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Not our parent€™s ALTA survey

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Written by Austin Haynes, SVP-Development (Richmond, VA)

ALTA/ACSM surveys have been the standard for over a generation, but significant changes have taken place to it since the beginning of 2016.  Let’s just start with the ACSM part of it.  This acronym referred to the governing organization that set standards for surveys, the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.  It has ceased to exist and has been replaced by the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS).  The effective date of the new standards for the ALTA/NSPS survey was Feb. 23, 2016.  All other versions of the standards for the purpose of contracting became null and void as of that day.

This also means if you need a simple update to an ALTA, it may not be that simple anymore.

It is expected that ALTA surveys will be more time consuming and a bit more expensive under the new standards.  There is also a new level of responsibility on the person ordering the survey, as what is standard and what is optional has changed; additionally certain information must be provided to the surveyor for inclusion upfront or it will not be part of the survey.

Some highlights of the changes include:

  • If documents are not provided, the surveyor must perform any necessary research pursuant to statutory and administrative requirements.
  • Better clarification regarding the reporting of access, curb cuts, width and location of travel way, etc.
  • Only perimeter of graveyards to be reported, not individual grave sites.
  • Easements and Servitudes is now a standard- refers to observable utilities and markers also.
  • The surveyor must also summarize any easements, servitudes, and rights of way encumbering the property. This only refers to what is visible during the survey.  Any actual encumbrance is a matter of title.
  • Any special instructions to surveyor should also be listed in a summary. For instance, if circumference of all trees on the property was to be listed, that instruction should be summarized as an addition.
  • There are a lot of changes when it comes to optional areas. Some old standards are now optional or require work on the part of the seller or person ordering the survey.  An example is if you want the classification, height, and floor area space restrictions or parking requirements listed, the client will need to provide an appropriate zoning letter or report. Depending on the jurisdiction, such a letter could add two weeks to the process.
  • If any setbacks are listed in a zoning letter, they will be depicted as long as they do not require an interpretation by the surveyor.
  • Names of adjoining landowners is now an option. Only the gpin or recording data will be listed.
  • Wetland Delineation will be shown only if there are visible markers.

The new standards are available at the link below:

As the commercial real estate market has come back from the recession, many of us have found that ALTA surveys were taking anywhere from three to five weeks. It is expected that the new standards will add an additional one to two weeks of time. Simple updates will have to be formatted according to the new standards and may take as long as three or four weeks. Be prepared, order early in the process. Good luck and keep building!

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