De-Mystifying ALTA Surveys

By Aaron Demo, PLS

Professional Land Surveyors are constantly helping clients understand what they need when they say they need a “survey.”  Surveys can range from Improvement Location Certificates (“ILCs”) to the infamous “ALTA surveys”.  Surveys are generally subject to state and local regulations, but can still vary in dramatic ways.  The ALTA survey is unique in that it is governed by a very detailed set of requirements and should only vary based on specific client-dictated requirements.

The American Land Title Association/American Congress on Surveying and ALTAMapping (“ALTA/ASCM” or just “ALTA”) surveys are considered to be the most complex, complete, and accurate surveys for a parcel of land. They are compiled with a guarantee that they comply with requirements set forth by ALTA, ASCM, and the National Society of Professional Surveyors.

ALTA surveys are typically necessary for issuing title or mortgage insurance on higher-value properties such as commercial, industrial, or larger residential parcels. ALTA surveys must meet certain requirements to be called an ALTA survey and they also have optional requirements that may or may not be appropriate for all sites. The ALTA requirements document describes these ALTA survey requirements and was last updated in 2011.  Read them here. Table A, located at the end of the ALTA requirements, is a set of optional items such as topography, utility locates of varying levels, parking space delineation, and other items, including non-visible items that may encumber a property. Due to their complex and comprehensive nature, ALTAs are the most expensive land surveys, costing up to tens of thousands of dollars for larger or more complex sites.

A land owner can usually recover survey fees or provide added value to a land transaction if they perform a comprehensive ALTA survey. A seller of a parcel that will most likely be redeveloped can add value to the transfer by including utility information and topographic information on their survey to assist the future developer. It is always more cost effective to have these items surveyed up front within your ALTA services than it is to hire another surveyor at a later date to fill in the gaps.

What are some factors to consider when ordering an ALTA?

  • Title Commitment
    • A title commitment is required. Provide it and all supporting documentation to your surveyor prior to beginning any work.
    • B-2 title exceptions (easements, covenants, conditions, restrictions, etc.) are underlying items that are not always visible on the ground but need to be evaluated and may affect the subject property.
  • Land mass and physical features of the land
    • This determines the minimum effort of surveying the standard requirements of an ALTA.
  • Table A items
    • In addition to the standard requirements required for an ALTA, these are additional items that may be required to be shown on the survey.
    • Commercial sites and sites that are being redeveloped will require additional scope.
  • Schedule
    • ALTA’s are complex and have high standards, providing ample time to complete is recommended to ensure the best quality product.

One should consult with their engineer, surveyor, or land planner for guidance prior to ordering an ALTA survey to make sure all the parcels needs are satisfied in a timely and economic manner. Determining the scope of what you need in the ALTA will greatly help in determining the time and level of effort that will be needed. Baseline Engineering Corporation is staffed with just the right complement of these professionals to assist you on your next ALTA or other land development project.  For more information contact aaron@baselinecorp.com.

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