Alta Surveys

Used primarily for commercial loan closings, the ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey is a specialized form of boundary survey. There is no difference (or shouldn't be!) between the location of property lines resulting from one or the other; the main difference is in the amount of information on the plat depicting the results of the survey. We've seen ALTA surveys being referred to as "the king of surveys," but that's just laughable. The ALTA survey has its place, but there are many, many circumstances when it is not appropriate, and, in fact, can be a detriment.

The standards are a result of collaboration between the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors, and attempt to address what are called the "specialized needs of title insurers" with respect to boundary surveys. We'd argue that title insurers don't have any needs that property owners themselves don't have, but that's a discussion for another venue, perhaps.

Example of ALTA Survey
(Click to enlarge)

The current version of the standards (2021) is, by our count, the seventh such version, the first having been adopted in 1962. In our experience, very few lenders or title insurers requested adherence to the standards before the mid-1980s, but most commercial deals now require a survey conforming to them.

So, what's different about them? Essentially, as we pointed out above, the amount of information on the final plat (or drawing) is much greater for an ALTA/NSPS survey, and consequently they cost a bit more. The full record legal description (the language used in deeds to uniquely identify property) has to appear; if the surveyor has been asked to prepare a new legal description incorporating any differences in measurements between his survey and the record description, his new description has to appear as well; every "exception" noted in the title commitment or policy has to be listed, whether or not the actual document even applies to the property in question. The current standards seem to consider the title commitment or policy and the survey as a matched set. Each refers extensively to the other. This makes sense, perhaps, in land transactions where parties from all over the country are being asked to understand the conditions of the property, but can be overkill for local deals, and downright clumsy if the reader does not have both documents at hand. Remember, there is no qualitative difference between what an ALTA/NSPS survey determines and what a normal boundary survey determines. The difference is in the presentation.

The latest version, in our opinion, raises the cost of these surveys without a commensurate increase in comfort level for the buyer. Here's a direct link to the text of the standards if you're curious.

Table A Options

When you contact us requesting one of these surveys, one of the first questions we will have for you is "what Table A options should we include?" The standards themselves allow for variations from survey to survey depending on the specific needs of the buyer and circumstances of the property. For instance, some locations have building height restrictions; in such cases, the lender or buyer would want assurance that the current buildings do not exceed that height. Table A option item 7(c) requires that building heights be shown on the final plat. Obviously there is a cost associated with determining building heights, so for those areas where no such requirement exists, that option can be ignored. Table A attempts to tailor the survey to the specific requirements of the stakeholders.

Here are the Table A options:

1.Monuments placed (or a reference monument or witness to the corner) at all major corners of the boundary of the surveyed property, unless already marked or referenced by existing monuments or witnesses in close proximity to the corner.
2.Address(es) of the surveyed property if disclosed in documents provided to the surveyor, or observed while conducting the fieldwork.
3.Flood zone classification (with proper annotation based on federal Flood Insurance Rate Maps or the state or local equivalent) depicted by scaled map location and graphic plotting only.
4.Gross land area (and other areas if specified by the client).
5.Vertical relief with the source of information (e.g., ground survey, aerial map), contour interval, datum, with originating benchmark, when appropriate.
6.(a)If the current zoning classification, setback requirements, the height and floor space area restrictions, and parking requirements specific to the surveyed property are set forth in a zoning report or letter provided to the surveyor by the client or the client’s designated representative, list the above items on the plat or map and identify the date and source of the report or letter.
6.(b)If the zoning setback requirements specific to the surveyed property are set forth in a zoning report or letter provided to the surveyor by the client or the client’s designated representative, and if those requirements do not require an interpretation by the surveyor, graphically depict those requirements on the plat or map and identify the date and source of the report or letter.
7.(a) Exterior dimensions of all buildings at ground level.
7.(b)Square footage of:
(1) exterior footprint of all buildings at ground level.
(2)other areas as specified by the client.
7.(c) Measured height of all buildings above grade at a location specified by the client. If no location is specified, the point of measurement shall be identified.
8.Substantial features observed in the process of conducting the fieldwork (in addition to the improvements and features required pursuant to Section 5 above) e.g. parking lots, billboards, signs, swimming pools, landscaped areas, substantial areas of refuse)
9.Number and type (e.g. disabled, motorcycle, regular, and other marked specialized types) of clearly identifiable parking spaces on surface parking areas, lots and in parking structures. Striping of clearly identifiable parking spaces on surface parking areas and lots.
10.As designated by the client, a determination of the relationship and location of certain division or party walls with respect to adjoining properties.
11.Evidence of underground utilities existing on or serving the surveyed property (in addition to the observed evidence of utilities required pursuant to Section 5.E.iv.) as determined by:
(a)plans and/or reports provided by client (with reference as to the sources of information)
(b)markings coordinated by the surveyor pursuant to a private utility locate request
Note to the client, insurer, and lender - With regard to Table A, item 11, information from the sources checked above will be combined with observed evidence of utilities pursuant to Section 5.E.iv. to develop a view of the underground utilities. However, lacking excavation, the exact location of underground features cannot be accurately, completely, and reliably depicted. In addition, in some jurisdictions, 811 or other similar utility locate requests from surveyors may be ignored or result in an incomplete response, in which case the surveyor shall note on the plat or map how this affected the surveyor’s assessment of the location of the utilities. Where additional or more detailed information is required, the client is advised that excavation may be necessary.
12.As specified by the client, Governmental Agency survey-related requirements, (e.g. for HUD surveys, surveys for leases on Bureau of Land Management managed lands). The relevant survey requirements are to be provided by the client or client’s designated representative.
13.Names of adjoining owners according to current tax records. If more than one owner, identify the first owner's name listed in the tax records followed by "et al."
14.As specified by the client, distance to the nearest intersecting street.
15.Rectified orthophotography, photogrammetric mapping, remote sensing, airborne/mobile laser scanning and other similar products, tools or technologies as the basis for the showing the location of certain features (excluding boundaries) where ground measurements are not otherwise necessary to locate those features to an appropriate and acceptable accuracy relative to a nearby boundary. The surveyor shall discuss (a) the ramifications of such methodologies (e.g. the potential precision and completeness of the data gathered thereby) with the insurer, lender and client prior to the performance of the survey and, (b) place a note on the face of the survey explaining the source, date, precision and other relevant qualifications of any such data.
16.Evidence of recent earth moving work, building construction or building additions observed in the process of conducting the fieldwork.
17.Proposed changes in street right of way lines, if such information is made available to the surveyor by the controlling jurisdiction. Evidence of recent street or sidewalk construction or repairs observed in the process of conducting the fieldwork.
18.Pursuant to Sections 5 and 6 (and applicable selected Table A items, excluding Table A item 1), include as part of the survey any plottable offsite (i.e., appurtenant) easements disclosed in documents provided to or obtained by the surveyor.
19.Professional Liability Insurance policy obtained by the surveyor in the minimum amount of $____________ to be in effect throughout the contract term. Certificate of Insurance to be furnished upon request, but this item shall not be addressed on the face of the plat or map.
20._____ (Custom requirement)
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