How To Do a Title Search

Find potential issues with a property’s title before you buy a home

A person conducts research online.
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A title search can help protect your home purchase by helping you find out any issues with the title of a property. Title searches are common in real estate and are usually handled by a title company during escrow. However, you can also perform a title search yourself by reviewing local property records.

Let’s take a look at how to do a title search, when it makes sense to do so, and what you should do with the results of your title search.

Key Takeaways

  • Title searches are often completed when buying a home, as part of the process for getting title insurance.
  • Lenders will require borrowers to get lenders title insurance for a mortgage and that will entail a title search.
  • A title search ensures that there is no negative information about the property you’re buying, such as unexpected liens or easements.
  • You can conduct your own title search by navigating through your county’s public records.

When It Makes Sense To Do a Title Search

Title insurance protects both you and your lender from any losses if the title of your home is not actually free of claims. Title searches are normally conducted as part of getting the title insurance you need when you’re buying a home.

These searches reveal who legally owns the property, the condition of the title, and whether there are any liens against it. This can include a mortgage if the owner has one, or even problematic liens filed for unpaid debts, like a mechanics lien.

Title companies will do a title search before issuing title insurance to check for potential problems with the title. They’ll search public records including deeds, mortgages, divorces, court judgements, and bail bonds.

Title search fees vary, but they generally range $75 to $200. Once the title company has ensured that the title is clear, you’ll have the option of purchasing title insurance.

How To Do a Title Search

The process for completing a title search will vary depending on where you live. Some states, such as California, keep online records that make it simple to complete a search. Let’s walk through an example of completing a title search, including the major steps you’ll take and how to find the information for your own county.

Determine the Parcel Number

Every property has a parcel number, which is a series of numbers used to identify the home for tax purposes. If you own the home, this number will be on your annual property-tax bill. For another home’s parcel number, you can search online with the county tax assessor’s office. For example, if you want to do a title search on a house in San Francisco, you would search the San Francisco County Office of the Assessor-Recorder.

You can complete a title search using just the property’s address, but having both the parcel number and address can make your title search easier. You may also find parcel numbers on real estate listing sites such as Zillow or Redfin.

Search for the Property

Once you’ve navigated to your county’s website, enter in the property’s information to start the search. The exact process will vary according to your county. Typically, you will enter the street address, the parcel number, or the planning application number to find the records for the property. In some cases, you’ll need to travel to your local records office in person.

Review Property Records

Once you’ve found the property, you’ll be able to investigate sales records, liens, and other information about the home.

What To Do With Title Search Results

If you discover negative information on a property you want to buy, you’ll need to consider what to do next, depending on what you discovered. A search that reveals a lien against a home is not uncommon. A lien may be a mortgage the seller needs to pay off with the proceeds of the sale.

If the property has survey disputes, undiscovered wills, or illegal records, be sure those problems are resolved before buying the home. A new title insurance policy will not cover the issues identified in the title search.

To resolve the issue, you may have to work with the seller. If you can’t resolve more serious title issues, you may want to consider looking for another property to buy.

If your title search comes up clean, you can move ahead with your homebuying plans. This means that the title is registered correctly under the owner’s name, the property has no liens, and there are no other disputes on the property.

The Bottom Line

A title search is a common part of the homebuying process. Title companies often conduct this search for you, but you can also do a title search on your own.

Most states and counties maintain online databases of public records in which you can easily search records. Having the parcel number and address available can make completing a title search on the property simple.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take to do a title search?

The amount of time it takes to conduct a title search depends. If you’re doing it on your own, the number of days will be based on how much free time you have available. However, if the title search is being completed by a title company, it may take about 10 to 14 days.

How do you do a title search on a mobile home?

Conducting a title search on a mobile home will depend on your location. In California, for example, you can search the California Department of Housing and Community Development website for a mobile home’s title. Other states, such as Florida, may consider the mobile home real property and have records available via the Registry of Deeds.

Article Sources

  1. California Department of Insurance. “Title Insurance.”

  2. Sacramento County. “About Assessor Parcel Maps.”

  3. California Department of Housing and Urban Development. “HCD Mobile Home Registration and Titling.”