Do I Need an ALTA Survey?


An ALTA survey is a land title survey that assesses the boundaries, titles and improvement locations of a property. It meets the needs of a title insurer to remove the standard survey exceptions from the existing title policy while showing improvements, encumbrances, rights-of-way, and any other items that may affect the property in question. If you plan on purchasing or refinancing real estate, an ALTA survey can be a valuable tool, allowing both lender and buyer to evaluate the property while analyzing all potential benefits and risks of owning it. The ALTA land survey conforms to a nationally recognized set of minimum standards jointly established by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), as well as the American Land Title Association (ALTA). Once an ALTA survey has been performed, there will be a clear and accessible record containing relevant information concerned with the present and future use of the land, and all encumbrances and restrictions that may affect the property or its use.

The Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys underwent the first significant re-write since 1962. As a result of over two years of coordinated effort from a select group of ALTA title attorneys and a large committee assembled of National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) members, this re-write encompassed a comprehensive overhaul, becoming the new standard. The ALTA Land Title Survey Minimum Standard Detail Requirements were put into effect on February 23rd, 2011, which means that these new requirements will supersede previous versions of the standard. In order for the ALTA survey to be considered accurate, the land surveyor should be aware of and recognize all federal, state, and local standards.

Another use of the completed ALTA land survey is to provide “extended coverage” by removing the “survey exception language” from a property’s title insurance policy. This applies to both owner and lender’s title insurance coverage, but the extent that these standards may be deviated from depends on the title insurer to provide the required insurance coverage. ALTA surveys are often used as title insurance underwriting tools on future property transactions. The ALTA survey provides relevant information to all parties that are involved in a property transaction, answering various questions and concerns regarding that property in an official and unbiased manner. ALTA surveys are often prepared for commercial properties, providing necessary information to the Title Company in order to assist in insuring title both to the land and the improvements that have been made on it. It can also provide a useful tool for the purchaser, providing information that can assist them with their future plans for the property.

An ALTA survey provides two things: it specifically locates all record and non-record matters affecting the property, and satisfies the title insurer’s ALTA title coverage requirements for Survey Risks including encroachments, easements or claims not shown by public records, and boundary line disputes. Providing a thorough ALTA survey can be a vital part in clarifying a preliminary title report where the facts on the ground are unclear or seem complicated, or when many hard-to-find easements, or other exceptions have been raised. These possible complications can be best assessed by a professional, and it is suggested that the relevant parties contact a land surveyor early on in the process to facilitate the decision-making process.

Any time you are considering buying or selling commercial real estate, it is important to conduct due diligence throughout the entire process, ensuring that there are no undocumented aspects of said property that will impact the use or value of the property later on. To this end, additional elements may be added to the ALTA survey to further enrich the provided information. These options are referred to as “Table A,” and may assist the purchaser in obtaining additional detailed information about various aspects of the property. Combined with the current title report, the use of additional “Table A” items may help to define the scope of work while expanding on the basic information provided—allowing all interested parties a very thorough picture of the property in question.

It is generally recommended to request an ALTA land survey at least 30 days prior to the need for title insurance, as this survey will provide information necessary to the issuance of title insurance. In addition, the survey must be completed prior to the closing of escrow. Although 30 days is the recommended minimum request time, there are many factors that may extend this timeline. Possible factors may include the property’s size, a lack of clarity regarding the property’s boundaries or difficult terrain, as well as the number of items that are being included in the report. It is wisest to speak with a land surveyor as early on in the process as possible, in order to maximize the use of your time.

In conclusion, you should get an ALTA land survey if you are purchasing or refinancing real estate, your current land survey predates February of 2011, your purchaser or title insurer requires information or has concerns regarding the property, or when there are questions or concerns regarding property boundaries, easements, encroachments, exceptions, record and non-record matters affecting the property. The ALTA land survey is useful in providing sound and comprehensive information regarding the property, especially when used in conjuncture with the extra information provided by selecting pertinent options from “Table A”. Contacting a land surveyor early on in the process will help to minimize wasted time and effort, as well as streamlining the proceedings.

ALTA Land Title Survey Requirements

What is an ALTA Land Title Survey?

An ALTA Survey is a land title survey. A survey product that meets the needs of the title insurer to remove the standard survey exceptions from the existing title policy. The American Land Title Association (ALTA) created this survey product in order to provide both lender and buyer with relevant information concerned with the present and future use of the land, as well as all of the restrictions and encumbrances that may affect the property. This information allows the lender and buyer to evaluate the property and analyze all potential risks and benefits of owning the property.

