Title search

Last updated

In real estate business and law, a title search or property title search is the process of examining public records and retrieving documents on the history of a piece of real property to determine and confirm property's legal ownership, and find out what claims or liens are on the property. [1] A title search is also performed when an owner wishes to sell mortgage property and the bank requires the owner to insure this transaction.


In the case of a prospective purchase, a title search is performed primarily to answer three questions regarding a property on the market:

Anyone may do a title search, with the right knowledge and resources, although the preparation of an abstract of title as part of a real-estate closing is often restricted to specifically licensed professionals or attorneys. Documents concerning conveyances of land are a matter of public record. These documents are maintained in hard copy paper format or sometimes scanned into image files. The information within the documents is typically not available as data format as the records are descriptions of legal events which contain terms, conditions, and language in excess of data.[ citation needed ] Within the United States, property deeds, deeds of trusts, easements, restrictive covenants, and other legal documents are often maintained electronically on a county-by county basis by a register of deeds, who is charged with accurately recording, maintaining, and updating records of real-estate conveyances.

Typical process

Generally, there are two main types of title searching, a full coverage search and limited coverage search; other types include non-insured reports and foreclosure guarantee search.

It is often the case that people choose to contact a title company or attorney to conduct an exhaustive title search. The process of performing a title search involves accessing the official land records for the subject property. Each record is a document evidencing an event that occurred in the history of the property. A deed records an event of property transfer, mortgage documents the collateral interest of a home loan, and a lien documents a claim against the property in favor of another, such as a creditor, vendor, or tradesman. The objective of the title search is to establish clear, marketable title by exposing any outstanding claims prior to the transfer of title. The process of resolving any issues on the title is known as "clearing the title." [2]

Each recorded document must name the parties involved, e.g., grantor and grantee. The grantor is the party transferring away a property right, and the grantee is receiving a property right. In the case of a deed, the grantor would typically be the property seller, and the grantee the buyer. A mortgage grantor or mortgagor is the borrower of the loan since they are giving away certain property rights to the mortgagee, lender, or mortgage grantee. More recent wording simplifies this language with "Borrower" and "Lender."

The records are kept in a centralized government office, usually at the county courthouse (in states with strong county governments such as Washington State or Massachusetts, the title on the door would be something like Registrar of Deeds or County Recorder); or in the municipal offices (in small states such as Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island), often the title searcher must go to each individual town or county office to research the title.

The process of a title search begins with searching for and retrieving each physical document from the books which contain them. Every document is recorded by date in a special set of volumes called by various names such as Grantor-Grantee index, Land Records, or Deed Records, which may or may not be digitized or scanned into a searchable file, depending on the financial resources of the county or town. An official stamp located usually at the bottom of the first page gives the name of the recording official, date, time, book, and page number. If the document has been recorded, this stamp will always be there.

The collected documents are then reviewed and analyzed to see how each affects the property, and which documents have been released by subsequent recordings. Contingent conditions within documents such as life estates and remainder interests may exist within the document language. This process is often performed by a trained professional called a title abstractor. Some title abstractors have certifications documenting their experience level and training and successfully having passed an exam.

The document produced by a title abstractor is called a title abstract, or abstract of title. This is not a document that exists in public records, but it is derived from recorded documents. The title abstract is provided to the title company, attorney, or end-user by the abstractor.

For example, a title report may also show any easements, or recorded encumbrances against the property or portions of the property. A previous owner may have legally given a neighbor the right to share the driveway, or the city may have a right to strips of the property for putting power lines, communication lines, water pipes, or sewer pipes. A few online services offer title searches for relatively little cost, and their accuracy is not inferior to what a title company or attorney will offer; however online businesses rely mostly on electronically available information, and for that reason could at times be limited both in completeness and geographical availability.

A full coverage search is usually done when creating a title report for sale/resale transactions and for transaction that involves construction loans. It generally includes searches related to property lien, easements, covenants, conditions and restrictions(CC&Rs), agreements, resolutions and ordinances that will affect the real property in question.

  1. Search for liens against the owner and the other parties on title.
  2. Search for liens against the buyer (for sale transactions only).
  3. Search for Bankruptcy and Judgement proceedings against the owner of the property.
  4. Search for liens against the buyer is not something that is covered in a title search.

A limited coverage search is usually making title reports for refinance transactions that involves ownership equity loans and for making simple title guarantee reports.

This kind of title searching usually includes searches for property liens, liens against the owner and the other parties on title and search for bankruptcy proceedings against the owner of the property.

