If you are a new property owner or you are about to purchase a property, you're probably full of future plans. In your mind's eye the life of your new property is only just getting started and it's going to get better from here on out. In the midst of your amazing plans for your newest real estate acquisition, remember that while the property is new to you (and comes with a bright future), it has a history of its own, too. By conducting a thorough title search, you can uncover any title defects that are tied to the property. Always attempt to complete a title search prior to closing on a property so you can watch for some of the most common title problems that could easily disrupt all your carefully laid out plans.
- Errors in Public Records: sometimes mistakes happen, but when it's a mistake that infringes on your rights as a homeowner, it can be devastating. Clerical and/or filing errors that seem minor can have significant effects on property deeds and/or surveys of property.
- Unknown Liens: If the previous owner wasn't exactly on top of their debt, there could be a lien against the property. In some cases, the previous owner may have forgotten about it completely or never known of its existence. Liens on a property can stick around and haunt new owners for unpaid bills that never even belonged to them in the first place.
- Illegal Deeds: In some situations, the chain of title can be called into question when a prior deed was made by a minor, a person of unsound mind, an undocumented immigrant, someone who claimed they were single but was actually married, etc. This type of previous deed can affect enforceability and result in questionable ownership (past and present).
- Missing Heirs: At the time of death, a person's property falls to the heirs. If heirs are missing or unknown at the time of death or if the will was contested, your rights to the property can be affected years after your purchase.
- Forgeries: Sometimes people purposefully set out to rip other people off. In the case of the sale of real estate, this is often done using forged or fabricated documents affecting property ownership. They may even file them within public records to further obscure the rightful ownership of the property. If forgeries come to light in relation to a real estate transaction you were involved in, your rights to the property you "purchased" could be in jeopardy.
- Undiscovered Encumbrances: No knowledge of a third party that can lay claim to the property (whether they can lay claim to the entire property, a part of the property, or a limited use of the property, etc.) can occur when there is an encumbrance in place at the time of purchase. This could result in restrictions on your own use of the property.
- Unknown Easements: When there is an unknown easement in place, your use of the property you purchase could be limited. You can own a property, but an easement can prohibit you from using it as you had planned. It can also allow government agencies, specified businesses, or third parties to retain entitlement to access the property or a portion of the property.
- Boundary and/or Survey Disputes: Prior to purchase you should absolutely see a survey of the property, but seeing one survey doesn't mean that other surveys do not exist indicating different boundaries. Boundary/survey disputes can result in neighbors or third parties claiming ownership to all or part of the property.
- Undiscovered Will: The death of a property owners with no apparent will or heir may result in the state selling the assets left behind. Purchasing the property can leave you at risk for a will that could be discovered at a later date.
- False Impersonation of Previous Owner: If you purchase or the property you purchase was purchased in the past from an impersonator, your ownership of the property can be called into question. This is common when the impersonator has a common or similar name to the actual property owner.
If you have questions about conducting a thorough title search in order to protect your next southern California real estate purchase, please get in touch with one of the business and real estate lawyers at The Law Office of Retz & Aldover LLP as soon as possible.