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What Is an ALTA Survey?

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.