Learn more about finding your title online

Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: I enjoyed your column which discusses finding your title status online. I learned from your column. I was an underwriter for one of the largest securities firms in the country for many years, so these dry questions interest me.

With reference to this recent column and the items that appear on a property’s Pledge of Title, I would like to point out that judgment liens and IRS liens against landowners generally do not appear on the chain of title or on title pledge. The names of owners along the chain of title should be researched. These issues relate to the land even if they are not found in the land records.

A: Thanks for writing. We have written this column to inform our readers about the information available on their home title and how to access it. Homeowners should be aware of issues that affect the title of their home. Generally speaking, most homeowners know that their home loan will appear on the title, but they rarely know what other information is available and how it is displayed.

But we agree that this could use a little more explanation. First, when we say something appears on the title of a house, we are referring to the ownership history of the property going back as far as the records allow.

If you were researching ownership of your property and wanted to know more about when ownership was first transferred from the government to whoever settled it, you would want to start with the first document that created a form ownership of the land. This document, which may be hundreds of years old, may be a government document that grants title to your land and possibly even your home to the original owner.

If you wanted to continue researching the property from then until today, you would need to track every sale to every buyer. In real estate jargon, this is called the “chain of title”.

The title string should show you all owners of the property from first to present. Once you have closed and the documents are filed with the local office that handles property records and filings, your name should appear as the owner of the property on the last document on file.

When you buy a house, you want to make sure you own it. This means making sure that all vendor liabilities are resolved at closing and don’t come back to haunt you. The title or closing office will help ensure that all debts are satisfied as part of the closing process.

When you search for the chain of title, there are other things you can see besides ownership. These may include zoning restrictions and regulations and municipal ordinances. If you are buying into a condominium or homeowners association, you will usually see the condominium or homeowners association governing documents listed on the title. And, of course, you should expect to see property taxes appear on your home title if they are unpaid or you wish to view them at the local municipal treasurer’s office.

You should see all mortgages related to the property (first loan, home equity line of credit, etc.) listed as a lien for your lender. And often you will see utility easements or other types of easements that could affect the use of your home. Records will show when mortgages were taken out and paid off. These filings do not disappear from your property’s land records, but rather remain a historical record of what has happened with the property over the years.

If you want to see all the records for your property, you can go to the local land records office and ask them to remove the record from the property. You may also see some of this information online, through your local recorder’s website, and only to the extent that they have digitized these records.

But you are right. Certain items that could affect a homebuyer may not appear on title, including certain judgments, federal tax liens, and state tax liens. So while a homeowner can check the land records to see which records affect or display title to the home, those land records will not inform them of these types of tax judgments and liens.

Most homebuyers purchase a title insurance policy to protect themselves (and the lender) against issues that could harm the homeowner that were not disclosed on the title insurance company’s title report at the closing date of the house.

And your comment points to another reason buyers should get a homeowner’s policy in addition to the lender’s policy. The title company assumes financial responsibility in the event that the seller has tax liens that were not discovered and paid at closing. If the buyer has title insurance, the policy should provide protection and coverage for that homebuyer.

Contact Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin through their website, BestMoneyMoves.com.

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