What Are Some of the Different Types of Land Surveys and Certificates?

What kind of land survey and certificates you need depends on the type of property you’re buying, your intended use and the region. Through our nationwide surveyor network, we coordinate the right survey to meet your requirements on the title commitment. Here are a few different types of land surveys, lesser surveys, and certificates available through our network:

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Boundary/Mortgage Survey

This is an industry standard survey used in mortgage transactions. Usually, this survey is used to delineate the lot lines, improvements, and measurements between them.

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Standard Lot and Block Survey

A PropLogix Standard Lot and Block Survey is defined by a residential platted lot and block under 10,000 square feet with one improvement under 3,000 square feet.

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Improvement Location Certificate

Sometimes called a Surveyor Location Report or “lesser survey,” this is not a survey but a report compiled by a land surveying professional and used as a minimum standard of due diligence.

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Elevation Certificate

An Elevation Certificate is typically obtained along with a survey when the property is in a Special Flood Hazard Area. This is usually required for home insurance purposes.

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ALTA survey

Named for the American Land Title Association, this survey is sometimes called an ALTA/ACSM or ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey. It has strict requirements used for commercial real estate transactions.

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Topographic Survey

A topographic survey is commonly performed on vacant or undeveloped land. It show the contours, relief, roughness, shape, configuration, or three-dimensional characteristics of the surface of the terrain.

Why Choose PropLogix for Land Surveys?

Land Surveys and Title Insurance

Land surveys are sometimes a requirement on the title commitment that must be completed by the title agent to issue a lender and homeowner’s title insurance policy. 

Talk to the title company or law firm handling your closing to determine what type of survey is required to issue a title policy that will protect you and your home from boundary disputes. Your coverage will be outlined in the title commitment, and in some cases, you may be required to purchase an endorsement to protect against boundary disputes.


What is a Boundary Survey or Mortgage Survey? 

These terms are often used interchangeably, and their use can vary from one region to another. But usually, a boundary survey, or mortgage survey, delineates the lot lines, improvements, and measurements between them. This type of land survey is named as such because it determines property lines and defines true property corners of a parcel of land and in addition to including improvements, may also include easements, setbacks, and encroachments.


What is a PropLogix Standard Lot and Block Survey? 

This survey is only available for properties that meet the following requirements: 

  • Residential platted property with a lot and block legal description 
  • Lot size under 10,000 sq. ft
  • One improvement under 3,000 sq. ft 


This survey usually accommodates the requirements of a lender’s title insurance policy for a typical financed residential deal.

What is an Elevation Certificate?

An elevation certificate is a document providing information on the elevation of a building or other improvements relative to mean high tide. This is not a land survey, but professional surveyors and qualified engineers typically prepare the document. 

An elevation certificate is typically obtained along with a survey when the property is located in a Special Flood Hazard Area, as per FEMA floodplain maps. It’s required for residences and businesses located in high-risk areas to determine your flood insurance premium. 

Although an elevation certificate isn’t required for every purchase, this information is still valuable to help determine your property’s flood risk. Some areas that aren’t designated as high-risk on FEMA’s floodplain maps have experienced unexpected and unprecedented flooding. 

Don’t assume that a property located outside of the high-risk areas doesn’t have a chance of flooding. An Elevation certificate can help you determine your property’s flood risk

What is an ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey?

An ALTA/NSPS Land Title Survey is approved by the American Land Title Association and is typically conducted for a commercial real estate transaction. This is required to issue title insurance free and clear of issues discoverable from survey and inspection, which may not be found by a public records search.

This survey is also referred to as an ALTA/ACSM or ALTA Survey — for the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping or the National Society of Professional Surveyors, respectively. The National Society of Professional Surveyors is the legal successor organization to the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping. 

man performing a land survey

American Land Title Association Survey Requirements

An ALTA/NSPS Title Survey is much like a typical boundary survey but with an additional set of strict minimum requirements, including:

  • Building locations 
  • Land improvements
  • Property boundaries
  • Legal property description
  • Encroachments
  • Easements and encumbrances
  • Access points 
  • Zoning classification
  • Flood zone classification
  • Water boundaries 
  • Evidence of the use of the property by others 
  • Utility features 
  • Parking lots and spaces
  • Additional information 


A boundary survey isn’t nearly as comprehensive as an ALTA/NSPS Title Survey, but most residential sales don’t require this extensive information. Be sure to confirm with the title company or law firm handling your closing to determine if this survey may be needed to issue a title policy without any survey or boundary exceptions. 

