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Deed Record Book courtesy of Getty Images

Deed Record Book courtesy of Getty Images

title search or property title search is the process of documenting the history of the ownership of a piece of real property, to determine who has rights to the property and what those rights are. The primary purpose of a title search is to determine that a person who is selling property (grantor) really has the right to sell it, and that the buyer (grantee) is getting all the rights (title) to the property that he is paying for.

In most real estate transactions today, a title insurance policy is purchased in conjunction with the title search to assure the buyer that he or she has acquired a valid title.

  1. Establish a clear line of ownership going back to the properties first recorded appearance in the records.[spacer height=”10px”]
  2. Record any current mortgages or liens on the property.[spacer height=”10px”]
  3. Find any back taxes or payments owed on the home.[spacer height=”10px”]
  4. Locate any old property surveys and make sure they conform to the current properties boundaries.

A title search will typically happen in each of two places:

  • Tax assessor’s office – Your search should usually start at your local tax office. There you can find out if any of the previous owners left unpaid property taxes, which will become the new owner’s responsibility after a sale. You’ll likely also find the name or designation that will be used for your property at the local title office, which we’ll talk about next.[spacer height=”10px”]
  • County clerk’s office or county courthouse – Depending on how your local county is organized, you’ll need to head to the title office which could be located at either office. Here you will be able to research the current and all past owners of the property. At the same time, you can see if there are any mortgages or liens on the property currently. While this process is straightforward — simply locate the title of the property then follow the chain of ownership all the way back to its original listing —  correctly reading the decrees and documents covering each change of ownership will be far harder. For instance, in the case of a will, you might have to consider multiple heirs who each have an ownership interest in the property. In that instance, you would have to follow each potential ownership claim through until it closes in the next transfer of title. While you should be able to accomplish this yourself, it can be very tedious and time consuming.

Once you have traced the property’s ownership, it is still possible that other organizations such as a court, homeowner’s association, or utility might have claims on the property that are not reflected in deeds and mortgages. There is no systematic way to locate these types of liens or claims, other than to consider what entities might possibly hold any type of claim on the property and contact them directly.