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The Importance of having your land surveyed: an Interview with Mike Schleif of On Target Surveying

By Mike Schleif

Please describe the background of your company and your qualifications.

I started surveying 37 years ago quite by accident. A friend of mine worked for a surveyor and told him that I was looking for work. Walking past the owner's house one Saturday, he stepped out and asked me if a wanted to start work that Monday. I did and have been surveying since. I began helping on a crew that was locating and replacing section corners in the Fredonia area on a government contract. As the original corners were set in the 1830's there was a lot of history involved which captivated me. I also enjoyed being outside and at different locations each day. After the contract ended, I stayed on as a rodman for the company. At this time all work was done with a transit and a 100 foot steel tape, so it took at least two men on a crew to do the work.

Since then I have continued to work for various other firms doing boundary surveys for city lots as well as topographic mapping for various reasons including many subdivisions and commercial sites. I've done surveys in size from a few square feet to hundreds of acres. I've worked in almost every part of Wisconsin and some in northern Illinois. I've had the opportunity do many different types of surveying since those first days including staking the highway for STH "41" around the "new" Miller Park in Milwaukee and producing right-of-way plats for several state highways. I've surveyed hundreds of residential lots, helped create many residential and commercial subdivisions and found boundaries for a great number of farms and rural lots. I've also helped folks remove their parcels from floodplain insurance regulations and staked many commercial buildings and building sites over the years. I have retraced surveys done over a hundred years ago and some created just last week. I got my credentials as a Professional Land Surveyor in 1999 and started On Target Surveying soon there after. At that time it was possible to sit for the exam after an extended period of work experience in surveying as well as some class work. Today a four year degree and work experience are required for licensure. From a transit and tape to reflectorless total stations, robotic instruments, and GPS, the technology offered a surveyor has advanced greatly. It's not uncommon to find many surveyors these days working alone on a one man crew as I do. My office is now in my home enabling a very short commute these days.

Why is it important to have your land surveyed?

Purchasing a home or land is most likely the largest investment an individual will make in his lifetime. Knowing the boundary of what you have purchased is as important as the home itself. Encroachments are identified with a survey as well as improper legal descriptions causing overlaps or gaps being discovered. Lot areas may not be reported accurately and can be remedied by surveying the parcel. A complete boundary survey comes more into play as home improvements are planned. Any fence building or tree planting certainly wants to be done in the proper locations as well as any additions, landscaping, or patio/ deck work. The State of Wisconsin considers it the owner's responsibility to know and maintain his or her lot corners. Much of what we do is following in the footsteps of previous surveyors, insuring that lot lines remain the same as they were intended many years ago when first established. Measuring techniques have improved greatly over the years and is important to know where the actual boundary exists along with these more precise dimensions. Many municipalities are requiring a Plat of Survey prior to issuing building permits these days as well. A good, reliable survey can help avoid disagreements with neighbors as well as possible adverse possession issues down the road.

How do you conduct this service?

Once contacted by the person needing the survey and obtaining a legal description of the property from them, or at least an address, the parcel is located, usually using a GIS (Geographic Information System) data base these days, and the legal description is found or verified. Adjoining parcels are researched as well in order to determine if the legal descriptions for the lots all fit together properly. Next, the research extends into all available previous survey records. Since Wisconsin is a "filing" state, all surveys are required to be filed with the appropriate County Surveyor's Office. This allows the surveyor to see any work that may have been done in the area of the subject parcel before going into the field. This step is very important as we surveyor's are trying to recreate previous surveys in most situations. Once the research has been done it is time to visit the site. Using a magnetic locator, tape and a good old fashioned shovel, we search the area of the parcel to be surveyed as well as neighboring parcels, looking for any existing lot corners, be they iron pipe, iron rods, concrete monuments or even old axle shafts. All the located corner locations are then collected and if possible, a determination is made in the field as to the accuracy of the location of the corners. If not, we will return to the office and analyze the information there. If necessary, a return visit will then be made to set any missing corners and a Plat of Survey will be drafted showing what corners were found or set and why. It will also show improvements such as buildings and decks and contain a certification from the surveyor that he has done the work correctly. This map is then sent to the client and the survey is completed.

What are some things homeowners will learn though the survey process?

Homeowners will become aware of the location of their lot corners as well as a history of them if that exists and how they were determined. They will be able to see the distances from buildings to lot lines as well as the exact dimension of those lot lines. This allows a potential buyer to know if there might be issues with setback/non-conformance requirements. They may find that the lot area is more or less than what they have been taxed at and be able to make adjustments if desired. Any visible encroachments will be shown on the survey as well as any recorded easements that could affect new building or fence placement. Ponds or streams will be shown on the map and it may include such items as floodplain or wetland location.

How long does this typically take?

There is no real definite timeline on a survey as each project is individual and unique in itself. I may find a single lot survey in a recent subdivision that can be done in just a few hours at the site and a few hours involving office work. Some may require subdividing 160± acre quarter sections (or larger) to define the actual parcel boundaries. Also, it is not only the lot size that helps control the time, but also how the lot is described can affect the time along with the area that the parcel is located in. There are areas, usually older, were very little survey work was done originally and few monuments exist. Working in these areas typically requires additional effort to sort through the available information to determine a proper boundary location. Construction projects can take months or years obviously, and are much more labor intense. This also helps to explain the wide range of costs involved in doing a proper survey as there are no two that are the same.

What is the best way for people to get in contact with you?

Thank you for this opportunity, I can be reached at 262-338-8837 or at ontargetsurveying@gmail.com.

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