ALTA land surveyBefore you buy or sell a piece of real estate, whether it’s a developed lot or vacant land, you may have to get what’s known as an ALTA land survey. This is a far more detailed report on the real characteristics of the property, beyond what most surveys present.

ALTA stands for American Land Title Association, and the ALTA land survey can only be done by a registered, licensed surveyor, in accord with the standards set by the American Land Title Association and American Congress of Surveying and Mapping Standards. The latter organization has recently been merged into the National Society of Professional Surveyors, so the proper name of this kind of survey is now ALTA/NSPS land title survey. But we’ll use the shorter name for simplicity’s sake here.

When do you need it

When buying or selling property or land, a lender or title company can ask for an ALTA. It’s usually required for the sale or refinancing of commercial property in order to determine whether there are any “survey risks” such as disputes over boundary lines, encroachments, easements, claims and other conditions that may not be found in public records but can complicate the transaction.

Imagine depending on a basic survey and beginning construction or development on a property, only to find out that the land is prone to flooding, that there are competing claims to it, or a dispute over the boundary. These can completely derail a project, or at least significantly delay it and they can increase costs.

ALTA surveys are also a good idea when buying a vacant property. Vacant land may never have been surveyed, or was surveyed a long time ago with less accurate technologies and practices. In the case of an old survey report, it may not show easements, encroachments or other changes that have been applied in the meantime.

As a buyer, you may want a full detailed survey to make sure there are no boundary, encroachment or ownership problems that could develop into a problem later. The ALTA land surveyor does more extensive research to uncover these issues before you make the purchase.

If you are the seller of property, developed or not, you might want to commission an ALTA land survey to compare against the buyer’s survey, and to protect your interests.

What an ALTA land survey includes

An ALTA land survey usually costs significantly more than other types of surveys, because it is far more detailed. The report will show:

  • legal description of the property
  • boundaries of the property
  • fences
  • all improvements, building and structures on the property
  • easements, encumbrances and special access permissions
  • access and legal routes to the property
  • roads and paths crossing the property
  • buried and overhead utility lines
  • zoning classification
  • flood zone classification
  • water boundaries
  • identity of owners of neighboring properties

How it’s done

Gathering all this information requires a broader range of actions than most people think of when they picture surveying. It starts with deep research into public and private land records. This will find the title, as well as any competing claims and liens on the property.

Next is the field investigation, starting with original survey markers and boundary lines. If the land itself is difficult and rugged, this can be time consuming.

This is the stage that determines locations of buildings and structures, access points, roads and paths, bodies of water, utility features, parking spaces and more.

What you should look for

When you receive an ALTA land survey, make sure you’re getting what you pay for. In addition to a map or visual representation of the property, the survey report should include:

  • in-depth description of the land and its history
  • full description of all easements and encumbrances, as well as future development
  • zoning setbacks and limitations
  • possible encroachments across the boundaries or easements
  • description of all utilities
  • access points to public roads
  • flood zones
  • water boundaries
  • names of the owners of adjacent properties.

Stay up to date

The ALTA land survey standards are updated every few years. The last update was in 2016, so make certain that the ALTA survey you pay for was conducted according to the latest standards.

McNeil Engineering’s ALTA land surveying team has provided these detailed, comprehensive surveys for a broad range of properties in the Intermountain area: hospitals, schools, restaurants, retail developments, office development and other commercial real estate.

Do you need an ALTA land survey?

Because of the high standards for research and report development, you can rest assured about any hidden defects or property features before you begin expensive development and construction on a property.

Take a look at our ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey page, and give us a call to find out more about our specialized team and whether this detailed report is what you need to help you make crucial property decisions.