December 1, 2020  
 
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Alta Survey

Written by Brent Pace for Gaebler Ventures

When purchasing a property, one essential piece of information you need is an ALTA survey.

Purchasing commercial real estate can be a complex process, with a number of documents to sign and lots and lots of due diligence to perform.
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One important piece of information that you need to make a good decision is an ALTA survey.

What is an ALTA survey?

ALTA stands for American Land Title Association. The ALTA is a group that represents the land title and title insurance industry. In addition to ALTA, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) also accepts and conforms to ALTA survey conventions. An ALTA survey is a survey done in such a way that it conforms to ALTA standards. The good thing about this is that most surveyors know and understand this format so once you get used to reading an ALTA survey you will be able to do it over and over again on subsequent transactions.

What does an ALTA survey contain?

Like any survey, an ALTA survey shows the physical characteristics of the property you are purchasing. The first thing an ALTA survey will give you is a description of the metes and bounds of the property. In other words, the survey will give you the actual description (longitude and latitude) of the property boundaries. Most buyers perform their own survey for due diligence to ensure that the property they are purchasing is the size they thought it was.

An ALTA survey also shows improvements on the property, rights of way on the property, as well as any easements granted by previous property owners. For land that you are considering developing, this is incredibly important. If you have an easement granted to the power company that goes straight through the middle of the property, it may be difficult, or impossible, to develop.

ALTA Survey and Title Insurance

An ALTA Survey and Title Insurance go hand in hand. You need to have a current title commitment before you can complete and ALTA survey. This initial title commitment will provide the initial description of the property.

The title company, however, will need the ALTA survey to be completed to finalize the transaction. When a land title company provides title insurance to you, they are guaranteeing you that there are not any unknown encumbrances on your property. To make that guarantee effectively the title insurance company will use a survey to help delineate where the existing encumbrances, improvements, and easements are located.

ALTA is acceptable to lenders

One of the most important things about an ALTA survey is that it is approved by a host of different groups for use in transactions. That means that your financial partner will accept the information from an ALTA survey as accurate and can use it to help them determine the financing you will receive. This convention will save you money so that you do not have to conduct a special survey for each of the parties involved.

Clouds on the survey

When the surveyor does find an easement or encumbrances on the property, it will be shown graphically on your survey. This is often called a cloud. The cloud will be accompanied by a note that describes the nature of the encumbrance. This information is invaluable to a developer who wishes to improve the site.

Brent Pace is currently an MBA candidate at University of California at Berkeley. Originally from Salt Lake City, Brent's experience is in commercial real estate development and management. Brent will have tips for small business owners as they negotiate their real estate needs.

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