Top 10 Changes to the minimum requirements for ALTA surveys

#8: Isn’t it enough to just show the easement lines?

As I was reviewing the new ALTA standards, I noted a variety of changes that will improve past requirements, clarify prior confusion, or add to the minimums. There is one change in particular that I found sort of surprising as well as overdue. It refers to the required information for showing easements and servitudes (areas of the property legally designated for other specific purposes) upon the surveyed property. It made me wonder why it took 60-plus years to make this a standard. This change is a good one, and a bit of background information should help to explain why.

One of the fundamental reasons owners and developers choose to get an ALTA survey is to better understand the risks associated with the purchase of a piece of property. Risk comes in many forms and, in the United States at least, the principle of “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” still holds true for most real estate transactions. Whether it is an environmental issue, title issue, or access issue, owners and developers are charged with fleshing out these matters as they seek to make an informed decision regarding the purchase of a piece of property. 

An integral component of addressing risk associated with the purchase of property is the review of the easements or other matters that benefit or burden the property being surveyed. It is the responsibility of the surveyor to show, to the extent possible, on the survey the width and recording information of the various easements and servitudes, along with notes that address various issues relating to them. Most record easements and servitudes are provided to the surveyor via the title commitment; however, there may be cases where the surveyor discovers a document not included within the title commitment, or observes an unrecorded use on site that is not disclosed by the records (i.e. private drive, or private utility). This requirement isn’t new, nor has it been changed with the new updates. We’ve always been required to show this information on our ALTA surveys. After all, what good is showing an easement if no one knows how wide it is, what the nature is, or which document created it?

Under the new standards, however, surveyors will be required to include a complete summary of all rights of way, easements, and servitudes as provided to the surveyor in the title commitment, or obtained by the surveyor during the course of his or her research. Among other things, the summary includes the recording information, notes regarding whether the easement is blanket or not (that is, can it be defined?), and notes regarding the easements location with respect to the subject property. And that’s when it hit me. I couldn’t believe summarizing this type of information on the face of the survey in this manner was just now being required.

Sure, the 2011 standards provide verbiage requiring that the easements and servitudes, along with notes, be shown on the ALTA survey, but they did not require a complete summary in the manner that’s provided in the upcoming standards. Many surveyors, including me, have been summarizing the easements on ALTA surveys for years, but not all have done so. Including a summary not only provides the opportunity for all interested parties to clearly understand the effects of certain issues on the subject property, it also encourages dialogue and collaboration to determine the best solution moving forward. The importance of communication between all of the stakeholders on particular project cannot be overlooked.  An ALTA survey should not be a means to an end. Rather, it should be a conduit for discussions between the owner, surveyor, attorney, and Title Company. Part of the reason for getting an ALTA survey is so that the parties can review and address issues before it is too late. This update to the new standards is a positive one for all affected. 

Coming up next - #7: Does your site have access?

View #9 - Aren’t ALTA surveys just for fee title property?

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