What is an ALTA Survey and When Should a Buyer Get an ALTA Survey Done?

An ALTA (American Land Title Association) survey is a detailed land survey that provides comprehensive information about a property. It goes beyond the standard boundary survey and includes additional details required by title companies and lenders for commercial real estate transactions. ALTA surveys are typically conducted by licensed surveyors and adhere to specific standards set forth by the American Land Title Association and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.

Here are the key elements included in an ALTA survey:

  1. Boundary Lines and Property Corners: The survey delineates the exact boundary lines of the property and identifies all corners and markers. This information ensures that the buyer knows the exact dimensions and limits of the property.
  2. Easements: ALTA surveys identify any existing easements on the property. Easements are rights granted to other parties, allowing them to use or access the property for specific purposes, such as utilities, roads, or drainage.
  3. Encroachments: The survey reveals any encroachments, where a structure or improvement from a neighboring property extends onto the subject property. Encroachments can lead to legal disputes, so it’s crucial to identify and address them before a purchase.
  4. Improvements and Structures: ALTA surveys show all existing structures, buildings, and improvements on the property. This information is vital for understanding the layout and potential uses of the land.
  5. Zoning Classification: The survey includes the property’s zoning classification, which indicates the permissible land uses and restrictions according to local zoning ordinances.
  6. Flood Zone Determination: If the property is located in a flood-prone area, the surveyor will determine its flood zone designation. This information is important for insurance purposes and regulatory compliance.
  7. Setback Lines: Setback lines indicate how far structures must be located from the property’s boundaries. These setbacks are determined by local zoning regulations and are crucial for planning future developments.
  8. Title Commitment Review: The surveyor reviews the title commitment provided by the title company. This helps identify any title issues that might affect the property.

When Should a Buyer Get an ALTA Survey Done? ALTA surveys are particularly important in commercial real estate transactions due to the higher stakes and complexities involved. Buyers should consider getting an ALTA survey done in the following situations:

  1. Commercial Transactions: ALTA surveys are almost standard in commercial real estate transactions, especially when lenders are involved. Lenders often require an ALTA survey to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the property’s boundaries and potential encumbrances.
  2. Large or Complex Properties: If the property is large, irregularly shaped, or has complex structures, an ALTA survey provides detailed information crucial for development, construction, or land use planning.
  3. Title Insurance Requirements: If the buyer intends to purchase title insurance, the title company might require an ALTA survey to underwrite the policy accurately. The survey helps identify any risks related to property boundaries and encroachments.
  4. Development or Construction Plans: If the buyer plans to develop or construct on the property, an ALTA survey is essential. It provides vital information for site planning, ensuring compliance with zoning regulations, setback requirements, and other land use considerations.

In summary, an ALTA survey is a detailed land survey tailored for commercial real estate transactions. Buyers should consider getting an ALTA survey done in situations involving commercial properties, large or complex properties, title insurance requirements, or plans for development and construction. It provides valuable information, ensuring informed decision-making and mitigating potential risks associated with the property.