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Conduct a Title Search to Ensure the Smooth Transfer of Property

If you plan on buying property, it’s important to understand the purchase process so you can avoid setbacks. While many buyers are likely aware of the home inspection process, which assesses the condition and safety of the property, you may not be aware of title searches and their importance when purchasing property.

What is a title search?

The title search confirms that the seller legally owns the property, and thus, is able to transfer the title to the new owner. Title searches can reveal any potential claims, liens, or encumbrances placed on the property as well as any issues with the deed. Title searches accompanying evidence sought from the applicable taxing authority will also uncover unpaid bills that are liens against the property or outstanding property taxes that the current owner needs to settle before a sale is finalized.

Who performs the title search?

Depending on the state you live in, title searches can be performed by either a title company or real estate attorney. In Massachusetts, most title searches are done by a real estate attorney, and closing must involve attorneys, but in other states, it is common for a title company to conduct the title search on behalf of the buyer. Title searches are a complicated and arduous process but they are necessary to protect the buyer and guarantee a smooth exchange of the property. It is essential to select a seasoned local real estate attorney to perform your title search. Their attention to detail and dedication to the process will greatly alleviate potential stress during the homebuying process.

How does a title search work?

In Massachusetts, the title search period extends to the first third-party deed that is at least 50 years prior to the date of the title search. A real estate attorney or title company must check that the title was properly conveyed in each deed or transfer of owners throughout the entire 50+ year period. An important component of the title search is to review title exception documents. This includes restrictions on use, obligations to pay others, or perform specified actions and rights given to others that burden the property. Depending on the property, there may be publicly recorded allowable exceptions to the title that the homebuyer should be made aware of by their real estate attorney or title company.

Risks searched for in a title search

  • Are there outstanding mortgages?
  • Are real estate taxes paid up to the last quarterly invoice?
  • Are there any other liens or attachments against the property or property owned by the seller in general?
  • If it is, or was a property owned by a religious institution, did the authorized person sign the deed?
  • If the property was held jointly, did all of the joint owners sign the deed?
  • Has the property been given a tax classification that is taxed at lower rates – but thereby gives the municipality a right of first refusal? Are rollback taxes owed?
  • Is there a federal tax lien of the seller that burdens the property?
  • If estates were involved, did the signatory have authority to sell? Is there a tax lien waiver or an affidavit that no waiver was required under applicable law? If trusts were involved, did the trust expire by its terms, were the trustee(s) signing the deed properly appointed as shown in documents recorded at the Registry of Deeds?

Completing a thorough title search is critical to ensuring a smooth transfer of the property from the seller to the buyer. The best way to be certain there are no hurdles in the purchase of your dream home is to work with an excellent real estate attorney. If you’re considering purchasing a new property, reach out to experienced real estate attorney and title search expert, Jo-Ann Marzullo of Ligris + Associates PC.

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