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ALTA Survey in Los Angeles high-rise district
ALTA Survey FAQ's
1. What is an ALTA Survey?

An ALTA Survey (aka ALTA/ACSM Survey) is made for the purpose of supplying a title company and lender with survey and location data necessary for issuing an American Land Title Association extended coverage title insurance policy. An ALTA Survey is a highly customized work product - it is designed to satisfy the needs of lenders, corporations and title companies when dealing with valuable commercial, industrial and institutional properties. Each survey is a unique blend of standardized specifications coupled with selected optional items.

2. Why is there an ALTA standard?

The practice of land surveying varies widely across the United States. Considerable differences in professional standards of care exist between the regions of the country, between each of the fifty states, even between local counties. A boundary survey in one of the original thirteen colonies, for example, is a very different animal than a boundary survey conducted in the sectionalized land of the Public Land Survey System of California.

Land surveying standards vary widely, even within Southern California. In terms of information gathering and measurement tolerance, the recognized acceptable standard of care for surveying in the sagebrush country of the Eastern Mojave Desert is quite different than what passes for muster on Wilshire Boulevard in the City of Los Angeles. 

Since the early sixties, land surveyors, the title insurance industry, and financial institutions recognized the need for a consistent national standard for addressing due diligence issues in the financing and insuring of major real estate properties. In 1962, the American Land Title Association (ALTA) joined forces with the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) to agree upon and promulgate a set of minimum standards that could be relied upon nationwide by lenders and title companies and land surveyors.

The collaboration between lenders, title companies and land surveyors yielded the Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys, a standard that has been modified and strengthened eight times over the last five decades. The latest version, adopted in 2011, is a strong effort that goes a long way in addressing current issues impacting due diligence land surveys of real property.

+  ALTA Surveys - what they are and why they are important
+  Highlights of the ALTA 2011 revised standards
+  On selecting the ALTA Table A options
+  Our take on national brokers of ALTA/ACSM surveys
Outline of

Minimum Standard Detail Requirements
ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys  [1]

- Effective February 23, 2011 -

1. Purpose

2. Request for Survey

3. Surveying Standards and Standards of Care 
    a. Effective date
    b. Other requirements and standards of practice
    c. The normal standard of care 
    d. Boundary resolution 
    e. Measurement standards
4. Records Research 

5. Field Work
    a. Monuments
    b. Rights of way and access
    c. Lines of possession, and improvements along the boundaries
    d. Buildings
    e. Easements and servitudes
    f. Cemeteries
    g. Water features

6. Plat or Map
    a. The evidence and locations gathered during the field work
    b. Boundary, descriptions, dimensions and closures
    c. Easements, servitudes, rights of way, access and record documents
    d. Presentation

7. Certification

8. Deliverables
5. Should I choose a national ALTA/ACSM broker?

Several national level ALTA Survey provider companies have sprung up in the Midwest over the past couple of decades. Billing themselves as "due diligence coordinators" and "ALTA Survey brokers", these outfits aim to earn a hefty middleman's fee by inserting themselves between the needs of clients and local land surveyors. They generally employ a cadre of telemarketing sales reps to snare large corporate accounts and match them up with low bid practitioners. It's our understanding that clients don't have a say in the selection process, or have a direct contractual relationship with the land surveyor with the muddy boots who will be conducting the work on the ground.

The stock-in-trade of ALTA brokers appears to be high volume and cookie cutter uniformity. Many of the brokers have slick looking websites that make a big splash about dubious benefits such as "standardized color-coded surveys", and maps that are all uniformly folded to 8 1/2" by 11". At Bell Land Surveying, we believe that there are much more substantive matters to consider when acquiring real estate.

Many members of the California Land Surveyors Association have expressed grave concerns about the professional practices of these out-of-state entities. The California State Board of Registration is aware of the situation and has been monitoring the activities of these firms.

If you work for a Fortune 500 company with a strong legal team in place to protect your interests, perhaps hiring an ALTA broker might streamline your work. But reputable professional land surveyors abound throughout California. We believe your interests will be better served by forging a long-term relationship with an experienced land surveyor who you have vetted personally. See our suggestions on how to select a land surveyor.
​~ TABLE A ~


