What is an ALTA survey?

Like many professions, the world of surveying is vast and complex. There are various types of surveys, depending on both client needs and local regulations. Despite differing state regulations and rules for surveying, the ALTA survey stands as a nationally-recognized standard for surveys.

What is an ALTA survey?

ALTA, or the American Land Title Association, created a set of surveying standards. Officially called an ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey, an ALTA survey follows strict guidelines set by ALTA and other land and surveying experts.

ALTA surveys are critical because no matter where you are in the United States, you know a survey meets national standards across the board. These surveys are the gold standard, providing a uniform system in a nation with differing laws and requirements by state.

ALTA surveys are very comprehensive. They include both a physical survey of the property and extensive research. The survey itself is packed with information, including property boundaries, easements, zoning classification, legal property description, water boundaries and more. A standard boundary survey won’t include all of this information. An ALTA survey provides in-depth information on a property that a boundary survey would otherwise miss, saving you potential legal problems.

The ALTA process follows a standard formula:

1. Research is conducted on the property for both public and private land records.
2. The surveyors’ field crew conducts a physical analysis of the property and boundary lines.
3. An analysis of the property is ran with both the physical analysis and research.
4. The surveyor creates a map of the survey with his or her analysis.
5. Once complete, the title company and other parties review the map.
6. After the client approves the map, the surveyor signs and seals it.

ALTA survey uses

It’s tempting to use an ALTA survey in nearly every surveying application. After all, why wouldn’t you want to use the gold standard every time you conduct a survey? The downside to ALTA surveys is that they’re time-consuming and more expensive than standard boundary surveys. Unless your property meets these criteria, you might be better off with a standard boundary survey.

1. You’re buying or selling commercial real estate
ALTA surveys are required for all commercial real estate. This is because commercial land is higher risk, and needs thorough research before changing hands.

2. You’re buying a vacant lot
ALTA isn’t required for vacant lots, but it can be a good way to protect yourself. ALTA allows you to learn more about the land to make sure you have full claim, avoiding legal troubles down the line.

3. You’re in an unusual or special situation
Many factors go into play when you purchase or sell a piece of land. If you find yourself in a unique or unusual situation, it may be best to opt for a more in-depth ALTA survey. Consult with your title company to see if ALTA makes sense for your situation.

The bottom line

ALTA surveys are the gold standard for surveying. While they’re required for commercial properties, most residential lands won’t require ALTA. However, if you want an in-depth survey that covers all of your bases, ask your title company and surveyor about ALTA. It’s better to be safe than sorry!