Property 101: How to Conduct a Chain of Title Search

PropertyThe chain of title search is an important check to make when buying and selling a property. It’s necessary to establish whether the current seller actually owns the property or not. If they procured it unlawfully years before, a chain of title search will reveal this. It can also be an interesting way of finding out about your ancestors, assuming you’re living in a home owned by your family for generations.
Here’s a complete guide to how you should go about beginning your chain of title search.

Understand the Difficulties

The best way to begin is to prepare for what you can expect. The biggest mistake people make is applying the property laws of today to the legal situation of yesterday, Things were different decades ago. You have to remember things didn’t work like they do now. Following what we do now can easily lead you down cul-de-sacs.

Most chain of title searches will take you back 30-40 years. With some extra effort, you’ll be able to go back about 70 years. The US is a very young country and boundaries have changed dramatically. Going back further might involve travelling or even visits to foreign countries.

Start at the Top

Gather information about the current owner and try to go back based on information already within your home. A name is all you need since your county’s public access computer terminals will be based around this information. You’ll gain access to all the relevant property indexes. Go back as far as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The staff members there are trained to use the terminals and will prove a useful asset in your search.

Look for the Maps

Always go to the recorder’s museum in person. By doing this, you gain access to the various maps of each property plot. It enables you to find out how each property has changed over time. For example, your property might have been a part of a large area of land owned by a single person. The computer terminals will give you a map number and a page where you can find your property records. These references are essential in a legal context and will appear on any document relating to your property’s legal situation. If you can’t find a more concrete reference, a map might make mention to a deed or easement which can help you increase the length of your chain.

The Grantee Indexes

The final place you can go easily is the grantee indexes. These are your destination when you run out of documents on the computer. You might have traced your property history to as far back as 1970 at this point. These indexes will help you to look even further back. Again, use names and map reference numbers to find the correct entries. At some point, you’ll find what’s known as a ‘heavy’ name. This will be the name of a business or organisation which owns large areas of land. You’ll need to go through a considerable number of documents to find the part which refers to your property.

Tess is a freelance researcher who uses environmental data resources to help people find out what they need to know. She believes anyone can successfully research a chain of title if they have the time.


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