A title search is a special search that gives you the full details on the title of your home. The search will show who the rightful owner is, if there’s a tax lien on your property, as well as any other information you need to be aware of. A lien is a serious issue that shows that another person or party can hold a claim against a property. If your potential home has a lien, you probably won’t be able to find a lender willing to work with you, so performing a title search is important.
Performing a title search can also be useful if you’re renting a property and trying to verify its ownership, especially in places like NYC, where scams are common.
The cost of a property title search depends on where you go, but if you have it performed by a title company, you will typically have to pay between $75 to $100. You can also do a property title search for free, on your own, but this is often time-consuming and may not be accepted by banks.
- Check Public Records
- Hire a Title Company
The two best ways to run a title search in New York are to check public records or to hire a title company. While you can run a title search for free if you check public records yourself, hiring a title company is hassle-free and carrier less risk of making a mistake or missing a lien.
1. Check Public Records
One of the easiest ways to perform a title search in NY is to check the public records of the house. You'll want to be sure to look at them both online and in person. It may seem redundant, but you will find that the records can be quite different in some jurisdictions.
2. Hire a Title Company
If you don't want to run a title search yourself, you can also pay a title company to do the job. Professionally done title searches are a must if you want to make sure that your home will be insurable. A title agent will be able to run a title search for you. This is part of the closing costs that you will pay at your title agency.
Technically, you can perform a title search for free, as long as the municipality won’t charge you. It’ll be time-consuming, and you’ll have to go to the local public recorder's office to do so, but it can be done. Additionally, if you decide to do a title search yourself, your lender may not accept it, and may still require you to pay to have another one done.
- Use Your Local County Appraiser's Site
- Check With the Public Recorder
- Look For Liens and Judgments
- Examine the Title History
1. Use Your Local County Appraiser's Site
The first step in doing a free title search is to check out your local county’s property appraiser site and look at the records on the house. Note the owner’s name, legal description, parcel number, and any other vital details that are noted.
2. Check With the Public Recorder
The next step in doing a title search is to check with the local clerk or public recorder. Go to the public recorder’s office and check the owner’s name and property for judgments, liens, or lis pendens. This will tell you if the house has been pinged in lawsuits in recent years.
3. Look For Liens and Judgments
Check for any liens filed against the owner’s other properties in recent years. A lien can affect all the person’s property, including the home. These don’t always show up on specific properties, especially if they are code violations, tax liens, or judgments. Doing this will make sure you have a totally clean title to the best of your knowledge.
4. Examine the Title History
Take a look at all the transfers of title to make sure that the pattern is followed. Every transfer has to have matching names, addresses, dates, and details. Otherwise, you might still have a title that needs to be fixed before it can be fully insured.
If you’re wondering whether you’ll see all the liens of a property on public record, you’re in for a surprise. Not all liens will show up on public property records. In fact, some might be downright impossible to find through typical means.
Some states even have laws against publishing liens on public property records. These types of liens do not show up on record. This tends to make buyers assume that the seller is liable for the liens, but this is not true.
Even if the liens aren’t mentioned on public records, buyers who get the property will still be held liable for them in the court of law. This means that some liens could easily cause you to lose thousands or even millions of dollars.
There are several categories of liens that will not show up on any type of publication. These are generally known as unrecorded liens. Unrecorded liens can include things like:
- Building Code Charges: If the building had code violations like overgrown grass, a poorly-maintained yard, or a bad roof, then you might find some outstanding fees related to the city treating them as an unrecorded lien.
- Unresolved Municipal Fines: If the homeowner was fined as a result of unkempt lawns or building abandonment, you might also see this appear as a lien.
- Unpaid Utility Bills: People who don’t pay their utility bills may find themselves giving the next homeowner an ugly surprise in the form of a lien. This, however, varies from city to city.
- Unresolved Assessment: Are there any open permits or unresolved fees from a property assessment? If so, you may have a lien on your hands.
Here’s the challenging part about unrecorded liens: they’re not recorded. So, going through the usual routes isn’t going to work well. There aren’t really any guaranteed ways to find out about liens aside from asking the current owner or asking groups that may have business to do with them.
The issue is that your homeowner might not be legally obligated to mention any unrecorded liens that may be attached to your property. After all, if it’s unrecorded, it’s literally not in the records, and you can’t really do much with that in court.
You might think that title insurance is there to protect you against surprise liens, and to a point, you’re right. However, this only really works with recorded liens. If you find yourself with an unrecorded lien on your title, you may have a struggle ahead of you.
If you are about to buy a home, make sure that you perform a title search (even a preliminary one!) before you start getting very serious about the offer. A beautiful property that’s filled to the brim with liens and other title problems isn’t as great a deal as it may first appear.
Thankfully, most properties that hit the market aren’t going to have an issue with the title, nor are they going to have a problem with liens. So while you should be cautious, don’t panic and assume the worst.