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What is an Imperfect Title?

In a real estate context, an “imperfect title” refers to title that is defective and does not convey full legal transfer of a parcel of land or real estate.  A title can be imperfect because:

  • It contains an “encumbrance”, such as a property lien or easement
  • There are unresolved disputes as to the actual ownership of the property
  • There have been errors or issues regarding the recording of the title
  • The title has defects with regards to property descriptions
  • Any other inconsistencies that might cause the ownership of the land to come under question

Thus, an imperfect title cannot really be used to convey property from one owner to another.  Before property can be transferred, the title needs to be “marketable”, meaning it should be free from any of the defects listed above. 

What are Some Effects of an Imperfect Title?

An imperfect title can have the effect of undermining the validity of a sale or transference of real estate.  For instance, suppose a home owner transfers title to a purchaser.  If it is later discovered that the title was imperfect, it can have effects on the sale and transfer of the home. 

Thus, the main effect of an imperfect title is that it does not actually indicate direct legal ownership of the property.  It can be useful in other regards, such as tracing the chain of overall ownership when conducting a title search.  However, for any real estate transaction or transfer, the title should always be marketable and “perfect”.

What Does “Quiet Title” Mean?

To “quiet title” means to file a legal in order to clear a title of imperfections and settle any legal issues that might be putting a “cloud” on the title.  In other words, a quiet title proceeding can help to resolve any imperfections, thereby bringing the title back up to a marketable status.

Quiet title proceedings can involve many different issues, such as boundary disputes, encumbrances, conflicting claims of ownership, and the title history of the property.  An experienced lawyer is usually required when participating in or initiating a quiet title proceeding.  The quite title procedures can vary widely by state.

In some cases, additional experts may be needed during a quiet title proceeding.  For example, a title company may be consulted in addition to the services provided by a lawyer.  Title companies specialize in ensuring that a title is free of imperfections before a sale.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Imperfect Title Issues?

An imperfect title can be a serious hindrance to the sale or transfer of real estate.  If you need assistance with title issues or any other types of important legal issues, you may wish to contact a qualified real estate attorney in your area.  Your lawyer can assist you in examining the title to ensure that it’s free of defects.  In the event of a legal dispute, your attorney can represent you in court during legal proceedings such as a quiet title hearing. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-25-2018 07:53 PM PDT

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