Surveyors, state agree on rules

January 29, 1995|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Sun Staff Writer

Land surveyors and the state have reached agreement on new surveying standards they say will protect consumers without boosting Maryland's already high closing costs.

The agreement -- which will settle a suit by the Maryland Society of Surveyors Inc. challenging an earlier state proposal -- would let homebuyers choose between cursory house location drawings and time-intensive, costlier boundary surveys when applying for a mortgage.

The surveyors society -- along with builders, real estate brokers, a land title company and Bell Atlantic-Maryland as co-plaintiffs -- sued to block enforcement of the regulations originally proposed by the state Board for Professional Land Surveyors, which were to take effect Dec. 1.

"The parties have reached a compromise and have improved on what existed," said Jack L. B. Gohn, attorney for the plaintiffs.

"We're convinced this is as close as we'll get on a compromise," said Russell E. Lowman, member of the surveyors board, who chaired the Committee for Preparation of Minimum Standards.

Plaintiffs had argued that the standards as originally proposed would have forced surveyors to charge clients for services they don't want or need, driving up costs that would be passed on to homebuyers, developers and public utilities that need to acquire easements.

The suit against the surveyors board and the Department of Licensing and Regulation also said the board ignored due process in passing standards that would have "widespread adverse economic impact" for surveyors and those who use their services when land is sold or developed.

Under the revised regulations, to take effect no earlier than March 1, surveyors say they would not be required to spend time on what they had viewed as unnecessary tasks.

For instance, surveyors had complained that the standards would force them to do time-consuming boundary surveys, costing $1,000 or more, especially for rowhouses that sit close to property lines and townhouses whose side walls sit on lot lines. Typically, lenders and title insurers ask for no more than a house location drawing to approve a mortgage, with the $100 to $200 fee charged at closing.

Maryland's closing costs already rank among the nation's highest.

But board members had feared that consumers believed they were getting more than they actually got. Most homebuyers assumed a location survey would adequately prove boundaries if they were to erect a fence or build a shed or another structure. A location survey, though, is useful only in property transfers; a boundary survey is required in other cases, Mr. Lowman said.

Under the revised regulations, consumers will be asked to sign a form that explains both types of surveys, their purposes and costs, and offers a choice. Real estate agents, mortgage lenders, title agents, or sometimes surveyors themselves, would distribute the forms -- which the buyer would need to sign before a surveyor could proceed.

"The consumer is making an informed choice, both with respect to what it is the consumer is buying and with respect to what it is the consumer will have to pay," Mr. Gohn said.

Added Mr. Lowman, "At least the consumer has the choice to make the selection. It was always there for him to choose, but he didn't always know that."

The plaintiffs and representatives of the board and the &r Department of Licensing and Regulation were to appear Friday before Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti to present their agreement for his approval.

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