After over a decade of helping home owners navigate complicated title problems, I began wondering: how would I guide someone on how to do your own title search?
Performing a title search and solving title problems becomes a complex matter quickly, but being able to do a preliminary title search empowers home owners and real estate professionals by giving them insight towards potential problems.
By understanding what is involved in a title search and performing the basics on your own, you can begin to understand what steps to take to get to a clear title.
Before we jump into these tips, we have a disclaimer:
Doing your own title search involves some complicated steps, and if you’re unfamiliar with the process we always recommend working with a specialist. That said, the steps below can be used to guide both newbies and experienced real estate professionals.
With that, let’s jump in.
Why Do You Need A Title Search?
When you purchase a house or land, an important step involves making sure the property is free from defect and that the title is “clear”. A clear title means that the ownership of the property is clear or unquestionable. Unclear title means that there is some kind of problem with the title and a lack of clarity on who owns the property and has rights to it.
The purpose of a title search is to verify who owns and has rights to a property. Most commonly people research title during a home sale transaction.
No one wants to buy a house they can’t own…
Some people attempt to sell property thinking they have clear title, when, in reality, there is a problem with the ownership history. For example, a person inherits a piece of real estate from his or her parents, but never files the proper paperwork that would establish the recipient’s legal rights to the property. Technically, the recipient in this case has no right to sell the property, because he or she does not have clear title. If there are any problems in the title history of a piece of property, the current owner could have quite a mess. -CourthouseDirect.com
What Is A Title Search?
When someone wants to purchase a property, they should always verify that the title is clear and the property ownership is unquestionable. A title search verifies that no “break in the chain of title” exists. A break in the chain of title occurs when there is missing or inaccurate ownership information, during the history of the property.
Additionally, a seller may claim to own a property, but have liens (such as a mortgage) or other debt attached to the house preventing them from having clear title.
Doing a title search is one of the most important aspects of buying a property, since a seller can’t legally sell a property they don’t own.
So, your goal when doing title research is to make sure you can easily trace the property’s ownership over time through a paper trail of records.
How To Do Your Own Title Search
Visit The Courthouse Or Assessor’s Records
This method of title research is time consuming, but its also free. To find assessor and property tax records resources by state, go here.
In order to get started, make sure you know the street address for the property in question.
Records for title and deed information are available for your review at the courthouse where the property is located. This process is manual, and you’ll need to go through each paper by hand.
Do A Title Search Online
Many states also have other free tools for use to research title and deed information. Visit your state’s government sites and look for “county assessor.” Then, find and select your county.
Begin by researching the most recent deed first. This deed contains the name of the current property owner, so make sure it matches the seller of the property. Each deed references previous deeds and liens for the property.
Deeds from the last 50 to 70 years create what we referred to earlier as the “chain of title”.
Some counties’ information will be incomplete. If you are unable to find information for your county, simply visit the local courthouse instead.
Determining The Chain Of Title
Once you gather all the deeds, start with the most recent one and go backwards in time to make sure that the deeds have no missing information regarding the property ownership.
Your goal in connecting the chain of title involves making sure that the seller was always the buyer from the previous deed.
The best way to visualize the chain of title is to review the deeds and write or draw on a sheet of paper.
- Sort the deeds in order from the most recent to the oldest, and make sure you can account for 50 to 70 years.
- Review the most recent deed.
- Note: Who is the seller? Who is the buyer?
- Review the next most recent deed.
- Note: Who is the seller? Who is the Buyer? *Make sure that the seller is the buyer from #3.
- Repeat these steps and note any gaps or lack of clarity in the chain of title.
The seller should always be the buyer from the previous deed. If this is the case, you have a clear chain of title.
Perform A Tax Search
The next thing you need to do when performing a title search is to check for liens, mortgages, judgments and outstanding taxes.
These items are just as important, if not more so, than a clear chain of title. Each of these items can cloud the title and prevent the owner from selling it.
For example, outstanding tax liens often transfer to the next owner; so buying a property with tax liens could incur unexpected expenses and debts.
Additionally, if you buy the property without having the seller resolve these issues and the taxes owed are significant enough, the county or state might be able to sell the property… Even though YOU were not personally responsible for the debts owed.
Judgments and Liens
If a lien is discovered before you buy the property, request that the seller reach out to the creditor and determine how to resolve the judgment or lien. You also want to request documentation verifying that the lien is resolved, once the seller has taken care of it.
You can determine if there are liens against the property where ever you found the property deeds from.
while it is possible for buyers and other real estate professionals to do their own preliminary title search, we highly recommend contacting a Title Company and buying title insurance when buying a property.
The title company can perform the above research for you.
If you need help discovering title problems easily and efficiently, reach out to us to expedite your Good Deed.