Before buying a home, one of the first things you need to do is to make sure that the seller actually owns it. After all, you can’t sell something that doesn’t belong to you. legally speaking at least. You have to make sure that you are dealing with a clear title. Essentially, a title that’s clear of any issues that may prevent you from purchasing the property and keeping it.
What Is a Clear Title?
Also known as a “Clean Title” a “just title,” or a “free and clear title”. A clear title is a title that has no liens, boundary disputes, or any additional issues that could jeopardize ownership. Such issues include, but are not limited to, zoning violations, undisclosed tax liens, unresolved building code violations, a forged deed, a disputed will, Mechanic’s liens, or an undisclosed divorce.
An owner of a home with a clear title is the sole undisputed owner, and no other party can make any kind of legal claim to its ownership.
Who Is responsible For a Title Search?
The buyer is on the hook to make sure that the property in fact has a clean title. Unless you are making a cash purchase, which is possible but not common, mortgage lenders require a thorough title search through local property records to ensure the title is clear. So while you want to make sure the property you are buying has no issues for obvious reasons, it is also a necessity if you plan on borrowing money from a lender.
How To Check If a Property Has a Clear Title?
You can visit your local property records office or do an online search for the property’s title history. This will tell you what’s in the official records, but it won’t tell you what isn’t there – such as building permits and zoning rules, which can limit property rights and hinder the purchase.
Unless you enjoy the legwork, this is something that a real estate attorney can take care of for you. As part of our full-service real estate department with a dedicated full-time real estate paralegal, we offer hands-on legal service from start to finish, including contract drafting and review, inspection addendums, title searches, mortgage payoffs, mortgage document review, and deed preparation.
We also have the expertise to clear up any probate matters that may arise in the title search. Such complications could arise with older properties where the heirs of a prior owner could have a proper claim or ownership might have been transferred to a trust or some other body that has a legal claim to the property.
Attorney Joan Reed Wilson has been an authorized title insurance agent since 2003 and was one of fifteen attorneys chosen in the State to participate in the CATIC Advisory Committee in 2016. Together with paralegal Carolyn Meeker, who has been handling real estate closings for over 30 years, can guide you through the closing process with ease and clear up any issues that may arise with a title search.
Any possible liens on the property must be cleared up during the closing process, and once a title is cleared, the deed (the legal document showing who owns a property) can be registered in the new homeowner’s name.
What Happens If You Still End Up with a Dirty Title?
While post-purchase title issues are not common, if a secondary search uncovers anything of significance, there can be considerable legal costs. This is where title insurance comes in. Your lender will require you to purchase a lender’s title insurance, which protects the lender and covers up to the value of the mortgage if an issue arises. We also always recommend you purchase an owner’s title insurance to protect yourself, which covers you up to the home’s purchase price.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice and is for general informational purposes only.
Marketing Director & Probate Paralegal at RWC, LLC, Attorneys & Counselors at Law
Ukraine born and Israel / Miami, FL raised. University of Miami graduate in the Marketing field.
Mom to a girl, a boy, and a Siberian Husky.
My husband is always leary about titles and other official documents. It is good to know exactly what a clear title is. Thank you for the information about no liens, boundary disputes, or any other issues that could jeopardize ownership. I think we can look for a home with a little more assurance.
We didn’t know that mortgage lenders required a thorough title search before lending us money for a house. We’re interested in finding a house for our family this year, and we’d like to know more about the right team to make it possible, so we’ll definitely look for a title search specialist to help us out. We’re grateful for your tips on who’s responsible for a property’s title search if we’re the buyers.