The Future of Land Surveying

The Future of Land Surveying

Happy New Year! As we begin a new year, it’s exciting to think about the advances and technologies that will shape the field of land surveying in Pennsylvania in the coming years. One major development we can expect to see is the increasing use of drones for surveying. These unmanned aircraft are capable of capturing high-resolution images and data from the air, enabling land surveyors to cover large areas quickly and accurately. Drones can also access difficult-to-reach areas, such as forests or rough terrain, making them a valuable tool for various types of surveying projects.

Another significant change we can anticipate is the growing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in land surveying. In fact, this article was created using an AI language model that was trained to produce text. With just a few simple prompts, like “Write me a two-minute article about the future of Land Surveying in Pennsylvania in 2023,” the AI model can analyze a vast amount of language data from the internet and generate a human-like response in seconds.

AI is likely to have a significant impact on land surveying in the United States, including improved data collection and analysis, increased accuracy and precision, increased productivity, and enhanced safety. However, there are several ways in which AI will not be able to fully replace humans in this field:

  1. Legal and regulatory issues: There may be legal and regulatory barriers to the use of AI in land surveying. For example, in the United States, land surveys must be performed by licensed professional land surveyors.
  2. Complex and changing environments: Land surveying often takes place in complex and changing environments, such as construction sites or disaster areas. In these situations, human judgment and adaptability is necessary to accurately survey the land.
  3. Ethical considerations: Some people may have ethical concerns about using AI to make decisions that affect land use and ownership.
  4. Interpersonal skills: Land surveying requires strong interpersonal skills, as surveyors may need to communicate and work with a variety of people, including property owners, government officials, and other professionals. AI may not have the ability to effectively interact with people in these situations.
  5. Creativity and problem-solving: Land surveying requires creative problem-solving and out-of-the-box thinking to find solutions to complex challenges. AI may not be able to replicate these human traits.

At Howell, we are committed to staying up-to-date on the latest technology and using it to create a high-quality survey deliverable in the most accurate and efficient way possible. Whether it’s using AI to create a newsletter article or adopting cutting-edge technology to enhance the safety of our technicians, we are dedicated to continually advancing our craft.

Here is how the AI model concluded the article and we at Howell completely agree…

Overall, the future of land surveying in Pennsylvania looks bright and we are excited to see what the next year brings. We hope you’ll join us in exploring all that this field has to offer. Best wishes for a happy and successful 2023!

What is the Right Sized Land Surveying Firm for Your Project?

What is the Right Sized Land Surveying Firm for Your Project?

During the early stages of a land development project or real estate transaction, a project owner makes many important decisions. One of these decisions is selecting a land surveyor. Because a land surveyor’s work will form the basis for other professionals’ work on the project, choosing the correct Land Surveyor is crucial to the success of the project or transaction. 

Land surveying companies come in 3 basic sizes. For our purposes, we will refer to them as MinnowsBarracudas, and Whales. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, we can make a few helpful generalizations about these categories.


Minnows are the smallest surveying firms. They are usually what we call “one-man shops” in the surveying industry. In some cases, they have one full-time Licensed Land Surveyor and one part-time employee who assists with drafting and fieldwork. In some instances, these one-man shops are just “moonlighting” surveyors with a regular salary and health care benefits provided by their primary employer. With low overhead costs, a “moonlighting” surveyor will be able to charge lower rates.

Here are a few characteristics typical of minnow surveying companies:

  • They typically serve a single “discipline.” As surveying has grown more complex, one-man shops are limited in the range of services they can competently provide.
  • They sometimes operate without business insurance or professional liability insurance. This leaves their clients without protection if they make a significant mistake.
  • They often advertise on “home improvement” websites and may not maintain a physical location or business address. Contacting them with issues in the future can be very difficult or impossible.
  • They lack the interest or financial resources to invest in modern equipment, software, and other technology.
  • They tend to have clients that will wait for a survey for a lower price, so they often have long backlogs.
  • They only have the bandwidth to handle small projects.
  • Most minnows deal with their clients a single time. Their relationships with clients tend to be transactional and not long-term.
  • Minnows in the surveying world often perform surveys of single-family homes, or “lot surveys”. These surveys are done for a low fee and with a long wait time. Most homeowners are looking at the bottom line. Most of the time they don’t urgently need a fence survey and may not understand the risks of hiring a land surveyor without the proper insurance coverage and professional practices.


A barracuda is a mid-sized surveying company. Typically, they employ teams of 5 to 50 people directed by one or two licensed land surveyors. They often specialize in a few disciplines of land surveying. These firms may also have access to additional professional services besides surveying, like civil engineering, architecture, landscape design and environmental engineering.