Title insurance

In the United States, the buyer of a property will usually purchase title insurance, which protects the buyer from any title problems that may arise after sale, such as liens that were missed during the title search. The title insurance company issues a report and an insurance policy in support of its findings. However, title searches are most often carried out before contracting is completed between parties, and sometimes during the escrow phase of a closing.

There are a variety of title searches which provide the customer with a report, but no insurance. These are for informational purposes only, and are called by a variety of names, such as Lot Book Report, Plat Certificate, 300-foot Radius Report, Ownership & Lien Report and others. These informational searches are used mainly in two instances:

A foreclosure guarantee is a type of report (e.g. trustees sale guarantee, judicial foreclosure guarantee and litigation guarantee) that is used mainly for foreclosing an encumbrance (or a lien) in a certain property. The title searcher will perform a full coverage search to the property in default and a search for the addresses of the lien holders to the property in default. The addresses will be used for sending copies of the notice of foreclosure letters (such as notice of trustees sale, etc.) to the lien holders to the property in default.

Property title search before foreclosure sale

A home foreclosure is often linked with liens held by banks or governmental agencies. Multiple liens from various sources may be held against a property in foreclosure. If a home is sold at a foreclosure auction, the proceeds are divided and paid to lienholders in order of filing until all proceeds are expended.

Public auctions (also known as sheriff’s sales or foreclosure auctions) are typically held in the municipal or county courts, which neither guarantee an unencumbered title nor offer protection to buyers against additional liens on the property.

See also

Related Research Articles

In property law, title is an intangible construct representing a bundle of rights in (to) a piece of property in which a party may own either a legal interest or equitable interest. The rights in the bundle may be separated and held by different parties. It may also refer to a formal document, such as a deed, that serves as evidence of ownership. Conveyance of the document may be required in order to transfer ownership in the property to another person. Title is distinct from possession, a right that often accompanies ownership but is not necessarily sufficient to prove it. In many cases, possession and title may each be transferred independently of the other. For real property, land registration and recording provide public notice of ownership information.

A chain of title is the sequence of historical transfers of title to a property. It is a valuable tool to identify and document past owners of a property and serves as a property's historical ownership timeline. The "chain" runs from the present owner back to the original owner of the property. In situations where documentation of ownership is important, it is often necessary to reconstruct the chain of title. To facilitate this, a record of title documents may be maintained by a registry office or civil law notary.

In law, conveyancing is the transfer of legal title of real property from one person to another, or the granting of an encumbrance such as a mortgage or a lien. A typical conveyancing transaction has two major phases: the exchange of contracts and completion.

A mortgage is a legal instrument of the common law which is used to create a security interest in real property held by a lender as a security for a debt, usually a mortgage loan. Hypothec is the corresponding term in civil law jurisdictions, albeit with a wider sense, as it also covers non-possessory lien.

This aims to be a complete list of the articles on real estate.

In common law, a deed is any legal instrument in writing which passes, affirms or confirms an interest, right, or property and that is signed, attested, delivered, and in some jurisdictions, sealed. It is commonly associated with transferring (conveyancing) title to property. The deed has a greater presumption of validity and is less rebuttable than an instrument signed by the party to the deed. A deed can be unilateral or bilateral. Deeds include conveyances, commissions, licenses, patents, diplomas, and conditionally powers of attorney if executed as deeds. The deed is the modern descendant of the medieval charter, and delivery is thought to symbolically replace the ancient ceremony of livery of seisin.

Title insurance is a form of indemnity insurance predominantly found in the United States and Canada which insures against financial loss from defects in title to real property and from the invalidity or unenforceability of mortgage loans. Unlike some land registration systems in countries outside the United States, US states' recorders of deeds generally do not guarantee indefeasible title to those recorded titles. Title insurance will defend against a lawsuit attacking the title or reimburse the insured for the actual monetary loss incurred up to the dollar amount of insurance provided by the policy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Foreclosure</span> Legal process where a lender recoups an unpaid loan by forcing the borrower to sell the collateral

Foreclosure is a legal process in which a lender attempts to recover the balance of a loan from a borrower who has stopped making payments to the lender by forcing the sale of the asset used as the collateral for the loan.

A real estate contract is a contract between parties for the purchase and sale, exchange, or other conveyance of real estate. The sale of land is governed by the laws and practices of the jurisdiction in which the land is located. Real estate called leasehold estate is actually a rental of real property such as an apartment, and leases cover such rentals since they typically do not result in recordable deeds. Freehold conveyances of real estate are covered by real estate contracts, including conveying fee simple title, life estates, remainder estates, and freehold easements. Real estate contracts are typically bilateral contracts and should have the legal requirements specified by contract law in general and should also be in writing to be enforceable.

