“Updated” ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys
An all too common scenario in the life of any surveyor is the request to "update" an existing ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey and to do so at a rock bottom price. After all, “Nothing has changed and all you need to do is recertify it, right?”
“I get this request quite often,” says Brent Peters, Land Survey Leader – Minneapolis, “and I beg to differ. When dealing with an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey, there is no such thing as an “update,” there is only a new survey. This so called updated survey should not be confused with a revision, which does not require a new signature or certification date.”
There are many articles, essays, and treatises on the form and function of an ALTA survey, and this short commentary will not attempt to add to that narrative. Instead, it will attempt to describe why, in this surveyor's opinion, there is no such thing as an updated ALTA survey.
First and foremost, any ALTA survey that bears a new signature and/or certification date is nothing less than a new survey. Irrespective of the fact that the surveyor has performed the survey previously, there are several requirements within the minimum standards that the surveyor needs to meet. For instance, a surveyor “shall be required to revisit the site in order to meet ALTA/NSPS legal requirements regarding certification dates for field work.” This visit entails a re-evaluation of the site from the same perspective as the original survey and involves the survey crew inspecting the site for changes to physical improvements, searching for evidence of easements or claims not found within the public record, and looking for evidence of adverse uses; all of which can adversely affect title to the insured real estate. In addition to the required site visit, the surveyor of record is required to reexamine the easements and encumbrances provided within the title commitment and record research.
When the field and office work are completed, these findings are then compiled and certified as to the new date and current conditions, thereby effectively creating a new ALTA Survey with a new snapshot in time. There are many times that we perform an “update” of a survey that was completed one or two years ago, only to find that the site conditions have changed (e.g. a building expansion) or that there have been new easements created on the property.
Secondly we need to look at the update request from a liability perspective. The liability a surveyor incurs in the re-issuance, or an "update" of an ALTA survey, is commensurate to the liability of an entirely new survey. No professional surveyor should assume this liability at unfair and diminished fees.
ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys are one of the greatest tools an investor can use to evaluate a particular piece of real property. While having a prior survey “updated” undoubtedly will save you time and money, it’s important to understand the value it provides and the effect a current ALTA survey can have on your investment.
“Westwood surveyors are a first line of defense in risk management for clients and owners,” notes Brent. “We want nothing more than to provide an accurate and legal land document to help avoid or minimize their impact."