As I see it, we professional land surveyors who focus only on the required accuracy and precision of measurement and boundary law and, in the west, the Public Land Surveying System, miss the boat when it comes to effectively educating the public about the importance of what we do. In sharp contrast, real estate sales licensees who have comparatively low education requirements and test-taking requirements for licensure are continually — and sometimes obnoxiously — hyping themselves to the public for attention getting. Like it or not, we PLS’s are an integral part of the real estate sales industry (a realtor cannot sell a property that has no platted and recorded boundaries these days) and, in my opinion, we PLS’s need to cut a bigger swath out of the whole endeavor for ourselves.

I work in mostly rural and remote places in our fourth largest state — Montana — mainly because I can find properties with certainty, whereas “city realtors” have a tough time finding their way. And many who are concerned more with hype than substance are more worried about getting their car or shoes dirty than about doing a professional, knowledgeable job. I’ve been doing surveying-mapping for over a half-century and began combining it with selling real estate one-quarter of century ago. I find realtors’ “for sale” signs on the wrong properties regularly. Licenses issued by the state are meant to protect the consumer — sellers and buyers alike. Yet, this is not being done by the real estate sales industry in Montana. Some realtors suffer from illusions of grandeur over having their easy-to-acquire licenses and are very hype-ridden and enamored with all kinds of acronym titles after their names; if there was a title of W.O.W. (walks on water) they would all most certainly obtain it! Montana requires a separate license for a property manager than for a real estate sales licensee. Why doesn’t the state require a separate license for rural and remote real estate sales that would require a minimum education in GIS and minimal level of knowledge of how to use a hand-held GPS unit? Why couldn’t we PLS members of the Montana Association of Registered Land Surveyors (MARLS) be the ones to provide such instruction and testing? Why couldn’t this general idea be applied to other states that have large expanses of rural and remote private properties for sale?

A “for sale” sign placed on the wrong rural or remote property by a licensed realtor not only reflects very negatively on the real estate sales industry in general, but more importantly it deceives the buyer and creates liability for the realty and the realtor, and possibly even the seller. Last year, I had to tell a new owner of 10 acres that the dwelling he was building and living in with his girlfriend was not next to his property own line as he thought, but rather was along a diagonal line across a property I had listed and had flagged the four corners of with 10-foot tall white PVC pipes. This encroacher stated a realtor had told him the diagonal line was his property line and it was not. He was hostile toward me and was willing to figuratively “kill the messenger” (me) for having told him, even though I did so tactfully. In the meantime, it took a year for him to disassemble his dwelling and move it next door to the property he actually bought; the property he was encroaching on was for sale by me, and the Ohio owner lost an entire year of opportunities to sell his property.

In another instance, a realtor’s “for sale” sign was on the wrong 10-acre property. The buyer — a builder — bought the property and poured a concrete foundation to build his own home. As he started framing his new home, he discovered he had really bought the 10 acres next door. He moved over to it and started building his home all over again. The realtor who had erroneously placed his “for sale” sign for a long time denied any culpability.  Eventually, pressure brought to bear by the new property owner on the realty caused the realtor to wise up and negotiate a settlement. But the point is that this would not have happened in the first place — and should not have happened — had the realtor been required to become competent in spatial relationships if he chooses to work in rural and remote places.

Tony Novotny, PLS, is cartographer/broker-owner of Montana Allure Properties & Services, PLLC. He can be reached at

Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story for a future issue, email Managing Editor Benita Mehta at