A common question we get is, is it possible to determine if there is a lien on a property or a piece of real estate? And the answer is yes.
Property records and real estate records are considered public records open to the public. They’re open records, unlike motor vehicle records or some other types of documentation. Real estate records are open and you can access those at the county level. There are 3,611 counties in the country and every county has a recording system for real estate documents, things like liens, mortgages, deeds, quitclaim deeds, etc. If there is a lien on a property, that document needs to be filed at the county recorder’s office. There are several ways to search for this.
First of all, you can run a commercial title search. There are many companies that run title searches and can determine if there’s a lien on a property. However, you can actually access the records of that county yourself. Now don’t make the mistake of trying to do an online Google search, don’t type in “property lien 12 Main Street” in Google because you will likely get poor-quality results that are unverifiable and often inaccurate. They might even look like they have accurate or legitimate records. There are some companies that might charge you a fee to tell you if there’s a lien, but those are not the official real estate records. You may find yourself paying $5-$10 to some online document companies and still not knowing if there’s a lien on the piece of real estate.
The only 100% accurate way to determine a lien on a property is to go in person to the county recorder’s office in the county where the property is not where you are but where the property is and you’re going to run a document search and index search for that property. Even if your county has something that’s online that looks like it allows you to do searches online, avoid using the online system and try to go in person. In fact, if you look at the bottom of the online system, it’ll tell you these are not the official records for real estate. There may be errors, there may be omissions.
Real estate is an expensive decision. Whether you’re buying it or lending on it, you want to know if there’s a lien and spending the time whether it’s half an hour or an hour to go down to the courthouse to find out for sure in person is probably worth it. If it’s not worth spending that much time to do or spending a couple of hundred dollars for a title search, then don’t try to take a shortcut and use some other method of doing it. Don’t use an online search. Don’t use some third-party real estate records website that you click and it pops up on your screen. Anything that pops up on your screen instantly is not going to be a hundred percent accurate the only way you want to get a title search is if somebody goes to the courthouse in person, pulls paper documents from books, and reads them to determine a lien on a property and gives you a title report, whether you do it or somebody else does it, anything that’s online that’s instant has the likelihood that it’s not going to be a hundred percent accurate.
There are some liens that are not directly recorded against the property. They might rerecord it against the person and if they own a property sometimes it automatically attaches. For example, if somebody has a tax lien against them from the IRS and they own property in that county, even though there’s not a lien directly recorded against 12 Main Street, it’s recorded against Joe Smith and he owns 12 Main Street. You may find that there’s a constructive lien against that property. So be aware of how liens are attached to properties. We’re not attorneys, we’re not giving you legal advice. If you do need more legal determination, get good legal opinions from a qualified attorney. But if you want more information about how liens are searched or how to determine a lien on a property you can check out various resources online. The most important thing is a lien on real estate is an important thing to know. There are many kinds of liens. There are construction liens, tax liens, child support liens, bail bond liens, and HOA liens, and in fact, a mortgage is a form of a lien. It’s a voluntary lien. When you get a mortgage on a property you are voluntarily letting the bank put a lien on your property because they’re lending you money. So a mortgage is a form of a lien. Liens come in many forms make sure you’re getting all of them so you don’t miss a hidden lien that could result in you making a bad decision on a piece of real estate.
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