Top 10 Changes to the minimum requirements for ALTA surveys

#3: Who's doing the research?

It’s critical that potential buyers and developers of real property understand everything about a property they are purchasing and what matters may affect it. It makes sense then, that the ALTA standards have historically included an entire section that addresses records research (those matters in recorded or unrecorded documents that describe and affect a subject property.) The 2016 ALTA standards clarify what documents are to be provided to the surveyor and what the surveyor’s role is in performing the necessary research in order to complete the survey.

The records research section of the 2016 ALTA standards serves many purposes. Two of the most critical components are the record legal description of the property being surveyed, and the easements or encumbrances that benefit or burden the property. It is most common for these pieces of information to be provided to the surveyor by the title company via a title commitment and supporting exception documents. However, beyond the typical documents included in the title commitment, the 2016 ALTA standards also state that the surveyor be provided with other supporting documents necessary to perform the ALTA survey. 

Adjoining deeds are a great example of information beyond the standard title work documents (i.e. title commitment and exceptions) that are to be provided to the surveyor as part of the ALTA survey. With the exception of adjoining deeds that are part of a platted subdivision, the 2016 ALTA standards state that the deeds of neighboring properties be provided as part of the records research package. Evaluating adjoining deeds is critical to the ALTA survey in order to determine risks such as gaps, overlaps, and gores. Often times though, the research for adjoining deeds can become a major undertaking depending upon where a particular property is located. Consider a new shopping center that borders a residential neighborhood. There could be several hundred adjoining land owners along the development parcel!

So who should do the research?  Should the surveyor do it or the title company? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always clear cut. In many cases, the surveyor and title company can work together to gather the necessary information needed to perform the ALTA survey. In the end, performing the research for a particular project is like any other project task; the process will vary depending upon the size and scope - and the requirements may impact cost and schedule.

It is also important to note that many states have specific requirements regarding the surveyor’s obligations towards records research as part of the survey. Some states have fairly minimal laws or standards relating to the surveyor’s responsibility in conducting a survey, whereas, others are more defined. Regardless of the client or title companies obligations towards providing records research, state requirements may dictate that the surveyor conduct their own research in order to complete the survey.

Ultimately, performing the records research requires collaboration between the client, surveyor, and Title Company to ensure that data required to perform an ALTA survey is adequate. Having a basic understanding of each party’s responsibility in obtaining the information, and engaging in discussions about records research before the work begins, will help keep projects on track and on budget. As records research is one of the more critical components of the ALTA survey, clarification of research responsibilities is a positive improvement to the 2016 ALTA standards.


Coming up next - #2: Phase 1 anybody?

View #4: What's the deal with setbacks?

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