when I am busy and you're going to pay a little bit more. The type of project, such as commercial versus residential, also affects my prices.
As surveyors consider raising our fees, one thing working in our favor is attrition. Ever since many states, including my own, enacted mandatory college degrees, the number of surveyors in the field is decreasing faster per year than the number entering the field.
In time, maybe five to 10 years, our fees should be high enough to allow us to pay our personnel a decent salary and earn a healthy profit. It might not be enough money to get rich, but it can certainly be enough to provide many of us with a very early retirement, which so many other professionals opt to do.
We live in a very profitable time if you do your homework. In years past, surveying for most was not an economically feasible option because of the time and money spent getting a degree. With the new rules and regulations, surveying is just around the corner to becoming a financially rewarding field to enter. Not to mention the other reasons for joining the profession--not for the money, but for the love of the applied sciences, history, mathematics, sun and fun.
I completely agree with your summation of the survey profession. I am not a licensed surveyor; however, I have been surveying for almost 10 years. I have mastered the use of the computer programs about which you speak, as well as GPS, robotics and conventional methods of field surveying. I also have an intimate relationship with the pricing and production of survey projects, as I am the office manager and will someday be the owner of this survey firm. I started surveying as a rodman and have worked my way through the ranks, [learning to] fully understand every part of the process of creating the intellectual data we call surveys.
I believe in the nobility of surveying in that we are restrained from mistakes by the heavy costs incurred by the slightest error in any portion of our data. [I also believe] that most of the surveyors I know have the public's best interest in mind at all times.
Liability should play a large part in discussions [of our profession], as nowhere else in the civil industry is the liability greater than the surveyor's. We are responsible for the extra work created if our surveyors bust a rod height, or interpret a field note incorrectly in the office. Engineers are rarely held responsible even for the most obvious of elevation errors on a set of plans. After staking half of a job before a bust is noticed, we do not try to "back charge" engineers or architects when the set of plans has to be recalculated. But should the survey have an error, we are responsible for all of the engineer's or architect's revisions, and any sitework that has been completed before the error is recognized and dealt with. Due to this stringent criteria of perfection on ALL surveys we perform, our liability is greatly increased [over that of] any engineer or architect.
We all know that engineers are not ultimately responsible if their parking lot does not drain, or if the building size is not the same as the foundation plan from the architect. We've all heard, "The surveyor should have noticed that and informed us of the discrepancy before staking the project." We all have protocol in place to combat these discrepancies, but again we are expected to perform these protocols without fail. Therefore, it is my opinion that we are ultimately more responsible for the proper construction of a project, and I agree that our professionalism is at the same level as the engineers and architects with whom we work.
I have not cheapened our prices for recertification. In fact, in the past I have charged 100 percent of the original fee in order to have the survey updated in three days. I have also used the "Are you lowering your fees?" argument with attorneys and title companies alike, to much success. I find that most of the time I am only speaking with a paralegal or "closer" who has no understanding of the process we use to survey properties. After a brief explanation (of course integrating information about GPS and other complicated surveying techniques to ensure their confusion) they usually succumb to the fact that I refuse to lower my fees for their benefit. The argument could be made that the purchasers are then being forced to pay higher prices; however, the fact is they are paying a fair price and receiving better service.
Traversing the LawAugust 2006
Please extend my appreciation to Mr. Lucas for his monthly insights in "Traversing the Law." I found his two latest installments [in July and August] very informative. He seems to be writing about topics that our [profession] needs to be reminded about.
These two latest installments nailed two recent problems that I had come across in boundary retracements. Now I would love to hear his opinion on the methodologies (or lack thereof) by which our fellow professionals retrace road right of ways. I'm not sure if he sees this in Alabama like I do in North Carolina, but something that seems to happen far too often in this state is that surveyors assume that all backroads (rural routes) have a 60' right of way. I am constantly speaking with North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) right of way officials and discovering that they do not have any recorded or deeded right of ways on roads that another surveyor depicted as having a 60' right of way. We still have thousands of roads in North Carolina with what they consider "maintained limits" or "back of ditch to back of ditch" right of ways that act as prescriptive easements.
Yet it seems that many surveyors will mark properties at the 30' off centerline position and then fail to denote the property correctly as continuing to the centerline of the road. Surveyors are failing to protect the interest of the landowners when they more or less dedicate their land to the DOT by failing to monument their property lines correctly to the centerline of the road in these cases. I come across this far more often than I wish I did, and an article on this topic could be very useful.
Thanks again to Mr. Lucas and your magazine for publishing these types of articles to help keep surveyors educated and reminded.
Chad T. Howard, PLS