Title Tip: What is a Title Search?

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor
Title companies are like the private detectives of real estate. That’s right. We’re like a combination of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. Only without the guns and fast cars. Well, maybe we’re closer to a mixture of Nancy Drew and the tech nerd in the back of your office. But we still help save you from real estate disaster.  

One of the reasons title companies are so essential is the title search they perform. A real estate title search involves collecting documents and evidence of the history of a property. The purpose is to ensure the title is clear and valid, and to answer questions regarding a particular piece of real estate prior to the transfer of the title.

A title search generally includes research and thorough examination of deeds, tax records, maps and plats, court records, mortgages, liens, abstracts of judgement, probate actions, divorce cases, etc. It can also include searches related to easements, covenants, restrictions, unpaid taxes, assessments, life estates, bankruptcy or legal proceedings, … all kinds of issues that affect the property and may impact ownership.

We look for any recorded documents about the property and records that name the parties involved to confirm the seller legally owns the property and that no one else can claim full or partial ownership of it. The collected documents are analyzed by the title company to see how or if they affect the property.

A title search is done before a title company issues a commitment for title insurance. The commitment is a short summary that addresses any issues regarding the title. Before issuing title insurance for a property, the title company wants to safeguard that the title to a property is legitimate. This is designed to protect the buyer and their lender against lawsuits or claims against the property that result from disputes over the title.

If the buyer is getting a mortgage on the property, their lender will require a title search and title insurance. Everyone wants to feel secure in knowing that once they’ve purchased real estate, they are the rightful owner of that real estate.

Anyone can do a title search if they have the knowledge and resources. Most documents regarding the transfer of land are public record and are kept at a government office or county courthouse.  Hard paper copies or digital files come from various books and volumes that are recorded by date. They include official land records or documents like deed records, mortgages, liens against the property in favor of a creditor, vendor or tradesman, etc.

The title company creates an abstract of title from the information gathered. The abstract of title is not a public record. Unless you are trained and experienced in producing an abstract of tile, it’s suggested that you don’t try this at home. It’s usually better to put your real estate matters in the hands of the professional title detectives.

The opinions expressed are of the individual author for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Contact an attorney to obtain advice for any particular issue or problem.

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