Property Buying: What are Encumbrances?

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 What Is an Encumbrance?

An encumbrance in real estate refers to any claim, lien, charge, or liability affecting a property’s title. Encumbrances on property can be both monetary and non-monetary. A monetary encumbrance typically refers to a financial claim against the property, such as a mortgage or lien. An example of a monetary encumbrance is a financial claim against the property, such as a mortgage or lien.

In contrast, a non-monetary encumbrance might relate to restrictions or covenants that limit the use of the property, like an easement granting someone else the right to cross or use the land in a specific way. For instance, an example of a non-monetary encumbrance is an easement granting someone else the right to cross or use the land in a specific way. Both types can affect the encumbered real estate’s value, transferability, and use.

What Can a Property Buyer Do if Encumbrances Were not Disclosed?

If a buyer finds an undisclosed encumbrance on the property after the sale, they may have legal grounds to demand remediation or rescind the transaction. Depending on local laws and the specifics of the purchase agreement, the buyer might sue the seller for damages, require them to clear the title, or negotiate a reduced sale price.

Here’s a step-by-step process that a buyer can follow if they find themselves in such a situation:

Document Everything

As soon as the encumbrance is discovered, document the evidence. This could include title search reports, communication records with the seller, or any other relevant paperwork.

Consult with a Real Estate Attorney

Before taking any action, consult with a real estate attorney to understand your rights and potential remedies based on local laws and the specifics of your purchase agreement.

Open Communication with the Seller

Contact the seller to discuss the undisclosed encumbrance. It’s possible the seller was unaware of it or was an oversight. A resolution may be reached amicably without the need for legal action.

Mediation or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

If initial communication doesn’t result in a resolution, consider mediation or another form of ADR. This involves a neutral third party who will help both sides come to a mutually agreeable solution.

Demand Letter

If mediation doesn’t resolve the issue, your attorney can draft a demand letter to the seller. This formal letter outlines the undisclosed encumbrance, the buyer’s rights, and what remedies are being sought. It’s often the last step before pursuing legal action and can prompt the seller to act to avoid a lawsuit.

Legal Action

If all else fails, the buyer may sue the seller for damages. The lawsuit could aim for remedies like rescinding the transaction, clearing the title, or seeking financial compensation.

Title Insurance

If the buyer purchases title insurance, they should contact their title insurance company. The insurance might cover legal fees and other costs for resolving the undisclosed encumbrance.


At any point in the process, the buyer and seller can negotiate a resolution. This might involve the seller agreeing to clear the encumbrance or providing financial compensation to the buyer.

Closing the Issue

Once the issue is resolved, ensure all agreements are documented in writing. If the resolution involves any changes to the property title or other legal documents, ensure they are filed with the appropriate authorities.

What Can a Buyer Do to Guard Against Undisclosed Encumbrances?

To protect against undisclosed encumbrances, buyers should conduct a thorough title search before purchasing the property. This process will reveal any existing liens, easements, or other restrictions. Also, purchasing title insurance can safeguard a buyer from potential undiscovered claims against the property’s title.

Conducting a Thorough Title Search

Before purchasing a property, the buyer should conduct a thorough title search. The buyer can access public records to examine the property’s related documents by hiring a title company or a real estate attorney.

This search will reveal a title report that details known encumbrances, such as liens and easements. If there are any ambiguities in this report, they should be discussed with the professional who searched for clarity.

Purchasing Title Insurance

Buyers should consider obtaining title insurance to ensure added protection against undisclosed encumbrances. While lenders often require lender’s title insurance to protect their investment, an owner’s title insurance is crucial for the buyer as it guards against undisclosed title defects like public record errors or unknown heirs.

Inspecting Property Boundaries

Hiring a professional land surveyor can help identify potential boundary disputes, easements, or encroachments that might not be apparent from the title report alone. This gives the buyer a clear picture of the property’s boundaries and related issues.

Reviewing the Seller’s Disclosure

Sellers typically offer a property disclosure statement that lists known property issues. By scrutinizing this document, buyers can gain insights into any encumbrances that might not have been revealed in the title search.

Establishing Open Communication

Buyers can inquire directly about any known liens, disputes, or other title issues by maintaining transparent communication with the seller. This proactive approach can often unearth valuable information.

Contingencies in the Purchase Agreement

It’s essential to include contingencies in the purchase agreement. These contingencies allow the buyer to renegotiate or cancel the sale if an undisclosed encumbrance becomes evident during the escrow period.

Stay Updated

Since property records can be updated frequently, buyers must ensure the title search is as current as possible, especially as the purchase date approaches. Keeping abreast of the most recent records can safeguard against last-minute title surprises.

What Can a Seller Do to Make Sure All Encumbrances Are Disclosed?

Sellers must ensure transparency in property transactions. To ensure all encumbrances are disclosed, sellers should conduct a preemptive title search, openly communicate any known issues to potential buyers, and ensure that any monetary encumbrances like mortgages or liens are cleared before or during the sale.

Does A Realtor Have a Duty to Disclose Encumbrances?

Yes, realtors have an ethical and often legal responsibility to disclose known encumbrances. While they rely on sellers for accurate property information, they also must act in the best interests of their clients. Disclosing known encumbrances can lead to potential legal consequences for the realtor and the seller.

What Happens If You Don’t Disclose in Real Estate?

Not disclosing known encumbrances in real estate transactions can lead to many problems. This includes potential lawsuits, financial penalties, and a tarnished reputation for sellers and realtors.

Potential Lawsuits

Undisclosed encumbrances can lead to legal actions taken by the buyer against the seller or realtor. When key information about a property is not shared, it can be considered a breach of the sales contract or a case of misrepresentation. Lawsuits not only consume time and resources but can also result in hefty legal fees, compensations, or even the rescission of the sale.

Financial Penalties

Depending on local real estate regulations and the purchase agreement terms, sellers and realtors can be slapped with financial penalties for not disclosing encumbrances. These penalties can vary in size but can be substantial, especially if the undisclosed encumbrance has led to significant financial hardship for the buyer.

Tarnished Reputation

In the age of online reviews and instant information sharing, failing to disclose encumbrances can severely damage the reputation of both sellers and realtors. A tarnished reputation can make it challenging for realtors to attract new clients and for sellers to engage in future real estate transactions. Negative word-of-mouth and online reviews can deter potential clients or buyers, impacting business and trustworthiness in the long run.

Should I Consult an Attorney for My Encumbrance Problem?

If you are facing challenges related to undisclosed encumbrances or need assistance with any property-related issue, seek legal advice. An attorney can clarify your rights and the best course of action.

To quickly and effectively find a seasoned real estate lawyer, consider using platforms like LegalMatch. Their experience can be valuable in navigating the intricate realm of real estate and ensuring that your interests are protected.

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