Generally, a quitclaim is a formal renunciation of a legal claim against some other person, or of a right to land. A person who quitclaims renounces or relinquishes a claim to some legal right, or transfers a legal interest in land. Originally a common law concept dating back to Medieval England, the expression is in modern times mostly restricted to North American law, where it often refers specifically to a transfer of ownership or some other interest in real property.

Closing costs are fees paid at the closing of a real estate transaction. This point in time called the closing is when the title to the property is conveyed (transferred) to the buyer. Closing costs are incurred by either the buyer or the seller.

In United States property law, a cloud on title or title defect is any irregularity in the chain of title of property that would give a reasonable person pause before accepting a conveyance of title. According to Investopedia, a cloud can be defined as: "Any document, claim, unreleased lien or encumbrance that might invalidate or impair the title to real property or make the title doubtful. Clouds on title are usually discovered during a title search." Clouded title can thus be contrasted with a clear title, which indicates that a property is unencumbered.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Warranty deed</span> Real estate transfer with title guarantee

A warranty deed is a type of deed where the grantor (seller) guarantees that they hold clear title to a piece of real estate and has a right to sell it to the grantee (buyer), in contrast to a quitclaim deed, where the seller does not guarantee that they hold title to a piece of real estate. A general warranty deed protects the grantee against title defects arising at any point in time, extending back to the property's origins. A special warranty deed protects the grantee only against title defects arising from the actions or omissions of the grantor.

A land contract — often described by other terminology listed below — is a contract between the buyer and seller of real property in which the seller provides the buyer financing in the purchase, and the buyer repays the resulting loan in installments. Under a land contract, the seller retains the legal title to the property, while permitting the buyer to take possession of it for most purposes other than legal ownership. The sale price is typically paid in periodic installments, often with a balloon payment at the end to make the timelength of payments shorter than in the corresponding fully amortized loan. When the full purchase price has been paid including any interest, the seller is obligated to convey legal title to the property. An initial down payment from the buyer to the seller is usually also required.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tax sale</span>

A tax sale is the forced sale of property by a governmental entity for unpaid taxes by the property's owner.

In real estate, creative financing is non-traditional or uncommon means of buying land or property. The goal of creative financing is generally to purchase, or finance a property, with the buyer/investor using as little of his own money as possible, otherwise known as leveraging. Using these techniques an investor may be able to purchase multiple properties using little, or none, of his "own money".

Seller financing is a loan provided by the seller of a property or business to the purchaser. When used in the context of residential real estate, it is also called "bond-for-title" or "owner financing." Usually, the purchaser will make some sort of down payment to the seller, and then make installment payments over a specified time, at an agreed-upon interest rate, until the loan is fully repaid. In layman's terms, this is when the seller in a transaction offers the buyer a loan rather than the buyer obtaining one from a bank. To a seller, this is an investment in which the return is guaranteed only by the buyer's credit-worthiness or ability and motivation to pay the mortgage. For a buyer it is often beneficial, because he/she may not be able to obtain a loan from a bank. In general, the loan is secured by the property being sold. In the event that the buyer defaults, the property is repossessed or foreclosed on exactly as it would be by a bank.

The Home Equity Theft Prevention Act is a New York State law passed on July 26, 2006, to provide homeowners of residential property with information and disclosures in order to make informed decisions when approached by persons seeking a sale or transfer of the homeowner's property, particularly when homeowners are in default on their mortgage payments or the property is in foreclosure.

The vast majority of states in the United States employ a system of recording legal instruments that affect the title of real estate as the exclusive means for publicly documenting land titles and interests. This system differs significantly from land registration systems, such as the Torrens system that have been adopted in a few states. The principal difference is that the recording system does not determine who owns the title or interest involved, which is ultimately determined through litigation in the courts. The system provides a framework for determining who the law will protect in relation to those titles and interests when a dispute arises.

In the United States, the Trustee Sale Guarantee (TSG) is the title guarantee that is issued at the beginning of a foreclosure. TSG helps the foreclosing trustee and beneficiary through the delivery of the information required in ensuring compliance with the statutes of foreclosure stipulated by the state.


  1. "Title Search". Investopedia.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. "Title Industry Basics: What Does it Mean to Clear the Title? - Qualia Insight". Qualia.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. "Ownership/Lien Search". Illinois Abstract College. Retrieved 2020-01-27.