This is a continuation of the Title Search 101 for Investors series. If you have not read Part 1 of this title search , just refer to the link so that you can better follow along.
The number two oddity in title searching is that most people whether buyers, sellers, investors, Realtors®, lenders, and appraisers think of a particular property by its street address or tax parcel number. In the title industry street addresses and tax parcel numbers are for the most part irrelevant. A title searcher is only concerned with a “legal description.” A typical legal description would be something along the lines of Lot 5, Block 27, Happy Acres Subdivision, as recorded in Plat Book 22, Pages 31 through 35, of the public records of Sunshine County, Florida. Now that’s a mouthful. The difference between a street address and a legal description is that a street address is an arbitrary number and name typically assigned by the post office or city hall. That address is subject to change for instance if a building gets bulldozed or a piece of acreage gets subdivided. A legal description on the other hand has defined boundaries. You can find a subdivision plat map filed at the courthouse and determine the exact lot dimensions and corner markers of any lot shown on it. There are not boundary line disputes with a legal description. The boundaries are what they are. But there could very well be a dispute if all you had were the street address or tax parcel number. After all was the fence actually placed along the boundary line or is it a few inches or feet off? The legal description of any given property will be either (1) determined by the deed on record at the courthouse, or (2) on parcels to be developed or subdivided determined by a licensed surveyor. Below is an example of a recorded plat map.
If you keep these two points in mind (1) the title search starts from today and works backwards through time and (2) you use the legal description and not the address, then you are half way there. So how do you get started with your title search? The simplest way is to go online to the county property appraiser’s website and see who they claim is the current owner of the property. (For your convenience on our Sand Dollar Realty Group website www.SDRhouses.com, we do have an extensive “Helpful Links” page that has references to all of the property appraiser, recorder, and courthouse search sites in Central Florida.)
Unless the owner of a property bought it prior to the 1970’s to early 1980’s, the property appraiser site will typically reference the book and page number stamped on the deed when they bought it. This book and page is the official records’ reference number for where you can find an actual copy of the deed. The deed you are looking for will have the abbreviation WD (warranty deed) or SWD (special warranty deed) and you want the sales price listed on the appraiser’s site for this deed to be a legitimate price (not $100). There are many other types of deeds including PRD (personal representative or probate deed), CT (certificate of title for a foreclosure auction), and QCD (quit-claim deed). But you want to find the most recent deed with either a WD or SWD abbreviation that has a legitimate price on it. This deed will almost always have been prepared by a title company as part of a normal arm’s length closing where the buyer was provided title insurance. This deed is where your quickie title search begins.
In the next articles, I will share with you the secondary steps you must take to evaluate various deeds in the “chain of title” as well as mortgages, liens, and foreclosure cases. Stay tuned …