Finding the perfect home for your family can feel like a dream come true. Buying it, however, might present a very different experience, especially in the current market.
Will you be outbid? If so, can you bid higher? This, most likely, will be the largest purchase of your life, and you’ll want to make sure every detail is attended to.
One of the most important details is a title search, and we are here to tell you why it’s so important and how to get it done.
What information is included in a title search of a property?
A title search will reveal the following information:
- Who currently holds legal ownership of the property?
- Are there any taxes owed on the property?
- Are there assessments on the property, and who are they owed to? These can include unpaid sewage bills, zoning penalties, sidewalk fees.
- Are there any restrictions or easements on the property? For example, a third party might have the right to use part of your property. A utility company might have the right to install power lines.
Step 1: Checking the tax assessor’s records
If you want to know how to do a title search on a property, start with its tax records. A number of the questions asked above can be answered here. Property tax records are located at the tax assessor’s office in the county or city in which the property is located. To proceed:
- Have the street address for the property you are interested in.
- Find the tax assessor’s office for your area.
- Once you find the local tax assessor’s office, check their website to see if you can do an online search for the property’s tax information.
- If you can’t, call the office and ask them how you can obtain that information.
- The property tax records will give you the parcel number, lot number, and the tax history of the property—paid and unpaid—along with records of any unpaid assessments.
- If there are unpaid taxes or assessments, these can become outstanding liens against the property, and transferred to you. If the amount of unpaid taxes is significant, the county or state can put the property up for sale even though you may not be responsible for that debt.
Step 2: Search for the property deed online
Once you’ve made sure there are no unpaid taxes and/or assessments, it is time to check the property deed. Most states provide access to a property deed online, and this will be the fastest way to move forward. Start by:
- Locating the most recent deed first. This deed will contain the name of the owner of the property, which should match the name of the person who is selling the property. Each deed will reference the previous deed.
- Locate the deeds for at least the last 50-70 years to ensure that the title of the property has passed correctly.
Or: visit the office that records the deeds
If you can’t find the property deed online or can’t find deeds that go back far enough in time, you will have to visit the office which records the deeds for that city or county. Before doing this:
- Make copies of the deeds that you have found and/or whatever relevant information you found at the tax assessor’s office.
- Find the deed recorder’s office.
- Once you have found the right office, call to double-check next steps, and to make sure you have all the information you will need.
- Go to the office and locate the most recent deed first. Most offices maintain this in a deed book. The information gathered at the tax assessor’s office might direct you to a specific deed book.
- Each deed will contain information about the previous deed, which will allow you to locate that document. This information will include the deed book number and the page number within that book.
- Continue pulling and copying records until you have property deeds covering 50-70 years.
Step 3: Establish chain of title
Now you are ready to establish chain of title. Start by:
- Gathering all the deeds.
- Create a chart with these columns: Deed, Seller, and Buyer.
- Starting with the most recent deed, make sure that the seller was the buyer on the previous deed. You want this pattern of seller/buyer to continue uninterrupted from the present back 50-70 years.
- If you find a seller that was not the previous buyer, you have found a break in the chain. This seller may not have had rightful ownership of the property, and before going ahead with your purchase, you will want to assess the risks involved.
Step 4: Determine if there is a judgment lien against the property
Hopefully, by this point, you have established that there are no unpaid taxes, assessments or title breaks associated with the property. Next, you need to make sure there are no judgments against the seller or any of the other previous owners. A judgment is a lien against a property when it serves as collateral for a debt owed by the property owner. If a judgment is discovered:
- This is considered a ‘defect’ in the title and the seller should eliminate the defect before proceeding with the sale. In most cases, a buyer will not be able to secure financing for a property with a judgment lien.
- You can determine whether there is a judgment lien against the property at the local Registrar of Deeds or Clerk of Court. You can learn if there are any easements on the property here, as well.
Step 5: Purchasing title insurance
Title insurance protects you against many of the problems listed above. For instance, if a person sells you a home that he or she does not own, the insurance will protect you from losing your investment. In some states, the seller pays the cost of insurance, which is a one-time fee that will cost approximately $1,000. If you are wondering, how can I do a title search on a property?—you should also be looking into title insurance.
Step 6: Talk it all over with a real estate lawyer
Again, buying a home is most likely the largest purchase you will ever make, which is reason enough to consult with a real estate lawyer. And if there are any financial restrictions associated with the property, a talk with a lawyer is a must. This is where LegalShield comes in. Within as little as four business hours, you can speak to an experienced real estate lawyer who can consult with you on all issues connected to your title search, for a fraction of what a traditional law firm would charge. There are no retainers or hourly fees. Just experienced direct access assistance, when and where you need it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a title search?
A title search is the examination of public records to determine a property’s legal ownership. If you are asking, how do I do a title search on a property, first review the property tax records, then check the property deeds dating back 50-70 years to make sure there are no ‘breaks’ in the title chain, then check judgment liens against the property.
How do you complete a title search on a property?
The last step in a title search should be a consultation with a real estate lawyer. Though there are a number of lawyers you might call, only LegalShield has been rated 2022’s No. 1 online legal service by Investopedia. A LegalShield lawyer can help with every aspect of a title search, along with removing a name from a property title, removing a name from a deed, the bidding process, mortgage papers, house inspection and more.
How long does a title search for a property take?
On average, a title search takes 10-14 days.
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