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What’s the Difference Between an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey and a Boundary Survey?

ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey  vs   Boundary Survey:  What is the difference?

A boundary survey generally shows the property lines, easements, and other details as mandated by the state standard. An ALTA/NSPS  Land Title Survey (formerly ALTA/ACSM) must adhere to a set of national standards put forth by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (now NSPS) and adopted by the American Land Title Association.

These national standards seek to establish a common standard for commercial real estate transactions. The ALTA/NSPS standards require a more detailed report than the typical border survey and include:

  • Easements benefitting or encumbering a property.
  • Possible encroachments across the boundary or easement.
  • Whether there is access to a public road.
  • Zoning setbacks.
  • Flood zones that may impact the property.
  • Evidence of any use by other parties.
  • Water boundaries within the property.
  • Evidence of cemeteries.
  • The names of the owners of the adjoining property.
    Quite a list, isn’t it? But wait…there’s more!

Before the surveyor even begins to measure the property some pretty in-depth research must be performed. The current title commitment is examined. The municipal and country records are searched for possible encumbrances. And the research itself provides some foreknowledge of the land and any possible conflict before the direct survey begins.

In other words, the ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey is the Cadillac of boundary surveys and, like a Cadillac, is more costly than a plain old Buick of a boundary survey. In fact, it often covers more than the state standards. But not always. To avoid confusion, a recent edition of the standards contained a clarification that stated if there was a conflict between the state standard and the ALTA/NSPS standard, the most stringent should be applied.

The ALTA survey is also held to very strict standards of accuracy. The allowable error in linear feet for urban property is about 1 foot in just less than 3 miles. In other words, for every 15,000 feet the survey can only be off by as much as 1 foot.

The standards loosen as population density and level land decreases.

Why go to all this expense and trouble of ALTA Survey?

Why go to all this expense and trouble? This is the type of survey often used when real estate is being purchased by an out of state party or a consortium of others that live outside the state where the property lies. The ALTA/NSPS is a national standard that puts everyone on the same page of expectations.

The ALTA/NSPS does not license surveyors; only the state can do that. But a smart surveyor will still be familiar with the ALTA/NSPS standard in order to know which standard is in effect for each part of the survey. By meeting just one set of standards the surveyor could be open to a lawsuit if and when a conflict arises.


Also read:  

New ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey Standards to Take Effect in February 2021

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Land Surveyor

Mark Smith
Columbus Ohio Land Surveying
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(614) 591-8665

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