1. Monuments placed at all major corners of the boundary of the property.
2. Address(es) of subject property.
3. Flood zone classification.
4. Gross land area (and other areas if specified by the client).
5. Vertical relief, contour interval, datum, and originating benchmark identified.
6. Current zoning classification.
7. (a) Exterior dimensions of all buildings at ground level.
    (b) Square footage of exterior footprint of all buildings.
    (c) Measured height of all buildings above grade.
8. Substantial features observed in the process of conducting the survey such as parking lots, billboards, signs, swimming pools, landscaped areas, etc.
9. Striping, number and type of parking spaces in parking areas, lots and structures.
10. (a) Determination of the relationship and location of certain division or party walls.
      (b) Determination of whether certain walls are plumb.
11. Location of utilities existing on or serving the surveyed property as determined by:
      (a) Observed evidence.
      (b) Observed evidence together with evidence from plans obtained from utility companies or provided by client, and markings by utility companies and other appropriate sources (with reference as to the source of information).
- Railroad tracks, spurs and sidings;
- Manholes, catch basins, valve vaults and other surface indications of subterranean uses;
- Wires and cables (including their function, if readily identifiable) crossing the surveyed property, and all poles on or within ten feet of the surveyed property. Without expressing a legal opinion as to the ownership or nature of the potential encroachment, the dimensions of all encroaching utility pole crossmembers or overhangs; and utility company installations on the surveyed property.
12. Governmental Agency survey-related requirements as specified by the client, 
13. Names of adjoining owners of platted lands according to current public records.
14. Distance to the nearest intersecting street as specified by the client.
15. Rectified orthophotography, photogrammetric mapping, airborne/mobile laser scanning and other similar products.
16. Observed evidence of current earth moving work, building construction or building additions.
17. Proposed changes in street right of way lines, if information is available from the controlling jurisdiction. Observed evidence of recent street or sidewalk construction or repairs.
18. Observed evidence of site use as a solid waste dump, sump or sanitary landfill.
19. Location of wetland areas as delineated by appropriate authorities.
20. (a) Locate improvements within any offsite easements or servitudes benefitting the surveyed property that are disclosed in the Record Documents provided to the surveyor and that are observed in the process of conducting the survey (client to obtain necessary permissions).
(b) Monuments placed (or a reference monument or witness to the corner) at all major corners of any offsite easements or servitudes benefitting the surveyed property and disclosed in Record Documents provided to the surveyor (client to obtain necessary permissions).
21. Professional Liability Insurance policy obtained by the surveyor.

[1] Outlines have been edited to provide relevant portions in a limited space. Refer to the complete text of the ALTA/ACSM Standards for full meaning and context.

6. Which "Table A" options to select?

Recognizing that clients often have unique needs for information that go beyond the minimum standard detail requirements, the ALTA/ACSM standard makes provision for permissible additional items that may be shown on the map of the ALTA Survey. These optional items are to be mutually agreed upon by the client and the surveyor, and their terms should be negotiated at the time of the initial request for survey.

A caution: over time, some of these "optional" items have a tendency to crop up in the boilerplate loan requirements of real estate lenders. We've managed to save our clients a lot of unnecessary expense by providing only the land surveying services that make economic sense for the project. We'll be happy to sit down with you to identify the ALTA optional items that will be of long-term benefit to you. Don't hesitate to call us to discuss your specific needs.
3. What's new in the 2011 revision?

The 2011 revision is a major update that sports a new mandatory Surveyor's Certificate and reflects recent developments in best practices for land surveying. The revision stipulates a statement of the relative positional precision of measurements via least squares error analysis for the first time, and makes provisions for emerging technologies in aerial mapping and 3D laser scanning. These improvements in the requirements should foster a better understanding of the role of the land surveyor in real estate transactions, and encourage cost effective solutions for presenting complex information in ways that promote informed decision making.

4. What's included in the 2011 Minimum Detail Requirements?

That 2011 revision was a top-to-bottom rewrite of the standards. It tightened up many instances of conflicting language and terms that had created much confusion over the years in the minds of land surveyors, attorneys and title officers. An outline of the 2011 requirements follows. Please don't hesitate to call Bell Land Surveying for a copy of the ALTA/ACSM specifications and to discuss your extended coverage title insurance land surveying needs.
What Clients Say     

"Thanks for your excellent service and professional attention to our project. It has truly been a pleasure working with you. I will not hesitate to recommend your services if I have customer needs in the future."

Sharon Wood
Real Estate Developer
​Brea, California

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​About the Author:

Douglas Bell, PLS, is a Professional Land Surveyor licensed in four western states, and is a CFedS, a BLM Certified Federal Land Surveyor. He provides a range of property line, ALTA, boundary survey, topographic mapping, easement determination, encroachment investigation, and utility location services.

Mr. Bell provides land surveying services to engineers, architects, attorneys, and other land professionals in the private and public sectors in Southern California, primarily in Los Angeles County, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County. He can be reached via email:

25 year member of the California Land Surveyors Association
Doug Bell is a CFedS - a Certified Federal Surveyor
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