Getting a land survey, specifically an American Land Title Association (ALTA) Survey, during a real estate transaction is crucial to understanding exactly what is being conveyed in the real estate asset.  Transacting parties need to know the boundaries of the property, all improvements included within, easements, encroachments, and other significant features and information.   

Sound simple and obvious?  Not always. 


Common Issues with Defining Real Property

A piece of land is a piece of land, right?  Well… Ever come across a property that has multiple legal descriptions of the same land? How about this as an example: In one title commitment, there are three legal descriptions defining the exact same tract of land.  The first legal was referencing the property as a lot in a recorded subdivision.  The second was a “property also described as” type that described it as a metes and bounds legal description.  The third legal was a prior surveyor’s “As-Surveyed” legal description, also in metes and bounds.  Are they all correct or is it just absurdity?  The as-surveyed legal description had slightly different distances than the other metes and bounds legal description, and the bearings for the lot description referenced on the plat did not agree with the other two.  Certainly is confusing.  Better hope that your planned building extension complies with zoning.  If it doesn’t, maybe try again with a different legal description!   

It is somewhat common to have “measured distances” (the measurements taken by a surveyor of the property line while conducting the field survey) that differ slightly than the record title legal distance distances.  Ah geez, is it 252.13 feet or is it 251.85 feet, and does that change whether the fence now encroaches onto the Trump Tower property?  The Donald will not be happy.  

It also happens from time to time that a record legal description may not “mathematically close” when tracing the boundaries around the property.  This is a grievous error in the description and will not do.  It is very beneficial to have the property description in the deed actually describe the property you are trying to purchase.  Heck of a concept.  So, as fellow blogger Maura O’Conner tells it, a client of hers had received the right to foreclose on a line instead of the property inside the line – obviously a problem! 

These issues, of course, are rectifiable at the outset of a property transaction or financing by hiring a qualified and skilled professional surveyor to conduct an ALTA Survey, sort out the issues and give you a piece of mind.  Besides they are cheaper than psychiatrists!

It is also important to know the easement rights that are appurtenant, or beneficial to the property, and the rights of others that encumber the property.  What kind of easements exist across the property and where they are located?  Does the easement on another property, benefit this property?  Where does the electric company have the right to dig a 50 foot trench through the busy mall parking lot?  The same is true with encroachments.  For example, it’s important to know if a fence line, paving or a structure encroaches upon a neighboring property.  This can be a major problem if half of your 45.2 million dollar Swedish spa building is located on The Donald’s Bel Air estate. 

There are many other important features of a property that are crucial to know up front and are identified by the ALTA Survey.  Is your property in a flood zone?  How many parking spaces and what kind?  What zoning is listed for the property on the survey?  How many burrito wrappers did The Donald throw on the property?  (Just kidding Mr. Trump.)  There are millions and millions more things, just ask a surveyor.


Scope of Work for an ALTA Survey

Often clients call and say “We need an ALTA Survey… I don’t know what the requirements are, I just need it yesterday.”  Well sure, we’re happy to help, but a survey-savvy client better understands what they need and demands the product they deserve.  Some of the scope of work for an ALTA Survey is optional and some optional items may increase the cost significantly, so determining if that option is necessary is important.  Well-informed clients can better determine what scope of work they need, and get a survey that answer their questions and satisfies the lender.  

The 2011 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys has 22 optional items and is noted as Table A Optional Items.  Most of these items are routinely included in the survey.  Other item, such as Table A Item 5 “contours”, and 11b “underground utilities” can be pricey and put a dent in The Donald’s wallet.  For example, locating and/or marking underground utilities can be extremely expensive if we don’t have an “as built drawing” showing the location.  If you are developing the property, however, it would be important from a design stance to know where the utilities are located.

If the client isn’t sure of what they need, a good surveyor should ask enough information about the project and consult with the client to determine what scope of work is appropriate. 


Upcoming Webinar on ALTA Surveys

I’m putting on a webinar this Wednesday November 9th at 2pm Eastern that will discuss these issues and others in depth, and should help clients have a better understanding of the survey process and what scope is right for their project.  I’ll be fielding questions as well.  You can sign up here