Here are a few characteristics typical of barracuda surveying companies:

  • They offer a small bundle of related services to their clients.
  • They typically carry both business insurance and professional liability insurance.
  • They have the resources to make modest investments in equipment, software, and other technology.
  • They keep a relatively low overhead. Their overhead is higher than a minnow but much less than a whale. A barracuda surveying company is likely paying overhead costs for things like an office, a website, and an administrative assistant.
  • They have the capability to handle small clients and large projects.
  • Clients typically deal directly with the licensed surveyors supervising the work. This close relationship necessitates the surveyor to provide good client service.


Whales are the largest of surveying companies. They manage teams of 50 to 1,000 people. These teams often work across multiple geographic regions.

Here are a few characteristics typical of whale surveying companies:

  • They offer a multitude of services to their clients.
  • They typically carry both business insurance and professional liability insurance.
  • They have the resources to make major investments in equipment, software, and other technology. Internal politics and slow decision-making can bleed out the benefits of this investment.
  • They run a very high overhead. This overhead pays for things like offices in urban centers and large numbers of support staff. It also includes the resources needed to manage a large bureaucracy.
  • They have the capability to handle large clients and huge projects. Therefore, small clients and small projects are less appealing.
  • Clients of the whale (especially small clients) don’t typically deal with important decision-makers. They may rarely talk directly to the licensed land surveyor in charge of their project.
  • Because of administrative bloat and inertia, whales move slowly. Decisions take a long time and decision-making frameworks are rigid.

Now that we have classified the differences in the size of a Land Surveying firm, it’s time to help you figure out how to best choose the right sized Land Surveying firm for you. You must:

  • Understand your project and have a basic idea of how complex it is.
  • Determine what is more important – Value or Cost.
  • Consider what type of relationship you need with your Land Surveyor.

1) Understanding your project – What are you trying to do?

Are you trying to build a fence around your house? Are you trying to subdivide an agricultural property used for commercial purposes? Are you trying to build a giant stadium in the heart of downtown? Each of these projects requires a different type of land surveying company. If you are just putting up a fence, a minnow might work well. If you are subdividing an agricultural parcel, then a barracuda would be a great fit. If you want to build a stadium downtown, you might need a whale.

2) How complex is my project?

Complex projects need teams with three things: experience, bandwidth, and depth of knowledge. A small one-man shop isn’t going to do a great job building a stadium downtown. He doesn’t have the physical resources and you can’t keep the expertise needed in one human brain. 

3) Do I want a team that is fat and happy, or lean and mean?

If you are very concerned about getting value (bang for your buck), whale survey companies are a bad choice. They have the wrong incentives to stay lean and mean. Whales bury hidden costs in their hourly rates. The costs they hide are for things like the fancy office. Don’t pay for your surveyor’s weekend business meetings at a luxury beach resort if you don’t need a big team.


Eye to the Future

Eye to the Future

Everywhere I turn it seems as if I read about people leaving the workforce. I’ve heard it termed “The Great Resignation.” While I try to come to terms with what factors are driving the millions of workers to quit their jobs in the last 12 months, the field of Land Surveying has been dealing with a talent void for many years.

During the recession of 2008, quite a few seasoned surveyors left the industry, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them. This loss of talent was compounded by the fact that the surveying industry offers a very limited number of formal training opportunities. In other words, for a while, there has been no talent pipeline unless you created it yourself.

In the last couple of years here at Howell Kline, we have pivoted who we are targeting for new team members, and it is beginning to pay dividends. We are proud to have team members from all backgrounds, from mechanical engineers to schoolteachers. The resounding response we receive is that now they come to work every day enjoying what they do. We encourage the idea of training, educating, and promoting from within, so we most often hire the entry-level position of Junior Field Technician. The qualifications for this position are minimal, yet the opportunity for advancement is excellent.

Every new employee is mentored by a more experienced member of our team. Beyond learning skills and increasing knowledge, every individual at every level needs to be invested in improving themselves and the company. When the entire team buys in, training starts to turn into culture.

Technical skills and processes are certainly a high priority. People need to learn the right way to assemble project data, understand job site safety, and care for the equipment. Furthermore, they also need to understand why customers value a relationship with us and what each customer expects from every interaction with Howell Kline. These intangible assets are unique to our brand and critical to earning customer loyalty.

In addition to our own weekly mentoring meetings that cover surveying fundamentals, we are committed supporters of the Certified Survey Technician (CST) program administered by the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Each year a group of our newest team members travel to the annual survey conference for a study course and sit for the CST test. Not only is gaining certification a metric for measuring technical competence, but it also provides our team members with a sense of achievement as they are recognized for their accomplishments. We believe that we are gaining a competitive advantage by encouraging all technicians to become certified.

