Creating standards for land surveys is vital for the title insurance industry, lenders and clients involved with real estate. Historically, there have been different requirements among title insurers, sometimes even within the same company.

First in 2011, and more recently as of February 23, 2016, the American Land Title Association and the National Society for Professional Surveyors have codified minimum standards for the ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey.

Want to learn more about who pays for a land survey? Click here for more information to learn about land surveys. 

Why a survey is important for a land transaction

parcel of land

A survey and inspection can uncover matters relating to a parcel of land that may not be revealed by the public record. In technical terms, a land survey divulges specific and pertinent information that conveys a distinct and clear understanding of issues that relate to the use of the land.

The key interested parties in a land survey include the title insurance company, the lender, the client (who may or may not also be the insured party), and the surveyor. The primary responsibility of a surveyor is to conduct the survey and to prepare a map or plat of the property.

The ALTA/NSPS survey follows strict guidelines set forth in the guidelines published in 2016 relating to elements that are required for a report. In order to ensure that the right report is prepared, a client must specify that it requires an “ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey.” 

“The ALTA requirements now show the four parts of a complete2016 ALTA Survey in an outline format. These headings are Fieldwork, Preparation of Plat, Table A information, and Certification.” – The ALTA Survey Handbook

There are three elements that are common to all reports:

On-site fieldwork

Fieldwork occurs when the property in question is being surveyed by a lender, insurer, or client. Fieldwork may include the following: Monuments, Rights of Way and Access, Lines of Possession, and Improvements along the Boundaries, Buildings, Easements and Servitudes, and Water Features. – ALTA Survey Handbook


Preparation of a plat or map

“A plat or survey map is a drawing created by a surveyor that graphically describes any type of land survey and may also be referred to as a property map…” – ALTA Survey Handbook

The details described will depend on the type of survey provided, state laws, and the surveyor’s experience in the field. 



“The ALTA Survey must bear the exact certification language detailed by the 2016 Minimum Standard, which indicates that the survey was conducted in accordance with the Standard.” – ALTA Survey Handbook

In addition, Table A of an ALTA survey includes optional items that are included at the request of the party that commissions the survey. It is important to distinguish between required and optional items prior to commencing the work.

Related: ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey Minimum Standard Detail Requirements


When an ALTA survey may not be ideal

Man Thinking about a decision

Certain types of properties like marinas, campgrounds, trailer parks and non-fee-simple ownership interests can have issues that fall outside of the rubrics in an ALTA survey. But for many land transactions, an ALTA survey is ideal because it represents the most stringent industry standards. Insurance companies and lenders usually require ALTA surveys to be performed to mitigate certain risks associated with land surveys, boundary disputes, encroachments, easements, and others discovered during the research and revision of professional surveyors.

This detailed analysis of the property is essential since the ALTA survey can reveal title issues that can be solved before finalizing a purchase. Additionally, ALTA surveys are favorable if you purchase a vacant land property since most cases have not been surveyed or are outdated. It is essential not to confuse an ALTA survey with a boundary survey.

Even though boundary surveys include a property’s boundaries and include easements on the land, an ALTA survey provides very in-depth information including those in the boundary survey, title report based on the Minimum Standards, and optional items requested by the part that commissioned the survey. If you plan on performing land renovation and development projects, an ALTA survey is required to ensure the accuracy of the property’s boundaries, dimensions, and size. 

Unsure if an ALTA survey is for you? Contact Millman National Land Services for assistance with your next survey and to see which one is best for you!