The right of way (ROW) industry has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. With innovation and technology, real progress has been made.When I began my ROW career 35 years ago the industry was very male dominated. Today, the ROW industry is vastly diversified in the United States. Five of the last ten International Right of Way Association (IRWA) Presidents have been women. That said, there are still many countries that make up the IRWA that lack diversity.

A Walk Down Memory Lane
In the past, the ROW agent was tasked with running title, curing title, and preparing instruments. These instruments were generally prepared with a typewriter. Should the client require duplicate copies of these instruments, carbon paper was utilized. These instruments, and duplications, were expected to be mistake free. Therefore, one missed key meant the agent had to start the document over. Today, while the ROW agents assist in curing title, most clients hire licensed professionals to prepare delineations of title for use in determining ownership. Also, in more modern times, the ROW agent can make use of a computer with word processing capabilities for typing and vetting of his or her instruments. These changes allowed the agent to dedicate more time to the negotiation process.

Back in the day, a ROW agent was also tasked with writing all letters and sending correspondences by way of the United States Postal Service or hand delivery. Today, the ROW agent has attorneys to formulate letters and advise when each should be used. The agent also has additional delivery mechanisms at his disposal including email, FedEx and UPS.

Many years ago, the ROW agent who traveled extensively, did so with the aid of an atlas. For the agents that dare to venture out far it wasn’t uncommon to find half folded state maps scattered across the back seat of their car. Today, we have GPS in many vehicles and on almost all phones. This has made vehicular travel safer and assisted the agent in better budgeting of his time.

Industry Trends
While most of the ROW acquired 25 to 30 years ago was for roads, pipelines, and fiber optics, there has been a tremendous increase in the acquisition of ROW for high voltage power lines in the last ten years.

In the last 10 years the general public has become more educated and “savvy” when it comes to ROW knowledge. Some of the edification is a result of past experiences and the proliferation of easements being acquired across the United States, as well as notable Supreme Court decisions.

The Golden Rule
For all the changes experienced in the ROW industry throughout the years, one constant remains. If you practice the “golden rule” and treat every landowner and their property with respect, you can have a successful career in the ROW industry.

Thought for the day: The only constant is constant vicissitude.

Wyatt N. Price, SR/WA RW/RAC
Director, Land Management Services