Title Search – What is the Process? (especially in NC)?

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Ok, the first question I asked was a little ambiguous. I know I can get a title search done, that is NOT the question. The question is HOW, or even better, what are the STEPS involved in the process.

I know we start at the courthouse real estate division and I even know where it is, but what I’d like to know is what are the locations of ALL LIENS (including IRS liens and mechanics liens) on a property. Is there a central repository? We took a class of our Prudential agents there when I was a new agent, but it went by so quickly, I think I missed parts.

I frequently represent buyers in MLS and FSBO-listed properties, but I’ve also represented some on the courthouse steps and I want to be armed with the liens before we bid.

Bill Martin, Realtor/Broker/MBA
Accredited Buyer’s Representative
Prudential Carolinas Realty
704 227-3296

  1. Reply
    February 8, 2014 at 12:38 am

    wait, you represent clients all the way to the court house steps and don’t know where you find or search for liens on a property? that is very dangerous game you are playing and if i was you, start finding a good attorney/lawyer to protect self, just in case

  2. Reply
    Lori R
    February 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

    Not sure specifically in NC if there are any deviances from this, but the loans that I have processed there don’t seem to have taken any different steps from most of the other states I have processed loans in.

    A basic title search, usually performed by an abstractor consists of researching both the property and the borrower. Unfortunately, there is no central repository for everything you have to check each part individually in different locations.

    First thing you do is check the tax records. Depending on if your state is automated or not, you may be able to do this online. Do a web search for property taxes _____ county (fill in the appropriate county and see if that county has an online system. This should give you current information on who owns the property. Some states and counties will even tell you more detailed information like who the previous owner was, how much the purchase price was, and the dates of transfer. If the county does not have automated or online resources then a phone call to the county tax collector or assessors office should be able to provide you with the information. This is public information so if you ask for it, the office has to provide it. You can also inquire there whether the property taxes have been paid or if they are due (unpaid property taxes create a lien on a property) You should also call any municipal authorities in the area (depending on where you are at there may be county, city or school taxes in addition to property tax, there may be a water and sewer authority, etc.)

    Armed with this basic information you then proceed as you said in the Land Records or Recorder of Deeds office of the county courthouse. Most courthouses are automated now and have computer terminals where the public can search for mortgage liens by address or names. If there is no computer then you have to search manually by checking the index books which list the liens and reference the document numbers of the liens. This part of it requires some detective work in some cases if you really want to be thorough. The index books are usually divided into grantor and grantee. You already know the name of the current owner (from the tax office) so you go to the grantor book and search for that name in the year that they obtained the property (also from the tax office) Once you have the first document (the current deed to the property) in hand, read it and follow the trail back. Start with the name of the person who sold the current owner the property, then the previous owner, and so on until you have gone back as far as possible. For most title companies, they try to go back at least 30 years. Some states have statutes of limitation that allow for liens to expire after a certain point so you check back as far as your state’s laws require. Once you have a “chain of title” ( a list of all the owners and the years they owned the property) you should search all of the names on the chain in the “grantee” records. When a person takes out a mortgage they are the grantee for the document. You will be able to locate all of the mortgages, liens, and deeds of trust granted by the owner to the mortgage company. All liens on the property should be recorded in this office.

    Your second stop is to the circuit and district court clerk offices. Again, many states have computer terminals in the office for a search, others do it by have books which are usually alphabetized by the name of the defendant. Again, it is all public information so you have a right to it, don’t be shy. You want to search by the name of the current owner. NOTE: These records are not necessisarily against the property but against the person. The reason you search them is because in most states by obtaining a judgement as a creditor, you have the right to attach all of a person’s assets to collect your money, therefore they become liens. This requires more detective work because you are searching by name which allows that you may have come across a record which belongs to a person with the same or similar name. Usually these can be ruled out by looking at the filed judgement and matching the information listed (address, social security number) to the current owner of the property. Sometimes, they can be eliminated as not belonging to the owner but another person.

    IRS liens can be researched there as well since the federal government and state governments have to go through the same procedure in obtaining a judgement against someone to collect money from them.

    Another resource for court information is a website called PACER. Do a web search for it. You have to make an application for access and you pay 8 cents a page for records retrieved but it is a much speedier way to check the court systems. Again, not all court systems provide information to this service, but a lot of them do

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