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Measure Twice, Cut Once

Minor errors in a land survey can lead to major problems during the construction process.

This article is about land surveying and problems that can arise from human error. The title is from a carpenter’s proverb (not in a biblical sense), and refers to the fact that in the world of  surveying, accuracy is critical to prevent costly problems.

The Value of Land Surveying

Land surveying plays an important role in the commercial real estate industry. Without it the size of the land, its improvements and the building size would be difficult to establish. The ALTA land title survey is the key to verifying this and other information, such as the location of utilities, the property boundary and how it relates to title (see the full review checklist for ALTA surveys here). Similarly, a zoning report for undeveloped or developed properties can insure that there will be no impediments in this regard for the real estate transaction. Land surveying also plays a critical role in new construction, as will be seen.

Ownership of property in the United States is confirmed by a "certificate of title" to protect owners or lenders against financial loss from defects in title or liens, the first land title insurance company, the Law Property and Trust Society, was formed in Pennsylvania in 1853. The American Land Title Association (ALTA) is a national non-profit trade association representing the interests of nearly 4,500 title insurance companies, title agents, independent abstracters, title searchers, and attorneys across the United States founded in 1907.

ALTA has created standard forms of title insurance policies for Owners, Lenders and Construction Loan policies. Important for this story, the association also has created a standard ALTA Survey used as part of the title insurance confirmation process in commercial real estate transactions. Here are the actual current ALTA Survey standards (2011).

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