ALTA Survey

Due diligence. It’s just one way a professional sets themself apart from the amateurs. When a professional is involved in the purchase of a commercial property, due diligence compels them to understand the land it is situated on inside and out.

When it comes to land surveying, an ALTA survey represents the highest degree of due diligence. It is an exhaustive land parcel map – not just a demarcation of a parcel’s boundaries, but a detailed inventory of all existing improvements, easements, and other material information about the property.

The details contained by an ALTA survey won’t just prove useful to the buyer. The comprehensive commercial property report is usually required by attorneys, financial institutions and title insurance providers alike. In fact, these professionals are usually the ones that order ALTA surveys in the first place.

ALTA surveys are especially important to lenders. They use that information to validate their borrowers’ investments. After all, they do want to issue good loans. Title insurers, which sell their clients protection against unknown title defects, have every reason to determine whether any part of real property isn’t legally transferable for any reason. An ALTA survey sheds light on that matter by design.

What Does an ALTA Survey Include?

For a survey to meet ALTA specifications, it cannot merely include boundary lines. It must satisfy a set of criteria defined by two national trade associations: the American Land Title Association (ALTA), and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS).

The Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys dictates standards for measurement, but we don’t need to delve into the meaning of “Relative Positional Precision” for the purpose of this discussion. Let us focus instead on the elements of records research and fieldwork, which require an ALTA survey to include the following information:

• The current record description of the surveyed property; if one does not already exist, then the survey must include the record description of the parent parcel containing the surveyed property

• Complete copies of the surveyed property’s most recent title commitment; if these do not exist, then other title evidence may be provided instead

• Record descriptions of land parcels adjoining the surveyed property, with some exceptions

• Any recorded easements, regardless of whether they benefit or burden the surveyed propert

• Locations of any existing survey monuments

• Rights of way and access, including the names of all roadways abutting the surveyed property, visible evidence of physical access to said abutting streets, and possible encroachments created by driveways, alleys and private roads of adjoining properties

• The locations of all walls, buildings, fences, and other improvements within 5 feet of each boundary line

• The locations of buildings on the surveyed property

• Evidence of easements, servitudes or other uses by non-owner occupants on the surveyed property: sewer lines, telephone lines, fiber optic lines, electric lines, water lines, gas lines, etc.

• Surface indications of underground easements and servitudes, such as vent pipes and utility cuts

• Cemeteries and other burial grounds

• Water features, including those that form boundaries

This is not an exhaustive list of every detail an ALTA survey must include. But as you can see, an ALTA survey deserves its reputation for being so thorough.

An ALTA survey can also contain information that isn’t specified in the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements. Table A: Optional Survey Responsibilities and Specifications gives the surveyor’s client the option to select additional items. These can include:

• Flood zone classification

• Vertical relief (i.e. topographical characteristics of the surveyed property)

• Exterior dimensions of all buildings at ground level

• Measured heights of all buildings above grade

• Substantial features, such as billboards, swimming pools and unofficial garbage dumps

• Evidence of underground utilities

• Evidence of recent earth moving work, building construction or building additions

• Names of adjoining owners according to current tax records

Are you planning on purchasing commercial property? Or do you work in an industry that regularly orders ALTA surveys on the behalf of its clients? Then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today. We serve Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and we provide all types of land surveys including ALTA, boundary, location, subdivision, site-planning and construction.

property fence

In addition to defining a plot’s boundaries, a land survey includes topography: natural and man-made physical features that impact how the land can be used. This information is of crucial importance to people who are considering buying a piece of land. It is also necessary for architects and contractors, who must avoid (A) building on neighboring pieces of land, and (B) attempting to build wherever building is not possible.

New construction always calls for a land survey. Without it, the entire house may be destroyed. Take the recent example of an expensive home in Farmington Hills, MI, which was built on top of a privately owned sewer line. Its owners were threatened with demolition, and only narrowly avoided losing their home by agreeing to reroute a portion of the sewer system through their backyard. A land survey would have prevented such a massive headache!

Land surveys aren’t just prerequisite for larger construction, however. Even smaller projects can go terribly wrong without them.

Septic Systems

If you are currently on good terms with your neighbor, that is bound to change if you install a septic tank on their property. In addition to costly disputes, a land survey can prevent fines. Many jurisdictions require landowners to obtain a permit before installing a subsurface sewage treatment system. Otter Tail County, where Compass Consultants is headquartered, is one of them. You may have to get a site evaluation, which includes a topography assessment, before you are awarded a septic permit. That is a job for a land surveyor.


Locating groundwater is not a job for a land surveyor, but their work is still necessary before well drilling can commence. Among other things, a land surveyor will ascertain that a proposed wellhole would not overlap with existing underground utilities. Even a relatively shallow hole can deal enormous damage to utility lines. Case in point: the elderly Georgian woman who cut off internet access to the entire nation of Armenia while digging for scrap copper with a shovel.


Good fences make good neighbors – but only when those fences don’t create property disputes. If you build a fence that intersects the boundary line between your and your neighbor’s property, you are technically trespassing. Your neighbor would have a great incentive to contest the placement of your fence: not just because they don’t like being trespassed, but because your fence could also constitute an act of adverse possession. In other words, they may actually lose their land if your fence remains there long enough! That’s why if you want to build a fence, only a land survey can save your relationship with your neighbor and prevent a costly legal dispute.

Electrical Conduit

If you’re burying electrical conduit, your first step should be to request a land survey. It won’t just locate existing underground utilities so you can avoid them. It also will determine whether conditions are sufficient for the placement of new underground infrastructure. You don’t want to discover that you can’t install conduit after you have already trenched!

If you’re building a new house or simply adding a well, fence, septic system, or any other feature to your property, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today. We serve Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, and we provide all types of land surveys including ALTA, boundary, location, subdivision, site-planning and construction.