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Can you ethically survey your own property? Can you prepare survey for closing?  

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The basic conundrum is: Can't ethically survey something in which one "has an interest," meaning ownership or participation in a deal where one's remuneration is somehow tied to the value of the property. That means for every transaction, we take only a professional fee, neither tied to nor correlated with the increase in value of the property being surveyed. (Goes against the "Value Pricing" sometimes mentioned here.) Apparently a professional can profit from providing service to the interest of another, but not from having an interest themselves. The law in my state says "conflict of interest is bad, mmmkay" UNLESS THE INTEREST IS DISCLOSED and the parties potentially affected agree to it. Then it's game on. If the survey is done correctly they have nothing to sue about later because they accepted the disclosure. Theoretically.

My current "hobby survey" project, they are willing to trade an option to buy for the surveying, and willing to finance any plan that gets something built, and willing to percentage ownership of a multi-unit site. I've done enough research as a potential buyer to know that there is probably another acre there if I spend a week at the archives and run the deeds all the way back to the patents (1870s). Yet I haven't moved forward, because I'm not confident that I have the correct answers about conflict of interest. Same with my mom's house. Same with her adjacent neighbors who all want surveys. My answer is always "Yeah I dunno, potential conflict of interest, let me read up on it some more." It's interesting to see both perspectives in the discussion here.

I keep thinking about Dan Beardslee's book, and the idea that surveyors are not respected as a profession because we generally haven't run successful businesses. Perhaps we are leaving money on the table because we only take a professional fee and not an interest in the deal, and we don't take an interest in the deal because of superstitions about conflict of interest. Could I be raking it in from these deals simply by printing a form letter, "To whom it may concern, I have an interest in the property I am surveying for this deal. Best Regards." ?





Patrick Garner
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I've taught survey ethics for a decade and never recommend surveying property we own or are about to purchase. It's not a matter of competence but rather perception. The optics are dreadful. We work in the public, and when financial considerations are at play, the public assumption will always be that the interested party cannot be unprejudiced when it comes to matters they have an interest in. And of course running a property line always entails the interest of at least two parties. The major takeaway here is--as a number of folks have commented--if your survey were challenged by a third party, the immediate assumption would be that the surveyor could not be neutral.

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Precisely. Ethical standards aren't there just to enforce the law - they are also there to establish and maintain public trust. Without that trust, work performed by licensed professionals is pretty much useless.

It doesn't matter whether you are the most honest, unbiased surveyor or the worst pincushioner around. The appearance of a conflict of interest is as detrimental as actually having a conflict of interest. We have a higher standard to maintain. You don't have to like it.

This is why professional ethics courses are required for accredited geomatics/surveying degrees. I was floored at the number of students (not just geomatics) in my classes who came in with the attitude "Of course I can do work in which I have an interest because I want it done right, and anyways I am never biased."

And if you don't trust any of your fellow licensed professionals to do the job right, what does that say about your profession?

A Harris
Joined: 9 years ago

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Everything is a matter of perception.

My take on the situation is that "I know my fellow surveyors very well and if you can not rely upon my surveying abilities, then who is really left for you to depend upon".


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Conflict of interest carries a negative connotation and that's the only reason most people think it's bad.  Think about it, the entire business world is built on conflicts of interest.  By doing good work and pricing it fairly I hope to generate a conflict of interest among my potential clients which drives them to me rather than the surveyor down the road.  When a conflict of interest happens this way we call it "healthy competition".  The way it's being used in this thread implies the professional can't be trusted right from the start which is obviously logically unsound and completely unfair.  So, to make the argument that we should care about what someone who never trusted us in the first place thinks is just silly, in my opinion.  And I say "someone" specifically here because I don't buy the idea of the "public assumption".  To me this is the same as saying "everyone" and if there's one thing I've learned over the years is that if you dig deep enough into arguments comprised of absolutes you'll often find them to be baloney.

Andy J
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I have surveyed property I've bought and also had others survey it for me.  In hindsight, I wish I had never surveyed my own property.   It's really not worth the stress of even worrying about, because you never stop thinking "what if" I missed something that comes back to bite me. 

just my .02

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There has been little differentiation in this thread between surveying the property for your own satisfaction, versus setting monuments, filing the survey and/or giving it to another party in the transaction.  I would measure the property and if I found discrepancies hire someone to do the official survey.

Setting monuments, filing, or passing on the survey opens one to all the negatives cited in the thread.

I see no reason a person shouldn't survey a property they own, are buying, or selling to see if there are any problems, without doing those things.  If by your laws a professional surveyor can't measure anything without filing a survey, that would bring us back to the big issue.

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I would absolutely agree with that.  In fact, before closing on my current home, I went out and did a quick check that the pins were in place and measured reasonably well with the plat.  My intent was to find out if there was an apparent problem or not.  If there was, I would have asked for it to be rectified by the seller before closing (i.e. have it surveyed).  That was solely for my benefit and my information.  It was not to be used as a closing document.

The OP was asking if one should perform a survey for the closing.  That is where I think there is an ethical and professional liability problem as you said.

By the way, I highly recommend performing a "survey inspection" before buying a house.  Not only is it prudent for your investment, it also gives you a great opportunity to meet all the neighbors.  Just grab an RTK unit and start walking the neighborhood.  You'll be acquainted with everyone in no time!

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yes of course, there is nothing wrong with surveying your own land for your own satisfaction. Would any state require a survey be recorded in this circumstance?   for example Alaska's recording requirements say:

"After making a survey in conformity with the practice and definition of land
surveying, a land surveyor shall file with the District Recorder a record of
the survey within 90 days if the survey discloses..."

But the definition of "practice  of land surveying" includes the requirement  that a service is being preformed. It would be hard to argue that you are preforming a service for yourself. Just like any other landowner you can "survey" your own property without being licensed surveyor, or meeting the  minimum requirements, until you sign as a licenced  surveyor, or provide the survey to someone else to use. 

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I have done it several times in FL and GA with no issues. Last time was Sept 2018 in FL.

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