Before a house can change hands, the parties have to make sure that there are no issues, such as disputes about ownership, misunderstandings about the location of the property line and unpaid debts, that could cause a problem. A title search can reveal those sorts of issues.
The title to a property is a set of rights, not a single piece of paper. An attorney or a title search company will have to go through a variety of documents covering the entire period that the property has existed. A problem that arose decades ago and went undiscovered could potentially derail a sale.
When Is a Title Search Conducted?
A title search is usually performed after the seller accepts an offer from a buyer. If you’re concerned about possible title issues, or if you just want to avoid any unpleasant surprises later, you can conduct a title search before you list your house.
Problems That May Come to Light Via a Title Search
Fraud, impersonation, forgery, a recordkeeping error or insufficient information can raise questions about ownership. The person attempting to sell the property, or someone who sold the property in the past, may not have been the legal owner. That can create a complicated legal issue if the current owner wants to sell the house.
A title search may reveal one or more liens against the property. For example, the current or previous owner may have failed to pay property taxes or other debts. If the house changes hands, a debt collector may attempt to seek payment from the owner of the property, even if that’s not the person who incurred the debt.
Restrictions or covenants may prohibit certain uses of the property. A previous owner may have granted an easement that allows a neighbor, a company or a government agency to use a part of the land for a specific purpose.
The deed may contain an error related to the location of the property line that may cause a prospective buyer to walk away. A homeowner may have accidentally built over the boundary, infringing on another party’s property.
How to Handle Title Issues
If a title search uncovers a lien for back taxes or money owed to another party, you will have to pay it off before you can sell the house. If there is a recordkeeping error, you may be able to clear it up by providing additional documentation. If you or a neighbor built a structure on the wrong side of the property line, that structure may have to be moved or torn down before you can sell your house. Although you may be able to resolve many title issues yourself. For complex matters, however, you may have to hire a real estate attorney.