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Seeking Sites for Development? Here’s Why You Should Get an ALTA Survey

Written by Matthew Kelly, PLS and published in the Mid Atlantic Real Estate Journal on 9/17/21

An ALTA survey identifies any potential problems that may exist on a property or in historical records. It helps ensure the integrity of the title. If you are buying or selling an existing property, or purchasing land for development, you should obtain an ALTA survey during due diligence. It’s the best time to get an accurate picture of the property and protect your investment.

As a multi-state licensed Professional Land Surveyor with over 25 years of experience, I’ve seen many times where a property owner doesn’t get an ALTA survey, only to find out about hidden easements or right-of-ways after settlement. These issues can delay a project, require additional approvals, result in the loss of tenants, or worse.

ALTA surveys, more formally known as ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys, incorporate both a title search and a land survey. They follow the standards set forth by the American Land Title Association and the National Society of Professional Surveyors and depict the surveyor’s findings on a detailed map. These standards provide a consistent expectation across the country.

What can an ALTA survey reveal on potential development sites?

An ALTA survey typically identifies:

  • Property boundaries
  • Easements and restrictions
  • Encroachments or encumbrances
  • Improvements
  • Local zoning information
  • Flood zone designation
  • Utilities
  • Right-of-Ways

For a commercial property, if you’re developing a pad site or a larger parcel, the ALTA will also alert you to:

  • Setback issues
  • Variances needed
  • Existing building heights
  • Number of regular and accessible parking spaces
  • Impervious surfaces and the ability to make future improvements

When should I get an ALTA survey?

Lenders for most commercial, industrial, or large residential real estate transactions typically require ALTA surveys. If not required, you should get one when:

  • Future development or a different use is planned
  • Multiple users are involved including multiple tenants and party line walls
  • The property is located in urbanized or growing suburban areas
  • There is lack of previous ownership transition and documentation

What you need to know about The TABLE A

TABLE A – OPTIONAL SURVEY RESPONSIBILITIES AND SPECIFICATIONS items cause the most confusion.

Table A is located on sheets 9-11 of the “Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys.” These are the optional items beyond the standard instructions. The biggest favor you can do for yourself to avoid last minute surprises, is to know your lender’s requirements. Get their Table A requirements before you contract an ALTA survey.

This is important because:

  • The items selected in the Table A will determine the scope and fee of an ALTA survey. For example, Item #5 may require full site topography and that will definitely drive up the price.
  • Item #20 on the Table A is open for a write-in request not covered in the Table A options. So, if there is an abnormal lender request, that’s where you will find it.
  • It is an absolute must to get your surveyor the title report BEFORE they start the fieldwork. I can tell you from experience that this always comes back to haunt both the surveyor and the client. There could be an easement or restriction listed in the title and we would never even know it existed or have any reason to investigate it in the field. With the title report, the surveyor is able to find these items and direct the field crew to look for them. An important step to save time and money!

Bottom line: Save yourself the headache of potential issues – have your title report and ask your lender about Table A requirements.

It’s important to note that you can’t rely on old title reports and surveys. They can be used as a reference, but an update should be completed if it’s older than 6 months.

Download the entire article here.

Matthew Kelly, PLS

Ready to request a survey?
Contact Matt Kelly, PLS
Principal, Land Surveying
610-265-8323 or mkelly@navenewellnet.

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