Good fences may make good neighbors, but first they need to agree on where the fence should be.
That’s one of the jobs of Reale Associates, a professional land-surveying firm based in Vineland that works throughout the region.
“If somebody’s putting up a fence, we’ll set iron rods with caps on the corners of the property, and we can put stakes along the fence line for you,” said William B. Reale, owner and founder of the business. “Or if you’re having a dispute with your neighbor, we can come out and survey the boundary.”
Such jobs are just a small part of the work for surveyors such as Reale.
When housing is being developed at its normal pace, the firm does a substantial amount of measuring major and minor subdivisions, said Reale, 72, of Vineland.
“We also do construction layout, staking out the curbs and buildings on the new sites,” he said. “We stake them out for them so they can go right to improvements and building.”
The firm might also perform a topographical survey of the entire property, showing all of its features and elevations, so an engineer can determine the design of the development and how to drain it properly, he said.
Drainage and elevations are also important for homes that will have a septic field, as opposed to hooking up to municipal sewage treatment.
But these days, elevations are much more on the minds of homeowners along the shore, where Hurricane Sandy and updated FEMA regulations have made the elevation of the first floor the determinant of how affordable flood insurance will be.
“We’re starting to get calls from people who want to raise their houses,” Reale said. His firm can pinpoint for them the elevation above mean high tide they seek.
The increase in elevation work comes at a good time. Subdivision work all but disappeared after the housing bubble collapsed in 2007, and staffing dropped from a high of 10 to just three now.
Employment in surveying statewide dropped from a high of 329 in 2003 to 143 in 2011, although the number of establishments was more stable, declining from 42 to 31, federal Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show.
And while there have been plenty of mortgage refinancings as interest rates fell to record lows, that segment is no longer producing reliable work for surveyors, Reale said.
“We used to do boundaries for such title work, but now banks are not requiring it for refinancing,” he said.
He said that makes sense if a survey already was done, but if they don’t have a current map of the property, homeowners are neglecting some easy peace of mind.
Surveys can show encroachments, fence placements and other potential problems.
“For a minimal fee, you get protection on what is for most the biggest purchase of their life,” Reale said.
Survey technology has improved dramatically from the optical transits (the proper name is theodolite) — sighting telescopes with angle readouts — to digital transits that transfer information directly to a computer to plot things out.
Reale said one robotic version allows a single person to do some surveys, moving it around as it tracks a prism placed on the property.
Reale said he started work right out of high school, learning at an engineering firm in Vineland and getting his license in 1970. For that he needed two years at the Rutgers University surveying school, five surveyors to vouch for him and to pass a two-day exam.
After about 10 years of working for another firm, he partnered with another surveyor on a new business in 1980 and became sole owner in 1999.
Nowadays, the state requires a four-year course of study for a surveyor’s license, as well as continuing education credits.
Reale’s son, Scott Reale, of Vineland, is working toward his license as he carries on the family business.
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