7 Common Title Problems in Real Estate Deals

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When you tour a home, a big question is whether “what you see is what you get.” Appraisers, home inspection professionals, and title companies help offer the answers. Through the title search, ownership of the land in traced back in time, showing current legal ownership, easements, and any notable issues.  

Until the moment the seller signs the buyer’s purchase offer, the buyer can back out of the deal, and a frequent reason for doing so involves marketability of title. A cloud on the title or an undisclosed easement might come to light, putting off a reasonable buyer. In any case, the mortgage lender must be convinced that the market price of the asset is truly fair and accurate—that what you see is what you get.

So, in the all-important tile search, a title company scours deeds and other documents recorded with the county, state and federal tax lien records, and various financial, bankruptcy, and divorce records that could complicate a title. If nothing substantial is unearthed, the title is deemed clean. Some common, even beneficial encumbrances will turn up in a title search. A buyer can expect to learn about homeowners’ association rules, utility easements, and normal zoning restrictions. But detrimental encumbrances can be dealbreakers.

Here are seven of the most common title issues to watch for in any real estate sale:

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Property Title? Deed? What’s the Difference?

Image of a legal document in background. Captioned: Property Title? Deed? What's the Difference?

When you buy a home, you receive the deed. And you hold title. The deed and title are interrelated yet distinct concepts.

Title refers to ownership, including the legal right to possess and use a parcel, the right to exclude others from using it, and the right to transfer your interest to others.

If you do transfer your property to another person, the deed is the vehicle that moves your legal interest in the property to the other party.

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How to Prove Ownership of Real Estate

Image of old keys laying on a plain background. Captioned: How to Prove Ownership of Real Estate

You own real estate. If you’re asked, how do you show proof of your ownership?

Essentially, the proof is in your property’s title history. This means: 

  • Your ownership interest is only as good as the interest conveyed to you by the last owner; and
  • Others could have dibs on your property, if you used it to borrow money.

Of course, when you bought your home, the title company researched the chain of title to ensure previous owner had the right to convey to property to you. How do you check the chain of title now? The county keeps records. Many county websites make the information accessible online, so you can look up mortgages, other liens, and deeds that pertain to your property.

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How a Lien Affects the Real Estate Title

Image of a house in the background with a construction worker in a hardhat holing building plans. Captioned: How a Lien Affects the Real Estate Title.

Many people have liens on their real estate. Consider your mortgage—a lien that leverages the home as collateral for your mortgage loan. Other liens, too, can show up in a title search. Homeowners should know what kind of liens might attach to a home they already own, or a home they’d like to buy. Here, we review the basics of home liens: types of liens, how they impact the home’s title, how they can lead to foreclosure, and how to remove them.

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