selling commercial land

Take the first two letters of your last name. Next add the last letter of your first name. Finally, enter those three letters on the Nasdaq, and purchase $700,000 worth of whichever stock they represent.

If you think that sounds like bad investment advice, then you are correct. You should never make an investment until you understand precisely what you are investing in – and commercial land is certainly no exception.

Never Buy Commercial Land Without a Survey

Here is equally bad investment advice: purchase commercial property that you haven’t received an ALTA survey for. You’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars without knowing the land’s boundaries, whether it is subject to any easements, whether it evinces the existence of underground utilities, or the names of the owners of adjoining properties. You truly are flying blind when you buy commercial property without a comprehensive land survey.

Some commercial land buyers assume that a good title insurance policy preempts the need for a survey. Although having title insurance is advisable in the overwhelming majority of commercial land deals, it does not provide complete protection against every potential issue.

Despite what its name suggests, an ALTA Extended Title Policy does not extend to disclose the locations of improvements and utilities. It does not disclose whether the property is currently in violation of municipal zoning ordinances. It does not disclose existing relationships between owners of adjoining land, the relationship of occupied liens to record lines, or other matters which typically aren’t recorded but which materially affect land. Only an ALTA survey reveals such crucial details, and provides the exhaustive picture a commercial property investor needs in order to fully comprehend precisely what they are getting into.

This caveat is a moot point to many commercial land buyers, however. If you are partnering with a financial lender, then it will most likely require an ALTA survey before the transaction can proceed. That’s because the information it presents is crucial to ensuring the property’s value and whether it is zoned correctly. Lenders know that ALTA surveys can prevent massive headaches. Buyers are advised to follow suit.

Never Sell Commercial Land Without a Survey, Either

Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. It has been a tenet of common law for over four centuries, and essentially means that a seller isn’t responsible if their buyer incurs a loss that they could have avoided by inspecting or researching a chattel beforehand.

Caveat emptor is generally understood to apply to real estate transactions as well – but this does not absolve the seller of their ethical duty to represent their property as truthfully as possible.

By revealing the existence of encroachments, easements, boundary line disputes, and other factors which materially affect the property’s value, the seller helps their buyer understand which risks they are assuming and whether they should expect to resolve critical discrepancies. In other words, presenting an ALTA survey to your buyer upfront gives them a better chance of success. That increases their likelihood of buying from you again. It also inclines the buyer to form a favorable opinion of you, which counts for a lot in an industry where a good reputation is worth its weight in gold.

A seller gives themselves another great advantage by ordering their own ALTA survey. If the buyer’s survey presents information that could be used to lobby for a lower price – and that information contradicts the seller’s survey – then the seller has recourse to the buyer’s (possibly dishonest) bargaining tactics. In no uncertain terms, an ALTA survey can provide vital protection against fraud.

Buyers and Sellers Should Discuss Surveys Early On

Whichever side of the closing table you intend to sit on, it’s important to discuss surveys at the onset of the sale process. It clarifies everyone’s expectations for one another, enables the seller to make the property accessible to the buyer’s surveyor, and prevents a “he said, she said” scenario from needlessly complicating the transaction while it’s already underway.

If you’re going to take part in a commercial property transaction in Minnesota, then we welcome you to contact Compass Consultants today. In addition to ALTA surveys, we provide comprehensive boundary surveys, location surveys, construction surveys, and other surveys that present essential information for buyers, lenders and sellers alike!

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.

land survey

Imagine you are constructing a building or improving a landscape. You elect to survey the property twice: once at the onset of the project, and again upon its completion. You might think the two surveys would include all the information which pertains to the property – but you would be mistaken.

Those surveys would fail to encompass key details. They would not include the order in which various aspects of the project were completed. They would not accurately depict the locations of buried features such as sewer lines. They would also not provide a record of whichever changes had to be made to the original plan. As any builder will tell you, improvisation is oftentimes necessary.

Whereas many surveys only capture the before or the after, an as-built survey captures the during. It is created throughout the course of a project so it can report all of the crucial aforementioned information in full.

Why Are As-Built Surveys Needed?

Also known as a “record drawing,” an as-built survey tracks the progression of a building or other construction as it is built.

Contractors in the field frequently make modifications to architectural drawings because their drafters failed to take (or couldn’t have taken) certain aspects of the land into account. They may alternatively make modifications because certain materials were unavailable, or because they didn’t have enough time to complete the project as planned.

No matter the reasons they are made, change orders will make a finished property significantly different from the one that was conceived on paper. An as-built survey accounts for change orders so it can represent the property as accurately as possible. In doing so it greatly facilitates future improvements and maintenance at the property.

An as-built survey is especially useful during future maintenance because it provides an accurate record of the locations of underground features. For example, there is no better time to measure a sewer pipe’s length, width and location than the period of time separating its placement from its burial.

An as-built survey is equally invaluable for underwater features. A stormwater pond will become ineffective if sediment and debris are not periodically removed to restore its original depth – a detail that would not be omitted by a comprehensive as-built survey. For a more famous example, consider Disney World’s Seven Seas Lagoon. Without an accurate as-built survey, the theme park would have to waste money on excessive dredging in order to ensure safe traversal for its ferryboats.

Larger and more complex projects may necessitate the creation of multiple as-built surveys. They will demonstrate that various phases of the project meet critical specifications for elevation and layout before construction can safely proceed to the next step.

What Information Does an As-Built Survey Include?

An as-built survey contains several details which could prove of great value to the property owner in the near or distant future, including:

  • Elevations
  • Property dimensions
  • Locations of roads
  • Locations of sewers
  • Locations of structures
  • Locations of swales and ditches
  • Locations of underground utilities

The form an as-built survey takes depends on the client’s needs. A complex project’s as-built surveys can appear as multiple overlays that facilitate visualization of the project’s progress. An as-built survey can appear just like the original plan, but with key changes added in red. Some clients also require CADD files in addition to hard copies of their as-built surveys.

No matter your project’s timeline or complexity, Compass Consultants is available to ensure its as-built survey is completely accurate and delivered in precise accordance with your specifications and timeline. Please contact our land surveying company in Perham, MN today to get started!

How do ordinances affect my property - video
What to expect with a survey - Video
Land Surveying Perham MN
Land Surveying Services Perham Minnesota