Our property survey plans have so many stages in the process. They begin with a contract, then research, field observations, notes and sketches, computer downloads, analysis, decisions, drafting, checking, and finally prints. Lastly, there is the invoice and the wait to be compensated for a job well done.

I often tell clients that research is a fishing expedition. Like “McElligot’s Pool” in the Dr. Seuss story, you never know what you will catch. Searches will be made online, in courthouses, and at the Department of Transportation, utility companies, fellow surveyors’ offices and title companies, to name just a few. Our initial discoveries often lead to more phone calls and requests for information. The caption in deed descriptions may cite plans recorded or possibly in the files of other Land Surveyors.

Recently, I was stumped on an urban survey for a site in a neighborhood with very old properties. There was more blacktop than grass and, although my party chief found lots of signals, we did not have authority to start chiseling driveways and parking areas. Several houses were built with party walls, but things did not measure well between the parcels. Complicating the survey, there was no clear centerline of the roads. All the deeds ran down the middle of the street — and sanitary, multiple water lines and a gas line had been installed — so any original “tacks” as called for in the deeds were gone. There were a few fences to provide possible lines of occupation.

I decided to try the township municipal office and fish for information on the project site and its adjoining neighbor. Driving into the parking lot, the quote from “A Streetcar Named Desire” popped into my head. It was the line from Blanche stating that she has, always, “depended on the kindness of strangers.” We may get to know some of the people in the public sector who help us with our work, but it is hard to remember all the names, especially if it’s an office we rarely frequent.

On my current urban dilemma, the township administrator pulled an old file on the adjoining property with information for a zoning hearing in which the relief was not granted and that developer moved on to greener pastures. However, in the file was an American Land Title Association (ALTA) survey plan full of useful information. I was directed to the conference room, where I could dissect the plan and, from the expert work on the adjoining tract, could put together my boundary. I was pleased that my basis for bearings which I already developed was the same, and I just made a slight adjustment to my side property line. This plan also provided information on the centerline of our roads, which had no centerline.


When I returned the file folder back to the friendly administrator, I asked if she routinely was given small tokens of appreciation for assistance. I further stated that I was not talking about bribes, but rather some sort of nicety. She looked puzzled and I related to her several examples.

The first was my use of unusual paper clips. My sister-in-law had given me a gift of fancy paper clips shaped like a foot. I put them on the several pages of a submission to an office of the Department of Transportation. Upon handing them with the submission check, the front desk person had only taken possession for a moment and halfway to her desk had already removed the paper clips and put them in her drawer, replacing them with standard ones.

My second example was a time I needed help from the Philadelphia Survey Regulator’s Office. A client requested I prepare an ALTA survey; the city is self-insured and so will not prepare an ALTA survey. It was a messy site with huge drainage swales along the property lines and oddly-shaped parcels. The plan cited in the deed was not available.

Once again being treated very well by the surveyor’s office and given guidance on local conditions, I left happy and more prepared for the survey. On a subsequent trip to the site, I stopped by the city survey office and dropped off a box of donuts for the general staff and a set of Mylar pens for the survey regulator, because that office does a lot of hand revisions to the old plans. The receptionist was quick to tell me she was not permitted to accept any gifts. I told her I just wanted to say, “Thank you,” for the help I received, and was simply going to leave the donuts on the counter and walk out. She smiled.

So, hearing my stories, the township administrator thought again and confirmed that, yes, people did bring things in now and then. Cookies and candy came to her mind, and a pleased look swept over her face.


I once read a book titled “How to Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” The author promoted a technique of giving prospective clients a gift so nice they often put it on their office shelves or desk. His aim was to be remembered. My fancy paper clip was a cheap substitute, but easy. I will shop office stores with an eye open for just those type of items so they are on hand.

One more simple approach to add a personal touch is using printed notes wrapped around rolled plans and having large print colored letters of the recipient’s name in a nice font.

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend and telling her about Sean Connery’s line from the movie “Finding Forrester.” He is giving advice to the young student, and said a woman is impressed by “an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.” My friend agreed with the wisdom, and recalled to me about when I dropped off a half-dozen specialty bagels at her place a year before. Although it was a small thing, she remembered. I never realized six bagels could mean so much.

At a recent surveyors’ conference, I was blessed by the friendly atmosphere and welcoming spirit of the local surveyors and attendees, some of whom work in the public sector. It was impressive to hear about their resources and information available from the state. The government employees seemed to enjoy their work.  In new situations even among surveyors in other states and conferences, we can also find ourselves appreciative of the kindness of strangers.

Be it at a utility office, title company or government agency, workers can provide us with more — or less — information and assistance. Our work depends on careful research in so many areas. While fishing for information, surveyors can spread good will everywhere by being extra thankful, not only verbally, but with the occasional card or token of thanks.

The day after I wrote this, my CAD manager suggested I send something nice to a very helpful person at the Department of Transportation. Although he has never met this person, she has been very helpful and quick to respond. I chuckled, and he felt he may have been pushy, but I explained how we were on the same page.

Jeffrey P. Turner, PLS, began his career in surveying in 1971 and became licensed in Pennsylvania in 1987. He was co-owner of a surveying firm for six years before launching his own firm in the Philadelphia region in 1995. He is passionate about leaving footsteps for future generations of surveying professionals. He can be reached at qj57@verizon.net.