The Twenty Dollar Survey

A slight woman, seventyish, dressed in a tan overcoat and wearing a scarf, stood on the stoop of my front door. I had just returned from a meeting with a client, and had not even had time to unlock the front door when the door bell rang. The woman standing there asked for me by name. I told her she had found me and invited her into my front office.

Seated opposite me on the other side of the desk, she explained that she had been given my name by another surveyor. In almost the same breath, she wanted to know if I had to survey her whole property to check the location of one corner pin. Well, yes, I half stammered, sensing that she had been told that before, and that she knew how much it would cost.

She went on to say that she had written a columnist, whom she had read in the Sunday paper, about her plight. There is such a person? I had gotten the impression that the column dealt with survey questions. I wondered what qualifications this columnist had to give such advice, and I wanted to look into it, to see if readers weren't being misled. (I had assumed that it was someone local. On retrieving the latest Sunday paper from the garbage, however, I learned that the column is syndicated, and deals with real estate financing, inspections etc.)


Calling For A Surveyor
The columnist had replied to her inquiry, advising her to call as many surveyors as she had to: there had to be one that would do what she needed! I wondered how, all of sudden, that surveyor had come to be me? She said she had talked to two surveyors nearby, one working for an engineering firm, the other out of his home. Both had taken her through the steps of a survey, without coming to grips with her concern. Then, she had contacted the one who referred her to me. Knowing all three to be reputable, I could only surmise that they did not want to deal with the uncertainties of her situation.

Anyhow, this persistent woman had made tracks to my door with a file folder in hand. In it, she had her deed, a bill for a survey, and a photo of some pins. I scanned the deed: beginning at an iron bolt at the intersection of a street and an alley, 50 feet to an iron pin, so many feet to two pins at the back corners, and so on. She had had it surveyed—by someone now deceased—before she bought the property twenty years ago. So, what was the problem? The left front pin had been lost when a fence extending from the front to the back of the property was installed by her pushy neighbor. The fence, it appeared to her, encroached on her property. The neighbor had had his property resurveyed—several years ago already , she didn't know by whom—but she disagreed with the location of the pin. She admitted to having pulled it and placed it where she thought it should be. The neighbor had it reset. The photo showed the reset pin and another marker where she thought it should be.

To assess the situation properly, I knew I had to go to the site. If the other pins were still there, perhaps all I had to do to prove her right or wrong was to stretch a tape across the front of her property from the intersection of the street and the alley. I proposed doing just that and asked when it would be convenient for her. Any time! How about right now? It would take her time to get home, since she had come by bus. I offered to take her home and make the measurements then and there.

Ten minutes later, we were at her house. I took out my pinfinder, the 100-foot tape and a screwdriver I had taken along for the purpose. There was a pipe sticking out of the ground about three feet in a bush, which she had taken to be her corner. It was about two feet from the end of the curb in the alley. According to the deed, the alley was supposed to be twelve feet wide; it measured 11 feet curb to curb. I pointed the pinfinder to the back of the curb, and instantly heard the pitch rise. I did not have to dig deep to find an iron pin—with flagging. I stuck the screw driver through the ring at the end of the tape near the pin and reeled out the tape. Fifty feet, right to the disputed pin!

Where She Wanted the Pin To Be
My skeptical attendant was still pointing to the spot where she wanted the pin to be. No magnetic signal! But why is the fence bowed as it is? By extending the back part of the fence toward the front by eye, the line would indeed seem to be over further. But the neighbor had evidently bowed the fence to get around bushes on her property. Well, okay then, she conceded, the pin must be right. Finally, she said, she could sleep without being aggravated.
For good measure, I dug up the two rear pins as well. They also had flagging on them, a sign that they had been used to resurvey the neighbor's property. I saw no need to do any more.
Hesitantly, she broached the subject of payment. I quoted her my hourly rate, all the while thinking that she could ill afford it. I asked her for twenty dollars, which she was able to pay out of pocket.

Having dispatched her vexing situation, I was hoping for once and for all, I drove off, feeling self-satisfied about what I had done and thinking about what I had to do next.

About the Author

  • Wilhelm A. Schmidt, PLS
    Wilhelm A. Schmidt, PLS
    Wilhelm Schmidt is the former owner of the surveying firm Bascom and Sieger in Allentown, Pennsylvania. You may contact him at

» Back to our January 2000 Issue