Before asking a professional sleuth or a private investigator to do this for you, you have to get in on the adventure yourself. Any professional and reputable real estate agent will tell you there’s nothing like finding out the true state of a person claiming to own the home you intend to buy when you invest your time on a title search. It’s your own discovery that will help you finalize your decision to spend your money on a dream home (even if this used to belong to someone else). Besides, this is exactly what you need to help you and your real estate agent draw the contents of a purchase contract.
Here’s how to do a real estate title search:
- Don’t do it online. Choosing to do your research using the internet as a resource can only take you so far. If you go online and visit a website recommended by the Assessor’s office in your location, you will find basic information that hardly matters – name, tax identification, taxes paid – but you won’t be able to see important stuff. Stuff like liens, a second mortgage, and civil suits won’t be available for your information at any website alluding to title searches. As proof, read the disclaimer. You will find that their information is hardly updated regularly.
- Look for the following information. Pay attention to these details when conducting a title search at the Assessor’s office or the real estate section of the public library:
- Who is the original owner of the home?
- Is the seller undergoing a divorce? Is the home still being contested in the divorce settlement?
- How often has the home in question been up for sale or withdrawn?
- How long has it been for sale?
- How much does the owner owe in outstanding liens, taxes, and mortgages?
- Is it a home under foreclosure or on a short sale?
- How long has the seller lived in the home?
- Were any major and minor repairs undertaken recently? When was the last major overhaul?
- How much is the home selling for?
- Will you be dealing with a bank or a lending institution that has a say on how much you will pay for?
- Find out where to start your search. There are many locations for you to start searching for titles. You won’t have to pay a fee because the records are public but you may have to shell out pennies for photo copying or the service of a notary public. Let’s leave that for later. Anyway, here are locations to start looking for information:
- County courthouse
- Assessor’s office
- Public library
- City hall
- Sheriff’s department
- Federal courts
- Government agencies dealing with land and housing use
Tell the very helpful lady manning the records that you are looking for property titles, deeds, and encumbrances.
- Get a hold of every little and large bits of information that you have uncovered. Take everything home with you and start conducting an abstract search. Separate all the documents accordingly. Now don’t forget to look for red flags like changes in ownership, lawsuits, liabilities, outstanding loans/mortgages, and pertinent information that will definitely affect your ownership of the home if you decide to pursue it.
- Speak with a tax assessor. With the help of your real estate agent, contact a tax assessor and file a Request for Information on a specific title. The tax assessor can come up with a tax record revealing who owns the home, when the home was built, materials used, the physical description of the home in its original state, and other useful data that will prove valuable.
All in all, it should take you from one to two weeks tops to complete your file and determine whether the title is held by the seller and the home is worth your money right down to the coins inside your piggybank.