What is an ALTA survey?

ALTA surveyALTA stands for the American Land Title Association. The ALTA survey provides specific type of information, which may include the boundary lines, location of the improvements, location of the main building, identification of access rights by service companies or easements, rights of way, and the location of ancillary buildings. Access by service companies may include the gas, water, telephone and other utilities. This detailed map of the property boundaries and existing improvements provides significant observations about the property or the insured state and how they relate to the title. In short, conducting an ALTA survey is just like conducting a combination of the title survey, location and boundary survey.

Because of title insurance matters, the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), developed a set of standards governing all ALTA surveys. Normally, the ALTA survey is prepared in reference to the title commitment for the description of the property and any specified encumbrances. The areas of ownership and the detailed encumbrances, if any, related to the title is shown graphically. The certification includes the names of the buyer, seller, title company, insurance, and the lender.

The typical survey includes

  • Easements
  • Encroachments
  • Access or annotation for access to a public road
  • Flood zones
  • Zoning setbacks
  • Evidence of use by parties not stated in the title ownership/commitment
  • Water boundaries
  • Evidence of cemeteries
  • The names of the owners as specified in the title of the adjoining property
  • Current title commitment
  • Show access to streets, roads, curb cuts, setback lines


When do you need an ALTA survey?

An ALTA survey may be required by your insurance company, but it is not really legally required. However, it is important to know where you stand and what your risk are when you plan to buy a property and have it insured. A topographical information is obtained when the lot is vacant to determine the viability of the land for a building or a road construction. For one real estate transaction, there are many parties with different interests involved. The survey delivers relevant information beneficial to all parties’ concerns and questions.


You may be asked to give up the ownership of a title because of claims made against the land after you purchase the property. It is best that you request for the ALTA survey to know more about the

  • History of the property
  • Claims made on the property
  • Conflicts with boundary lines with owners of the adjoining properties
  • Rights of other parties on the property related to easements, encumbrances and leases
  • Contiguity
  • Matters about the property that may affect the compliance or zoning
  • Determine if all improvements were made within the boundary of the property


The ALTA survey is always based on the current title commitment. The document serves as a protection for the new owner of the property and to prevent any claims from anybody after the conveyance. It ensures that no one else has rights to the property other than those disclosed in the survey. The measurements legally conform to the current zoning regulations. Verifications are with the date of the field observations.


Request for the ALTA survey

The client shall make the proper arrangement for the survey. A written authorization is needed from the person or company who pays and requests for the survey. The insurer is not responsible for any costs associated with the ALTA survey unless stated in writing. The request for the survey shall specify that the ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey is needed with a list of the items to be incorporated. The scope of work needs to be discussed with the client and the insurer. Permission is required to enter and survey the property, offsite easements, and the adjoining properties.


Surveying standards and standards of care

The 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for the ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey is effective February 23, 2011.


Boundary resolution

The surveyor is required to retrace and establish the boundary lines and corners of the property being surveyed in accordance to the appropriate boundary law principles in the course of performing the research and survey.


What’s trending now?

The implementation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures rule impact the mortgage business. TRID, also referred to as Know Before You Owe, is working as designed for consumers. The American Land Title Association revealed a larger portion of the homebuyers are actually reviewing mortgage documents before closing in the post TRID world. Source: Ben Lane, Housing Wire TRID Works: More Homebuyers Actually Review Mortgage Documents.


There has been a change with the new Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for the ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys dated February 23, 2016. Lenders and owners need to include the standard survey exceptions if no recent survey is available. This includes facts, rights, interests or claims not shown in public records, encroachments, overlaps, boundary line disputes, and rights or claims of parties in possession. Coverage without the exceptions should meet the Minimum Requirements with inclusion of certain fieldwork, plat or map as reflected on the title, survey responsibilities and specifications, certification of compliance with the Minimum Standards, and delivery of the plat or digital image or map in hard copy. Lenders should incorporate the survey requirements to incorporate the new minimum requirements. Source: Adams and Reese LLP in ALTA/NSPS Revise Minimum Requirements for Land Title Surveys.


Refinancing your mortgage is not as easy as the financing. The best you can do is to conduct an ALTA survey method to raise your chances of being approved. ALTA surveys are more detailed. It elaborates every single detail and vital information associated with the property. It also includes the zoning and flood zone classifications. Source: The Sequitur, Advantages Of Refinancing Your Commercial Property Using ALTA Land Survey.


In case of disputes, what you need is an ALTA survey

Title insurance policies may not cover boundary defects. Usually, the purchase and sale transactions may issue an ALTA policy or any other policy acknowledged by your state besides the ALTA. The policies may not be identical and are subject to limitations. The unfortunate limitation is significant in case of disputes associated with the real estate transaction. Buyers and sellers are represented by real estate agents. There could be an exclusion of the insurance related to boundary defects, which may not be reflected in the blueprint. Valid claims can be prevented before the closing of the sales had there been an ALTA survey.


Due diligence is generally defined as comprehensive information and thorough research before contract signing. You need to assess any real estate before closing the sale. This is known as due diligence, which in the context may need the ALTA survey. Due diligence means title review, real estate surveying, zoning, environmental inspection, and property inspections.


The ALTA survey certification is required by most financial and lending institutions. This is one strategic method to obtain an extended coverage for the title insurance policy. Extended coverage removes the survey exception language from a title’s insurance policy. The underwriting tool used for this is usually the ALTA survey. Remember that ALTA includes claims not shown on public records. You may want to consider this fact before buying the real estate property. Land disputes are stressful. You may want to avoid this before sending the check for payment. Boundary issues or encroachment concerns should not be ignored because they usually lead to disputes and court litigations. This can be quite expensive for you. In matters of security and protection, the ALTA survey is highly recommended for you.