I’ve gotten a few questions recently about whether we can do a survey and it NOT be an ALTA Land Survey. In most cases, the Title company tells the client that they don’t need the ALTA survey, and that, likely, they will “write over” the survey exclusions because of the total value of the property. So, the question is whether an ALTA survey is still needed, or can a Boundary Survey done to whatever state standards be completed.
Here is a discussion by one of our clients and his attorney AFTER we completed the Boundary Survey and sent it to him. The initial Attorney communication with our client:
Good afternoon. As this is only a boundary survey, I will be unable to address exceptions 9-12 and 14. I made an incorrect assumption that you were getting a tabled ALTA survey, and with a boundary survey I cannot tell where/how these affect the subject property.
-Jonathan, Senior Attorney
I recalled that I had a pretty long discussion about the difference between an ALTA Land Title survey and an ordinary Boundary Survey. I quoted him about $12,000 for the ALTA survey. We did the simple Boundary survey for around $7,000.
Then, our client forwarded the next email from the Attorney and asked me for help with it:
Are you able to shed any light on this?
Begin forwarded message:
Subject: Re: Boundary Survey Fort Scott, KS
Date: October 19, 2021 at 1:05:04 PM MDT
Understood, the problem is that I just cannot state with any certainty. For instance:
- Exception #9 is a water line easement that is 30’ wide from the water line as laid. I cannot see where the water line is laid.
- #10 is a guy and anchor easement that lies 770’ north and 60’ east of the southwest corner of the northwest ¼ section. I cannot see if this crosses over any homes, etc… and if it matters.
- #11 may be a blanket release and may not be an issue
- #12 is the gas company easement with a precise easement location and we want to make sure it does not run under homes as that is a hazard and affects business risks.
Finally, I see emails relating to this but the boundary survey and the commitment legal descriptions are not the same, so we need to confirm with the engineer the proper legal and correspond with Title accordingly.
As an add-on, we had another client ask Ferd how he assesses MHP surveys and the need for ALTA surveys, here is what Ferd said:
I have bought +/- 20 properties and have gotten an alta survey on +/- 18. In a couple of them, there was a suitable boundary survey and there was no infill/easement issues. If the property is on a plotted lot in an urban area then it is less necessary (at least sometimes) because there is a plat or other similar docs available. I have been saved from getting burned once or twice, I have utilized the info from surveys to help with zoning/permits/infill, and I have also identified problems that allowed me to force a utility provider to pay $100k+ in damages; in my commercial days, the survey was crucial for development, govt approvals, and sometimes for fishing out negative restrictions. My policy is “always buy the ALTA”, and I will rarely ever deviate from it. I add on Table A items for about one in four projects, depending on the business plan (including topo, infill, or rezone issues). (Emphasis added by JKM)
Hope this helps!
-Jonathan, Senior Attorney
It is possible to add any items to a “State Standards” Boundary Survey. Most folks, for example, want the easements that are found on the Title Commitment to be located or analysed. This is an additional step needed and is typically outside the scope of the boundary survey.
Then, if something is found on the Boundary survey related to an Exception or Easement, then, in order to present it to the Title Company for their review, they will most likely want the ALTA standards survey.
Reason for the ALTA Standards
Recall that the main reason the ALTA standards were developed in the beginning (1962) was that Title Insurers and Attorneys didn’t want to have to deal with FIFTY different standards for surveying. They only wanted to have ONE. So, the Title Insurance Professionals (the ALTA organization) and the Surveying Professionals (NSPS now) drafted the ALTA standards. And, they have been revised and improved over the years with revisions, additions, and some deletions, as the title insurance and surveying industries have matured.
It’s hard to say if the State Standards for Surveying have been updated and improved over the years without a thorough review of each state. So for me, in agreement with the experienced commercial investors, my recommendation is to “always buy the ALTA” and “rarely ever deviate from it.”
A Boundary Survey means to (a) Determine either the entire perimeter of a parcel or tract of land, or a portion of the perimeter of a parcel of tract of land; (b) Establish or to reestablish a boundary line on the ground or to obtain data for preparing a map or plat showing boundary lines; or (c) Divide or consolidate the parcels of tracts of land surveyed.
An ALTA Survey means a survey satisfactory to the “Administrative Agent” prepared in accordance with the standards adopted by the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors, latest in 2021, known as the “Minimum Standard Detail Requirements of Land Title Surveys” and sufficient form to satisfy the requirements of any applicable title insurance company to provide extended coverage over survey defects and shall also show the location of all easements, utilities, and covenants of record, dimensions of all improvements, encroachments from any adjoining property, and certify as to the location of any flood plain area affecting the subject Real Property.
Advantages of an ALTA Survey
In my opinion, one of the major advantages of an ALTA survey over a Boundary survey is the Title Search done as part of the ALTA Title Commitment. This search uncovers and provides a list of all of the recorded easements that both benefit the subject tract of land and those which burden the parcel. Here are some more advantages.
- Uniform Standards. As we mentioned above, this standard is used across all 50 states and is understood by all the professionals working in commercial real estate.
- Easements Shown. We spoke about this one above also. You most definitely want to know where all of the easements that burden your property are located. And, if there are those that benefit you, or you need them, this is equally as important.
- Title Research. The research done by a professional title abstractor is extremely valuable, as we said.
- ALTA Table A Items. These give you an opportunity to add items that you might need in addition to those already in the ALTA standards.
- Title Exceptions. You see exactly what your title insurance policy will not cover. And, the survey shows where those items are located on the ground.
- Consistent Scope of Work. A difficult task in any contract is deciding exactly what needs to be done. The ALTA Standards are a very detailed Scope of Work for a Commercial Real Estate survey.