What is a Title Search?
A title search is the examination of public records to confirm property ownership and discover any claims against the property. Here are some examples of issues a title search will bring to light:
- The property is owned (in whole or part) by someone other than the seller.
- Property documents are missing signatures or have been forged.
- An easement will impact how you use the property.
- The property lines were reported incorrectly.
- There are liens placed against the property for taxes or other debts.
Any of these scenarios will delay your ability to take over the title of the house and may require negotiation or investigation before moving to close.
How to Start a Title Search
A title search must occur before closing. But where do you begin?
If you’d like to take this on yourself, you’ll begin your search online, as we’ll explain in the next section. However, not all cities and counties provide information on the internet, so you might need to go into their office to obtain the data. Also, keep in mind, some cities and counties charge fees for accessing information.
While you can conduct a title search on your own, you should still consider hiring a title search company for peace of mind. It’s a small investment but serves an important role in the homebuying process.
Using Public Records to find Property Liens
Check the Property Tax Records
City and county property assessor offices in PA and NJ make their records available to the public. Once you’ve found the office that maintains the records for your property, check their website to see if they have an online portal. If not, you’ll need to visit their offices in person. The property tax records will provide the parcel number, lot number, a general description, and the tax history, both paid and unpaid.
Search for the Property Deed
Next, you’ll need to contact your county or city clerk or courthouse. The titles and deeds are typically recorded and maintained in the clerk’s office. Like the tax records, they may be accessible online. Most counties will allow you to search by address, by lot number, or parcel ID.
Examine the Records
Closely examine the most recent deed. Does the owner name match the name of the seller of the property? Is there any break in the chain of ownership? Look for any red flags, such as a lien or some other potential encumbrance. If they don’t appear resolved, or you’re not sure, it’s time to consult a real estate attorney or title examiner.
How Much is a Title Search in NJ and PA?
In general, a title search in NJ and PA ranges from $75 – $200. Once complete, the title company should provide a report on the documents connected to the property and highlight anything that could create an issue if you move forward with the purchase.
While you can remove this cost by conducting it yourself, the importance of a clear title is absolutely critical. It might be a good idea to leave this step to the title search professionals.
Protect Your Home with Title Insurance
A title search is the first step in protecting your investment. The second step is purchasing title insurance. With a modest, one-time fee at closing, a home title policy will ensure you won’t have to pay for any litigation that occurs if there’s a dispute down the road. While a thorough title search will identify most issues, there’s always the possibility of unrecorded easements or encumbrances, forgeries, unknown liens, boundary disputes, or errors in public records.
Get Your Title Insurance with Trident Land Transfer
Check out the Trident Title rate calculator to get a quote in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. More questions? Contact a professional at Trident Land Transfer Company. As part of the BHHS Fox & Roach family of companies, we’re here to provide everything a homebuyer needs.