A home title documents who has legal ownership rights in a home. If you’re the homeowner, you might believe that’s you—for obvious reasons. But someone else could have a claim on your home. Find out how to check your home title and why you might want to do so.
A title check is the process of reviewing public records and other sources to find out who else might have a claim on your home—or almost any other private property.
You might run a title check for a variety of reasons. Two of the most common include:
- Ensuring your own title is free and clear. Perhaps you already know the mortgage company has an interest in your title, but a title check also lets you know if there’s a lien for a past debt or other issues on your home.
- Checking that the title on a home you’re interested in is free and clear. Imagine going through the process to buy a home only to find out the seller isn’t in a position to actually sell it to you. You can avoid that hassle with a title check.
Another reason you might run a title check is to ensure you haven’t been targeted by title fraud. This is a scheme that’s been around for more than a decade that involves people fraudulently transferring titles and claiming ownership of a home.
If you want to run a title check on your own, you can start with the steps below.
Begin with the information you know about the house or property, including:
- The address.
- What county it’s located in.
- Names of current or past owners who you believe would have had a title to the property.
- The name of any mortgage company that might be involved.
- When the property was last sold.
Don’t worry if you don’t know all this information. You can actually start a title search with nothing but an address. But the more information you start with, the easier it might be to piece together the story that comes out of your title search.
If possible, visit the courthouse that’s in the same county as the property you’re interested in. Let the clerk of court’s office know that you’re interested in the title documents related to the property.
At this point, the process of your search will depend on the policies of the clerk’s office. They may pull the records and copy them for you, often for a small fee. In some cases, you may be able to access the records yourself or view digital copies of them.
You may also want to try the clerk of court’s website. Some clerk’s offices have digitized a lot of information and made it free via public databases.
Your goal in this step is to find out who holds the most current title for the property in question. If it’s your property, obviously you hope that you are the most recent titleholder. If it’s not your property but you’re interested in buying a home, you hope that the seller is the most recent titleholder.
If you find out someone else holds a more current title and you are the homeowner, you may want to consult an attorney or another real estate expert on the best steps to take next to protect your homeownership. If you’re a potential buyer, you definitely want to have a chat with your real estate agent about the potential issue.
Another way to find out about property ownership is through the county assessor’s office. You can typically find a list of all offices in your state on your state’s department of revenue, taxation, or property website.
Liens indicate that someone has a financial interest in the property, though they don’t actually own it. They do, however, have some claim over the title in the event the home is sold.
Title liens can occur for a number of reasons, including:
- Tax liens. If someone owes taxes to a federal, state, or local government, the tax agency in question might put a lien on their home.
- Creditor liens. In cases where a creditor has filed a lawsuit and won a judgment against someone for a debt that wasn’t paid, the creditor might be able to put a lien on the home.
- Second mortgages. If you cash out equity in your home in the form of a home equity loan or HELOC, you are creating a second mortgage. That debt acts as a lien on your home until it’s paid back.
- Mechanic’s liens. These types of liens can be filed by contractors, subcontractors, or others involved in work done on a home. If, for example, someone has new windows installed and never pays the company for the work, the window business might file a mechanic’s lien on the home.
Liens don’t change who owns the title. But they do change what happens when a property is sold. If you sell your home for a profit and there are any liens involved, they have to be paid out of the proceeds of the home sale before you can receive any money.
As a homeowner, liens can be a problem because they limit your financial choices following the sale of a home. If you planned to use the proceeds from your home sale to make a down payment on a new home, for example, surprise liens can wreck your plans.
You can find liens by checking public records within the county recorder’s office, clerk of court’s office, and other public databases. Look for liens associated with the property in question as well as the current owners.
As a homeowner, if you find liens on your property, you’ll want to investigate further. Are the liens related to your debt? If so, you may want to create a plan to settle those obligations before you sell your home.
If you find liens still attached to your property that aren’t related to your own obligations, you may want to consult a lawyer or title professional. If you plan to sell your home in the future, it’s good to have those matters cleared up beforehand.
Running a title check yourself is certainly possible, but it can take a lot of time to find all the information you’re looking for, and you might miss important information along the way.
Instead, consider handing matters of home titles over to professionals. You get the peace-of-mind knowing someone with experience and technology resources is pouring through the data on your behalf. When you work with LemonBrew for title transfers and other title-related matters, you can also take advantage of options such as title insurance. This keeps you covered if there is a title issue that you didn’t know about.