Thought Leader: “Land Surveyors are Paying the Price of Progress”

by Stephen L. Carter

Stephen Carter is a writer of fiction and a professor of law at Yale University. He has taught courses on law, religion, the ethics of war, contracts, evidence, and professional responsibility. He blogs about professional football for the Washington Post.

It is unfortunate he has not studied real property law.

His recent article in Bloomberg is yet another reminder of the disconnect associated with ivory tower academia—hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Carter’s dismissive discourse about “drawing lines on a map” is possibly one of the greatest examples of intellectual ignorance I have ever encountered. Equating Land Surveyors with Uber drivers is akin to comparing a back-country seamstress with a surgeon at John Hopkins Hospital.

After all, both use thread.

Mr. Carter’s perception about the needs of a real estate professional are not surprising, given his expertise in such things as The Etiquette of Democracy, Cleaning up the Federal Appointments Process, and How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.

Notwithstanding Mr. Carter’s unfamiliarity with the laws of the land, he would have to agree that real estate is the foundation of the world economy. Indeed, the single greatest asset of all Americans is their home and, it is for this reason, that Land Surveyors are licensed to define the limits of real property. Land is expensive: The median price of currently listed homes in San Francisco is $1.3 million. In Manhattan, the median is $1.4 million.

According to Carter, “The major disruption will come when the big banks move. When those who finance big projects and big houses decide that a report that relies on GPS mapping is sufficient to mark the metes and bounds of a property, the rising tide of demand will swamp local regulatory resistance.”

This is the same kind of thinking that led to the savings and loss crisis in the eighties and nineties when, more than 1,600 federally insured banks were closed or received FDIC financial assistance and the number of federally insured savings and loans in the United States declined from 3,234 to 1,645 due, primarily due to unsound real estate lending. In many instances, these failed loans were associated with fast and fraudulent real estate lending; banks and lending institutions failed to obtain properly certified surveys and far too many loans were issued on properties with encroachments and questionable ownership, all of which would have been disclosed with a properly certified survey. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the estimated cost of the crisis amounted to $160 billion. Clearly, to dismiss the importance of Land Surveyors is sort of like consulting with a seamstress about such things as vascular surgery, ardiothoracic surgery, and neurological surgery. After all, she works with thread.

About the Author

Michael Pallamary, PS

Michael Pallamary, PS, is the author of several books and numerous articles. He is a frequent lecturer at conferences and seminars and he teaches real property to attorneys and other members of the legal profession. He has been in the surveying profession since 1971.