These are much bigger questions than one might think and vary depending on the situation. A good way to start to answer this question is to understand the various types of products offered by a surveyor.
Colorado state law defines the primary types of documents produced by licensed surveyors. These include the Improvement Location Certificate, the Land Survey Plat (commonly referred to as a Boundary Survey), and the Improvement Survey Plat.
An Improvement Location Certificate (“ILC”) is simply a representation of the property lines that depicts the estimated location of buildings, fences, ditches, railroad tracks and other improvements on the property. Since an ILC is not considered to be a precise depiction of property lines, they are not intended to be used for purposes of development or for recording a recognized property line. The ILC can be a cost-effective tool for general planning or to determine if there are any concerns with encroachments on the property.
The Land Survey Plat (“LSP”) is a depiction, or plat, of property boundaries based on the location of the property “monuments.” Monuments are physical markers that have been used by surveyors to mark the precise property corners of a piece of property for more than 100 years. Under Colorado law, any time a surveyor produces an LSP they are required to install new monuments marking the corners of new or changed property lines and to replace any monuments that may have been removed or damaged over time. These monuments result in a more reliable depiction of the property line.
An Improvement Survey Plat (“ISP”) takes the LSP and depicts the location of structures, visible utilities, fences, or other improvements that are located both on the property and within five feet in any direction of the property boundaries. The ISP also depicts any conflicting property line reports, visible encroachments, easements, underground utilities, and other items that appear in a title report.
The highest level of survey product offered is known as the ALTA survey. The ALTA survey is not defined in Colorado law. In 1962 the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) came together for the first time to develop a set of uniform standards that would produce a consistent and standardized product that could be relied on by title insurance providers and lenders. The ALTA Survey is a more detailed ISP, showing all existing improvements of the property, utilities, items of public record, and observations of the surveyor. Lenders and title insurance companies often require an ALTA survey for the sale, transfer or refinancing of commercial properties.
Each survey company offers a variety of services to assist a property owner depending on their project and need. It is important to consider both your immediate need and long-term goals before deciding which product is best for you. If you have questions about which product or service is best for your project, you can consult with a licensed surveyor or attorney experienced in real estate and land use transactions.