Why Do You Need the Property Deed?
A property deed is a treasure trove of information that can allow you to accurately reconstruct the history of the property you are looking at. In the US, you can sometimes reconstruct property history all the way back to the period of the American Revolution, or even earlier. For most intents and purposes, however, it's enough to focus on the property's 20th and 21st century history.
Where to Get Started
A property deed search always begins with figuring out where the deeds are actually kept. The names and locations vary by state, be it a with county clerk, recorder, auditor, or a state registry of deeds; no matter what the office is called, it's likely a good first step to locating a deed. Some jurisdictions make their property deed records available online, either free of charge or for a fee. If you plan on browsing the deeds repeatedly, paying the fee and getting a subscription might be more advantageous. Otherwise, looking for the physical copy of the deed might be the cheaper option.
Understand What to Look for
In general, look for everything that might cause you problems down the line like liens that were not lifted, unclear changes in ownership, incomplete records, taxes, easements, and so on and so forth. Definitely inspect the actual definition of the property that establishes just how large it is. Sometimes a property may be bigger than it actually is presented, but due to passage of time neighboring properties may have encroached upon it. Conversely, your property may be encroaching upon others. The deed can reveal these facts.
Locate the Deed
The biggest challenge with finding the right deed is that they are rarely organized according to their address. To find the deed, the usual method is to use the name of the current property owner. Note that the deeds are prepared by humans and humans make errors. If you have trouble finding the deed through the current owner's name, you should try alternative spellings first or look for other family members. In general, if you encounter problems at this stage, there might be something iffy about the property. On the other hand, if you own a property with a deed that's incorrect, it's a good idea to fix any errors that could cause you problems if you ever want to sell the property.
Consider Other Methods
The point of the search is to find the book and page number for the recorded deed. In case you are unable to find the deed at all, consulting the county Geographic Information System (typically available online), and looking for the property itself, should lead you straight to the deed. This is especially useful if the owner is legitimate, but changed his name or the deed was recorded in a completely incorrect way.
Need more help with a property deed search? Ask a lawyer for help with your specific situation.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.