This growth and depth are achieved not by licenses and certifications alone, but by people–valued people who are given opportunities to excel and contribute to the success of the organization and the industry. This is how we do things, and we believe this will set us apart in an ever-changing and more complex labor future.

Land Surveying is a Great Profession

Land Surveying is a Great Profession

Land Surveying is a great profession. Why don’t young people know about it?

If you talk to any Land Surveyor, they will share with you what it is like to be part of a great profession. A profession that provides vast variety, the opportunity to work outdoors and the chance to apply math and analytical skills in a real-world setting. When asked about my job, I always start with describing the satisfaction of solving a puzzle while being outdoors and using modern technology to retrace the steps of another surveyor who established a property corner possibly 100 years earlier. There is just nothing quite like it. So why aren’t more young people lining up to become surveyors?

I did a quick online review of what careers are being recommended to high school and middle school students, and surveying didn’t make any of the lists. That is unfortunate. According to the Princeton Review, “. . . surveying job opportunities are expected to increase by more than 20 percent in the next ten years.” Furthermore, surveying offers stable work hours, decent pay and the opportunity to use cutting-edge technology.

Recently the National Society of Land Surveyors (NSPS) teamed up with “get kids into” to engage kids at the grade school level, or even younger, as well as their parents, on the different activities and types of surveying they can be involved in. They use posters (like this one) with hidden objects, coloring sheets, and some pretty cool cartoon characters to help kids and parents understand surveying and its limitless boundaries (pun intended). Hopefully, providing a better presence will encourage students to consider land surveying as a career.

Today, more than ever, people need a fulfilling and reliable career — a profession they can count on in good times and bad. The pandemic, which has nearly erased whole business sectors, has had minimal impact on land surveying. We have been able to continue working in the field, socially distant, of course, making sure surveys are completed, construction continues, and infrastructure projects move forward.

Do the student in your life a favor and suggest that they look at these resources to learn more about a future as a Land Surveying professional.

Editorialized from
2021 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys

2021 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys

Newly adopted 2021 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys will go into effect on February 23, 2021. You can be confident that Howell Kline will be knowledgeable and ready to integrate the new standards.

New ALTA standards are adopted every five years or so, and as lending institutions become aware of the change in the current standards, we are contacted about ALTA surveys. By and large, the most common request we will handle is the request to “update” an existing ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey to the current standards and to do so quickly and at a bargain price. After all, “Nothing has changed and all you need to do is recertify it, right?”

I get this, all too common, request quite often and because I have been handed the bullhorn this week, I thought I would take the opportunity to explain. When dealing with an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey, there is no such thing as an “update”; there is only a new survey.

The Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys have become the bridge that has allowed all parties involved in a real estate transaction to understand a piece of real property on common terms, and in this short article I will not attempt to add anything to that description. Instead, it will attempt to illustrate why, contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as an updated ALTA survey.

First and foremost, any ALTA survey that bears a new signature and/or certification date is nothing less than a new survey. Irrespective of the fact that the surveyor may have performed the survey previously, there are several requirements within the aforementioned “minimum standards” that the surveyor must adhere to.

For instance, “The survey shall be performed on the ground” and the surveyor shall “locate improvements within 5 feet of each side of the property line.” This requirement necessitates a re-evaluation of the site from the same perspective as the original survey and involves the survey crew inspecting the site for changes to physical improvements, searching for evidence of easements or claims not found within the public record, and looking for evidence of adverse uses. All of these can negatively affect title to the insured real estate. These are just a few of the requirements subject to the certification dates for fieldwork.

Once the field and office work are complete, these findings are then compiled and certified as to the new date and current conditions, thereby effectively creating a new ALTA Survey at a new snapshot in time. There are many times that we perform an “update” of a survey that was completed one or two years ago, only to find that the site conditions have changed (e.g. a building or parking expansion) or that there have been new easements created on the property.

Secondly, we need to look at the update request from a liability perspective. The liability a surveyor incurs in the re-issuance, or an “update” of an ALTA survey, is commensurate to the liability of an entirely new survey. No professional surveyor should be expected to assume this liability without compensation.

ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys are among the greatest tools an investor can use to evaluate a particular piece of real property. While performing ALTA/NSPS land title surveys, Howell Kline surveyors are a first line of defense in risk management for clients and owners. There is nothing that we want more than to provide an accurate and legal land document to help avoid or minimize the impact of any unforeseen title issue. Look for more information in the coming months from Howell Kline’s team on the 2021 updates and how they may impact your due diligence process.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

We could have never predicted that during a global pandemic we would see a rise in requests from homeowners who want to have a boundary survey performed on their property, but the increase is remarkable. I am not sure if this is due to the extra time spent at home to accomplish that project they have been putting off or the desire to keep the neighbors and their kids at an appropriate social distance, but fences and landscaping projects have been two of the largest reasons cited for requesting the land survey in the last few months. While speaking with these property owners it becomes apparent that there are many misconceptions with what a land surveyor does and why people need a survey. If you are considering whether to have a land survey done on your property, chances are you have fallen prey to one or more of these myths. So, in order to clear up some misunderstanding, here is the truth about five common land surveying myths:

MYTH 1: Land Surveys Aren’t Necessary If You Can Find The Survey Stakes.

If you can locate the survey stakes from a previous survey, all you know is that there was a previous surveyor who might have determined that this location was on the edge of the property; that doesn’t mean the survey is accurate, or that you’ve found your property line. A professional land surveyor can tell you if what you’ve found is your property line; you may be surprised to learn that in many cases, what you think is a surveying monument may not be one at all.

MYTH 2: All The Land Has Already Been Surveyed; It’s Just A Matter Of Finding the Maps or Plans.

Although you may be able to find the old maps or plans of your property, in many cases, the land you own might have never actually been surveyed. Additionally, if you do find a previous survey from decades ago, there’s no guarantee it will necessarily help to solve your issue or assist you in identifying the actual property lines on the ground.

MYTH 3: I Don’t Need A Full Survey, I Just Need One Line Marked.

To debunk this misconception, let’s go back to high school geometry class. Let’s assume for a second that we can find both markers at the ends of the property line in question. How do we know that those markers are in the correct angular and distance relationship with the rest of your property lines? How do we know that the two markers we found are not in conflict with the other property lines for the neighbors that shares this line in common with you? There is no way to tell without locating more corners to verify the markers found are in the correct location. A proper land survey verifies the line in question is in harmony with the rest of your property as well as the neighbor’s property lines. You can’t just survey one line.  

MYTH 4: I Can Build My Fence On The Property Line Without A Survey.

Fencing is an expensive investment. Even when you’re sure you’re building only on your land, it’s always wise to protect your investment by making sure that you know exactly where the property lines are. If it turns out that you have built onto a neighboring property, you may be forced to tear down your work. Think twice before building a fence right on the property line, even if you think you know right where it is.

MYTH 5: Having A Survey Done Is Too Expensive.

Not having a survey done when you need one can cost you thousands of dollars down the road, especially if you build a structure that encroaches on a neighbor’s land. Is it worth the risk? This professional service is well worth the cost.

2019 Sporting Clays Invitational

2019 Sporting Clays Invitational

Last Friday, members of the D.L. Howell and HowellKline teams participated in the 2019 Annual Sporting Clays Invitational. The event, held at Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays, benefited the Scout programs of the Chester County Council, Boy Scouts of America. The Scouts BSA vision is “to prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.” The council serves almost 6,000 youth each year with the help of many adult leaders. To date, the Sporting Clays event has generated over $214,000 for Scouting programs in Chester County Council.

D.L. Howell and HowellKline would like to thank the Chester County Council, BSA for hosting this event.  It was a great day out for a great cause!

To learn more about the Chester County Council BSA, visit

Land Surveying Technology Could Help Restore the Notre Dame Cathedral to its Former Glory

Land Surveying Technology Could Help Restore the Notre Dame Cathedral to its Former Glory

Notre-Dame de Paris, with its famous Rose windows and flying buttresses, was nearly destroyed by a fire on the evening of Monday, April 15, 2019. The fire appears to have started high in the roof space. and quickly spread to other parts of the structure. The oak lattice woodwork that framed the roof dated back to the 13th century. The fire eventually caused the cathedral’s iconic spire to collapse.  President Emmanuel Macron was quoted saying ‘”Notre Dame is our history, it’s our literature, it’s our imagery. It’s the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations” and he has pledged to rebuild the structure.

Notre Dame Fire

Years before this tragedy, there was an architectural historian named Andrew Tallon who utilized sophisticated technology to create a three-dimensional model of Notre Dame. This technology, called laser scanning, was initially created in the 1960s and has become a large segment of the Land surveying industry today. In 2010, Tallon took a Leica ScanStation C10 laser scanner inside of Notre Dome and began the painstaking task of scanning every part of the structure, inside and out. It took over five days and repositioning the scanner more than 50 times to capture this invaluable record of the Gothic Structure. Many people believe that this data will aid in bringing back the famed cathedral to its former glory.