Verifying property ownership is a fundamental part of real estate transactions, such as buying property, and generally a good idea whenever you need to be certain you are dealing with the property owner. You can verify ownership by reviewing public records, such as grant deeds, that list the current and past property owners. This is generally a reliable source of information, but it is not always accurate. If you need a professional verification of ownership, hire a title company to prepare a title abstract for the property.
You can verify property ownership using a variety of methods, ranging from tax records to a variety of documentation found online through local municipalities as well as county tax assessors.
Which Government Authority is Responsible?
Determine which level of local government is responsible for recording and maintaining real estate transactions and ownership records for the property that you want to verify ownership. In many states, this is a county-level government office, although in some states this is a city or town office.
Accessing Property Ownership Records
Review the government recording office's website, if available, for information on how to access property ownership records. Some municipalities make this information available online, while others require an in-person visit to obtain this information. If there is no website available, you will have to obtain the information by phone or a visit to the office.
Finding the Property Owner's Name
Search for the owner's name you want to verify in the recording office's index of property deeds to determine what real estate he owns. Although the type of deeds commonly used to transfer real estate ownership varies from state to state, in general, ownership is acquired using a general warranty deed, special warranty deed, grant deed or quitclaim deed. The name of the current property owner should be listed as the grantee -- that is, the person receiving title to the property -- in the latest recorded deed.
Reviewing Tax Records
The county tax assessor in the county where the property is located has the names of property owners listed with each property's address. Contact the tax assessor's office to find out if you can access this database online, or if you need to appear in person to look at property tax records. Sometimes, a simple online search reveals property ownership by finding a property owner's name through tax records.
Obtaining a Title Abstract
A title company may be able to provide you with the best assurance that you have accurate property ownership information by producing a title abstract for the property in question. Title companies employ licensed title examiners who are trained to review public records to determine the current and past owners of a property, as well as any other claims affecting title to property such as unpaid tax liens and court judgments.
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