Before you order an ALTA Survey

Due to the intensive nature of this survey, surveyors need certain items from the title agent or requestor before beginning work, including: 

  • Title commitment
  • Table A form
  • Copy of Abstract
  • or Copy of Vesting Deed
  • Any special requests


We are unable to gather quotes from qualified surveyors without a Title Commitment or Table A form. Copies of the abstract, vesting deed, and any special requests are helpful in fulfilling your request promptly and accurately. 

What is a Topographic Survey?

A topographic survey shows the contour of the earth’s surface and/or the position of fixed objects on the land. This can include trees, streets, manholes, utility poles, and more. This type of survey is commonly performed on vacant land. 

The Surveyor uses terrestrial or GPS surveying methods to make the topographic survey. The survey is a 2D representation of the three-dimensional space. The typical characteristics you’ll see on this type of survey include: 

  • Contours. These lines show the low and high points of the earth’s surface. Peaks and valleys are drawn with lines representing varying intervals of slopes depending on what data is gathered on-site. 
  • Elevations. Main floor elevation of buildings, location and elevation of natural or man-made bodies of water, and spot elevations to represent the general character of the terrain are included.
  • Fixed objects. The location of permanent structures like retaining walls, bridges, and culverts as well as lakes, rivers, streets, entrance driveways, and sidewalks are typically shown on or near the surveyed parcel. The general location of trees and other vegetation is also included. The surveyor may locate individual trees and bushes, outer perimeter of a wooded area, or other specifications if requested by the client beforehand. 
  • Utilities. Overhead utility lines, street lights, pipeline markers, and any other visible evidence of utility improvements can be included in the survey. Items located underground may also be surveyed but require additional equipment and research. 


The NSPS has created standards for topographic surveys to provide surveyors and clients with a guideline. Before ordering this survey, review the standards and include any special instructions that are required for your project. 

What is a lesser survey? 

A lesser survey isn’t technically a survey. These surveys are certified by a licensed surveyor, but they are estimates of measurements. These types of “surveys” are sometimes required by lenders as an economical alternative to a full survey and act as a quick check on potential boundary issues. 

Some of the common terms for these include:

  • Improvement Location Certificate 
  • Mortgage Location Survey
  • Mortgage Survey Plan
  • House Location Survey
  • Mortgage Inspection
  • Location Drawing
  • Physical Improvement Survey 

Man performing a land survey using a surveying instrument

This type of survey may go by another name in your area, so homebuyers and sellers should be sure to check with their agent or the surveyor if a full survey or lesser survey is being performed. The following states require an acknowledgment form to be completed before ordering a lesser survey. 

Most of these lesser surveys have explicit language stating that they are not to be used by the current property owner in lieu of a full survey. These are only for the use of the title underwriter and mortgage company. Title agents should be sure to clarify with homebuyers that this document has limited uses for future planning. 


Some buyers may want to consider getting a full survey depending on your plans for the property. 

A lesser survey may be sufficient for a homebuyer if: 

  • The most current full survey is less than five years old. 
  • A permit history shows no recent work or improvements to the land since the last survey was conducted. 
  • Your title policy doesn’t require a full survey to remove exceptions related to boundary issues, or you’re okay forgoing this coverage. 
  • You have no plans to build or make improvements on the land. 


How much does a land survey cost? 

A PropLogix Standard Lot and Block survey cost $350 for the survey only, and $400 with an Elevation Certificate. Please call or register for a PropLogix account to confirm availability and pricing in your area. 

Pricing and availability of surveys and lesser surveys depend on your region, location, size, shape, whether the property is developed, and other factors related to the history of the property like the difficulty of determining monuments. 

The national average of a land survey is between $380 – $675. 

Surveys required for the development and purchase of commercial property like ALTA Surveys and Topographic Surveys are considerably more. These can cost anywhere from $2,000 to several hundred thousand dollars depending on the size of the property and the complexity of the records. 

Ordering a land survey

After you’ve determined what survey is required for your real estate transaction be sure to include the title commitment or vesting deed with your request. 

Some states require work order forms to be completed before work begins or a waiver to be signed by the client acknowledging they understand a lesser survey is being purchased in place of a boundary survey. 

Download and fill out the one that’s applicable to your transaction to include in your order. These approval forms must be signed by the client before commencement of work in these states. 

Kansas Work Order Form

Delaware Waiver

Nebraska Work Order Form

Missouri Work Order Form

Maryland Work Order Form

Kentucky Work Order Form


Please also include the following authorization form:

Credit Card Authorization Form

For ALTA and Topographic Land Surveys, the client purchasing the survey needs to fill out the credit card authorization form as well. Neither your title insurance company nor PropLogix is responsible for survey costs. All parties involved in the transaction or development should decide on the scope of work for the ALTA survey. We recommend the insurer, client, and lender agree to the terms of the survey in writing before beginning the process.

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