The ALTA Survey: What it Shows and Why It Is Important

by Marianne Sorensen

An ALTA survey is performed to standards jointly adopted by the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. The detailed standards guide the surveyor in preparing a survey that meets the needs of the buyer and the requirements of the title insurer.

An ALTA survey is one means of reducing risk in a real estate transaction. The process of preparing an ALTA survey may show that possession or use of the property does not conform to record information, with the result that the extent of title and rights do not always conform to the boundaries set forth in a deed. An ALTA survey provides detail, such as fences, trails, roads, utility lines and other features of the property, and may highlight the need for further investigation into the possibility of adverse rights. Also, an ALTA survey can establish that the legal description being relied upon in the purchase contract and deed can be used to actually locate the property on the ground.

If a buyer requires an extended coverage owner’s title policy, it must provide the title insurer with an ALTA survey so that the insurer can delete the standard exceptions for (i) easements, or claims of easements, not shown by the public record; and (ii) encroachments, overlaps, boundary line disputes, or other matters that would be disclosed by an accurate survey and inspection.

(A boundary survey shows the boundary lines between parcels of land, but not necessarily any improvements on the land. It does not conform to uniform requirements and does not typically show the level of detail that a buyer of commercial real estate needs to evaluate.)

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