One of the most important things that you need to do when you decide to purchase a house is to check for any encumbrances on your potential purchase. An encumbrance refers to any legal right that will interfere with your ownership in some way. A lien, for instance, might be present on the property to ensure that a creditor gets his payments. If the payments do not go through, then he can seize that property, even though you personally don't owe him money. An easement, on the other hand, involves another individual or even a business having an interest in how part of your property is used. You must know about these in advance as they lower the overall value of your property and may make it harder to sell later.

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The term for a whole piece of property without any encumbrances is "fee simple" in most states. But it isn't as easy as checking to see whether the property description says that it isn't passing as fee simple. You have to look to see whether the property has been divided into parcels, had a creditor take an interest in it, or an interest has been given away through a will or other legal document.

Request a Preliminary Title Search

In many states, you can request a preliminary title search from the seller without incurring any extra costs. The preliminary title search provides only a general overview, but it should provide you with the basic chain of ownership. You will want to save this for when you go on to conduct your own basic title search. Remember that the preliminary title search is exactly that: preliminary. Don't rely only on this alone.

Do a Basic Title Search

When you start your search, your first stop should be to the local clerk's office. If the property you're considering is in an area that does not have a courthouse because it's such a small town, then you'll go to the county seat. In some cases, counties have converted these into online databases, but you may only be able to access them on computers in the courthouse or if you have received the appropriate password and login information. In other states and counties, you can access this simply by calling up the clerk's office and requesting the access information. It all depends on how the basic property and title information is classified within your particular state.

Track the Property's Complete History

If you don't know the property's complete history, you run the risk of finding a lien or easement is associated with the property. The simplest way to do this is to start at the beginning of the property's recorded history. From there, you can track all of the conveyances that the property goes through. If a partial interest in the property is sold or given away, then make note of it. Make sure that that interest is dealt with in some way or else you should assume that is an interest you will not have in the property.

How an Attorney Can Help

If you need help at any time during the title search process, it's smart to talk to a real estate lawyer. We can help you find a lawyer so you can buy or sell your property with confidence.

Get started Create Your Affidavit of Title Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Create Your Affidavit of Title Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.