The officially stated purpose of the ALTA Survey is to remove the “survey exception language” from the property’s title insurance policy for both the owner and lender’s title insurance coverage—this is commonly referred to as providing “extended coverage”. The extent that these standards can be deviated from depends entirely on the willingness of the title insurer to provide the insurance coverage required by the buyer or lender for the property transaction. Many ALTA Surveys are used as title insurance underwriting tools on subsequent property transactions. Anytime there is a real estate transaction where many parties are involved, the parties’ various interests in the property must be taken into account. The ALTA Survey provides the relevant information to the interested parties, answering numerous questions and concerns in an unbiased and official manner.

An ALTA Survey provides the following information:

  1. The surveyor’s findings about the correct boundaries of the property
  2. Any observed easement, as well as any easements and exceptions cited in the title commitment
  3. Other significant observations about the property including improvements, utilities, and public access
  4. Some surveys may include specifics related to zoning, flood hazard concerns, topography, and parking configurations

Those who are selling their property can also use and rely on the ALTA Land Survey to protect them from potential claims from the lender or buyer after conveyance of the property title. Often within a purchase agreement the seller is asked to guarantee that all improvements comply with current zoning regulations, and occur within the property boundaries, that others do not have undisclosed rights to the property (in the form of leases, easements, or other encumbrances) and that no boundary lines conflict with adjoining property owners. The ALTA Survey provides verification on these and other matters to the seller, as they existed at the time the survey was taken.

ALTA Survey Minimum Standard Detail Requirements

Purpose

When asked to insure a land title without exception as to the matters discoverable from survey and inspection of the property (especially those not evidenced by the public record), members of the ALTA have specific needs unique to title insurance matters. Because of this, it is vital that the clients, lenders, insurers and insured can all rely on the surveyors to conduct surveys and produce associated plats or maps that are accurate, complete, uniform, and of a professional quality.

Request for Survey

It is necessary for the client to request the survey, as well as providing a written authorization to proceed from the person or entity responsible for paying for the survey. The insurer is not responsible for any costs associated with the preparation of the survey unless it is specifically authorized in writing by the insurer. It may be necessary for the client to get permission for the surveyor to enter the property, adjacent properties or offsite easements.

Survey Standards

As of February 23, 2011, the ALTA Land Title Survey Minimum Standard Detail Requirements were put into effect and will supersede previous versions of the standard. Surveyors should recognize and be aware of all local, federal and state standards in order for their survey to be considered accurate.

Records Research

The surveyor must be provided with reliable and appropriate data for the preparation of the survey. Complete copies of the current record documents pertaining to record descriptions, easements, servitudes or covenants burdening the property, as well as any other documents containing the desired information affecting the property being surveyed should be provided to the surveyor.

Field Work

The survey must be recorded on the ground (unless otherwise specified by the client) and should include details about the following items, if they are present on the property: cemeteries, monuments, rights-of-way and access to the property, lines of possession, locations of all walls, fences and other improvements within five feet of the property boundaries, locations of all buildings on the surveyed property, water features including ponds, lakes, streams and rivers bordering or running through the property, evidence of any easements or servitudes burdening the property—including evidence of any underground presence of easements or servitudes—and any evidence that the property is being used by those other than the owners of the property.

Plat or Map

Dimensioning of plats and maps of the surveyed property must be done in accordance with the appropriate standards set by the ALTA. Proper presentation, meaning that the plat or map should be drawn on a sheet of no less than 8.5×11 inches at a legible standard engineering scale, and must include a clearly indicated scale in words, numbers, and graphics. In addition to the items described in the above section, plats or maps must include the following details: boundary descriptions, dimensions and closures, easements, servitudes and rights-of-way access and record documents.

Certification

To certify that the map or plat and the survey upon which it is based were made in accordance with the 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements, the plat or map in question must bear proper certification as laid out by ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey guidelines.

Deliverables

Copies of the plat or map must be provided to both insurer and client by the surveyor. The plat or map may be made available as hard copies printed on durable and dimensionally stable material, or as digital copies as long as it is in accordance with the terms of the established contract. When requested by the client, or required by law, copies of the plat or mat should be able to be produced in recordable form, recorded, or filed with the appropriate agency or office.


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