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Thomas D. Kearns


ALTA Surveys vs. New York Style Surveys

In many parts of the country surveys for commercial property sites are typically performed  in accordance with ALTA (American Land Title Association) standards.  But like many other commercial real  estate matters in New York, New York City is different.  In a recent email exchange Tom Glatthaar of Fidelity’s New York office wrote the following explanation of the history and custom of New York City surveys:

“Substantively, ALTA/ACSM standards are different and more specific than standards to which an ordinary New York survey is performed (such surveys are done to the standards of the New York State Land Surveyors Association and to similar county organizations, but none are as detailed as the national standard). For example, ALTA/ACSM standards require that all easements affecting the subject property that are located with specificity be plotted onto the survey.  ALTA/ACSM standards require reference to a current title commitment and cross-reference to the exceptions therein.  ALTA/ACSM surveys require measurements with a higher level of precision (three decimal points, as I recall) than New York surveys do. In addition, ALTA/ACSM surveys generally include zoning and setback information, flood information, utility hookups and other detailed information on the property. While many of these things can be incorporated onto a New York survey at an additional cost, they can rarely (if ever) be incorporated into an existing New York survey that is updated by visual examination by Lovell-Belcher, Harwood or any of the other surveyors. It is that visual examination practice that is the most common one in New York City (visual examinations are generally not done in the suburbs). One reason that ALTA/ACSM surveys are not “market” in New York  and that visual examinations of existing New York surveys are accepted is cost. On a New York City property improved with a large office building, it can cost less than $1,000.00 to update a New York survey by visual examination. A new ALTA/ACSM survey of that same property would cost multiples of that figure, and such a survey would lose its ALTA/ACSM status if updated by visual exam in the future  rather than being brought to date under ALTA/ACSM standards by the surveyor (again, at substantial additional cost).

All of that being said, we see more and more requests for ALTA/ACSM surveys in New York City each year. While it is certainly not market to get such a survey yet, it is no longer rare, especially in the outer boroughs, on construction loans and on new construction.”

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