An ALTA/ACSM Land Title Survey is a survey of a parcel of land using a set of national standards developed by the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the National Society for Professional Surveyors (NSPS), formerly the American Congress on Surveying & Mapping (ACSM).

ALTA surveys provide assurance against unseen factors that could affect how a property is used or valued. Seven advantages to using the ALTA land survey standards are:

1. Uniform Standard. The ALTA standards are a uniform nation-wide survey standard. These national standards make it easy for the title company to review the survey and write title insurance on the property, which controls the financial risk for the owners and lenders.

2. Encroachments/Easements Shown. Encroachments are when a property owner violates the property rights of his neighbor by building something on, or over, the neighbor’s land. If described sufficiently, an ALTA survey should show potential encroachments and plot recorded easements on the survey drawing. Whether a potential encroachment or physical condition is an actual encroachment or not is a legal determination.

3. Familiarity. Most all of the parties in any deal – lenders, attorneys, surveyors, and title professionals – are familiar with the ALTA survey standards. Working together with this same survey standard allows them to “play off the same sheet of music,” so to speak.

4. Title Research. The surveyor has the advantage of having the deed research from the title commitment before issuing the final version of the survey. In other standards, this is not required.

5. ALTA Table A Items. The ALTA survey standards include a list of optional items (Table A) that may be needed and ordered when the original survey is ordered. This may save money since the work is done at the same time as the boundary survey.

6. Title Exceptions.  Title exceptions are matters which are not covered by the title insurance policy. Two, or more, such exceptions deal with matters which may be found by an accurate survey of the property; encroachments, for example. Exceptions limit the liability of the title insurer to the insured.  Completion of an ALTA survey allows the title insurer to remove those exceptions.

7. Consistent Scope of Work. Usually the hardest part of any contract is determining the scope of work and how it will be completed. The ALTA survey standards provide a consistent scope of work that has been used since 1988 and is frequently reviewed and updated to conform to the latest technology and legal issues.

The most recent version of these standards is the 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys. Westwood has created a separate, easy-to-read Table A for your use.

ALTA surveys have been used for more than 25 years to catch many potentially costly issues. ALTA surveys are most often needed when financing a commercial project. Depending on the project, choosing an ALTA survey might be one of the best initial investment decisions an owner or developer can make.

Nate Carlson, PS, CFedS