Updating Surveys to Meet New 2021 ALTA Survey Minimum Standards

Transaction parties are often looking at options to save due diligence costs or expedite the delivery of reports to get projects to closing. Regarding land surveys, assumptions may be made that the prior surveyor should be able to simply add another party to the certification or update an existing survey without a lot of effort or cost.

The Cost of Updating an ALTA Survey

In most circumstances, the prior land surveyor cannot simply add another party to the certification or update an existing survey without additional effort and cost, particularly as it relates to the recent adoption of the new 2021 Minimum Standard Detail Requirements for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys, effective February 23, 2021. More than the timeline or the overall cost, the most important considerations for survey updates are:

  • the age of the existing survey
  • what may be acceptable to the lender and/or the title company
  • what the surveyor is willing to provide

Recertification of Land Surveys – Under Discretion of Surveyor

In the case of a recertification, it is important to remember that the land surveyor is being asked to extend liability to additional parties that were not involved when the survey was originally performed. Whether the surveyor is comfortable in doing so may be dictated by:

  • the date of the survey
  • state statutes for the practice of land surveying
  • their professional liability insurance carrier

The surveyor may object to the elimination of additional fieldwork especially if the survey being considered was performed to a prior version of the ALTA Survey Minimum Standards. A surveyor is a licensed registered professional and if he/she feels that what is being asked to provide might jeopardize that license or their professional standards, they certainly have the right to say no to the request.

When an update to a survey is requested, the scope of services can greatly vary and typically depends on the date of the existing survey. If the existing survey was NOT performed to the most current Minimum Standard Details, the surveyor must reconcile it to the current requirements as there have been some modifications and deletion of definitions within the Optional Table A Items in the 2021 Standards.

Updating Surveys to Meet New ALTA Survey Standards

Fieldwork will need to be performed to verify any changes to the property or to adjoining properties that may cause encroachments. There are also some additional fieldwork and data reporting responsibilities in the new standards. Typically, the title work is updated, and the land surveyor will need to revise the survey accordingly. The cost of an update can vary depending on what may be involved even to the extent that the surveyor is presenting a new survey and not just an update.

Clients often advise the surveyor that there have been no changes to the property since the last survey was performed, but a surveyor will still have to verify this by fieldwork before extending their liability. In some cases where the work required to “update” a survey is extensive, it may be beneficial to seek quotes from other surveyors in addition to the prior surveyor.

An important conversation among transaction parties before defining the scope of work with the surveyor is whether the date of the existing survey is acceptable. If a new date of the survey is required to address the new 2021 Minimum Standards, an update to the survey referencing the NEW standards will be required and a renegotiation of the Optional Table A Items addressing the new 2021 definitions will need to be considered.

For more information on the new 2021 ALTA Survey Minimum Standard Requirements, download our Handbook for ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys (PDF).