Although there are title companies and service providers that will do a title search on a house for you, it can cost hundreds of dollars. It is also possible to find a lot of the information you need on your own, by using the internet or going into the appropriate county office. Be prepared to complete several steps if you decide to conduct a title search yourself.
How to Conduct a DIY Title Search
Whether you need a title search done because you are buying a house, preparing to sell your own, or you're just looking for information on a property, it is usually possible to do a quick search of the property yourself. Five general steps to follow when conducting a title search include:
- Identify the property. First, gather any information on the house that you can find, including the house address, the county the property is located in, and the current owner's name.
- Find the county office for the property. You might need to check with various offices including the county clerk, county tax assessor, or county recorder. If you aren't sure how to find the county office you need, a state government website it a good place to start. If you need help narrowing your search, go to the State & Local Government on the Net website. From there, you can easily navigate to lists government websites for each state. Once you click through to the state, then choose the county where the property. From there, you will be able to click through to various county offices to find the one that has property records.
- Find the property in public records. Research the property with the county office that stores property records.
- Online: Most public records are online and available digitally with these offices. When you find the county website for your property, you should see a link for Property Search, where you can search by address, plat block, or parcel ID. If the county you are dealing with does not yet provide the information online, you'll need to visit the office in person and have the clerk assist you in order to get the information you need for your title search.
- In-person: If you visit in person, you should call ahead and let the clerk know that you are performing a title search. He or she will let you know the process to follow to search and access the copies of deeds and transactions related to the property. The clerk at the county office can usually print everything for you. Whether you search online or you visit the office in person, you can expect to pay a small fee for copies of the documents.
- Review property details. For a title search, you'll need to access the most recent deed for the property through the appropriate county website. The deed will include the current owner's name, and the name of the person or entity that sold the property to that owner. Search each document as far back as you can, which might include transactions between sellers and buyers taking you back for decades. You'll need to examine each deed to ensure that title passed from every person correctly. Connecting each owner and seller will result in a chain of title, which is a record of documents showing the sequence of transfers for the property.
- Look for other potential title issues. As you review the details, keep a sharp eye out for potential issues such as a gap in ownership. For example, if through your research, you notice a seller who was not a buyer on the previous document, the property owner might not be able to sell you the property. This type of break in the chain of title could indicate a fraudulent transfer, or it may mean that a deed wasn't properly recorded at some point in the past.
- Look for tax issues or liens. The chain of ownership isn't the only potential issue with the title to a house. As part of your house title search, you'll also need to check for tax issues or liens on the property. You may need to check online or in person with the county tax assessor's office, which you can find online by searching your state and county.
If you run into any issues, it's important to ensure they are taken care of before purchasing a property or entering into any other kind of transaction related to it. Sometimes, this means consulting a real estate attorney or purchasing title insurance to protect yourself.
Hiring a Title Company to Search for You
While it is possible to search title records on your own, it is advisable to use the services of a professional title search company if your interest is related to a real estate transaction. If you are taking out a mortgage to purchase a home, you will be required to use a title company and purchase title insurance. When you hire a title company rather than performing the title search yourself, professional title researchers will perform the search on your behalf to ensure a clear title, as well as to offer insurance against the chance of title-related problems that might arise in the future.
A professional title search can cost anywhere from $75 to a few hundred dollars, with additional fees for title insurance. The title company will examine the property records for you and ensure that the person claiming to own the property is the actual owner. Part of the search will include looking for outstanding mortgages, and if there are any judgments, unpaid taxes, or other issues that you should address before selling or buying the property.
Sometimes, the title company might perform or recommend a property survey, if there is a chance that there are boundary issues. If a title company or someone else performs the search, they should provide an abstract of title which summarizes what the company found in its search and then issue a title opinion letter and title insurance policy, indicating that they have performed the search and that the title is clear.
DIY Versus Professional Title Search
While this fee will depend on the state you live in, the property, and the title company, it does usually cost more than conducting your own research. If you aren't worried about overlooking important details, or if you are just doing a quick search of the property, you'll save money by taking the DIY route. However, in most cases, it's best to hire a professional to do the full title search, and purchase title insurance, so there's less risk of expensive problems arising later.