The terms “title” and “deed” may sound familiar if you have ever purchased a house. What many people are not aware of is that they are actually two separate things.

The “title” to property refers to the legal rights that an owner can exercise over their property. Title rights give the owner access to the property, allow them to sell or transfer it to other parties, and enables them to enjoy and use the property in any way they see fit.

The “deed” is the actual written legal document that transfers the title rights. In other words, when a party wants to sell or transfer the title to their property, they have to create a deed in order to do so. The deed will be handed over to the buyer at the closing sale. Once a buyer obtains the deed, they should immediately file it with the office of the county clerk in which the land or real estate is located.

What is a Title Search?

A title search, or a property title search, is a process that involves reviewing files from the county records department to see a particular property title’s ownership history. The search is usually conducted by a commercial agent, such as a title company, a real estate attorney, or an escrow officer. The types of records that these agents might examine include:

  • Deeds;
  • Court records;
  • Name indexes;
  • Property indexes; and
  • Various other kinds of real estate documents.

The purpose of a title search is to confirm that the seller is the actual legal owner of the property being sold. It also helps to ensure that the title is not clouded by a defect that could reduce the value of the land or would subject the buyer to some sort of legal liability. Some examples of things that can cloud a title (e.g., cause a title defect) include:

  • If the property has a mortgage lien or unreleased lien attached to it;
  • Where there are pending probate issues regarding the property;
  • When a home is part of a foreclosure action;
  • If the title to the property is fraudulent or forged;
  • When there are defects or errors in the chain of title; and
  • Various other documents that could make the property title questionable.

In addition, if a buyer has title insurance, then the agent conducting the search will need to determine whether the title insurance company will insure the title as part of the search process.

What Other Types of Records Does a Title Search Review?

Each title search company or individual attorney that is hired to perform a title search, may choose to review different kinds of documents. In general, they will typically examine the following:

  • All public and court records associated with the property;
  • The chain of title;
  • Property tax records;
  • Any legal descriptions included of the property;
  • Liens or other claims made against the property; and
  • Whether there are any easements recorded.

As discussed above, the purpose of this is to avoid other persons (e.g., creditors or true landowners) from being able to intervene with the purchase of the property. It also serves to protect the buyer from potential lawsuits.

Are There Title Issues that a Title Search May Not Reveal?

There is a chance that the title search may not reveal all of the issues connected to a particular property. Some of the most common examples of problems that a title search may not readily reveal include:

  • Fraud issues;
  • Forgeries;
  • Mental incompetence;
  • Clerical errors;
  • Improperly probated wills; and
  • Confusion due to similar or identical names that appear in the chain of title.

In order to limit the risk of such a mistake, title insurance is available to protect a party from any damages incurred due to these errors. For instance, if a buyer purchases property and later on discovers that there is an issue with the property title, then the title insurance company will have to pay out any damages to the title holder or it will try to correct the problem.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with My Title Search or Title Search Issue?

Purchasing real estate is often a significant investment that can cost a person a lot of money. Thus, the deed to the acquired property is a very important document because it affects the buyer’s ownership interests and the rights they have over a specific parcel of property.

Therefore, if you are looking to buy a home or other real estate, you should strongly consider contacting a local real estate attorney. An attorney will be able to conduct a proper title search of the property that you are interested in buying, which can help minimize the risk involved with making your purchase.

Also, if you experience any issues with the title after you have already acquired the property, a qualified real estate attorney can help you to defend against any attacks on the title to your property, or alternatively, hold the seller accountable for any damages you may be facing due to a mistake on their part.