This is a continuation of last month's articles on how investors can do a quick title search using online public records. Title Search 101 for Investors - Part 1 and Title Search 101 for Investors - Part 2.
If you recall from the previous articles, the first important point to remember is that title searches always start with the present day and then work their way backwards through time. On a quick title search the simplest way to get started is to visit the county property appraiser's website. Their website will show who they are claiming 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.)
On the property appraiser's site you are looking for the last legitimate sale of the property (not the $100 sale). The deed referenced needs to be either a WD (warranty deed) or SWD (special warranty deed). Most of the time you will see an O.R. book and page number which is the official record's recording reference. For instance on the property appraiser printout above, the starting deed is recorded in O.R. book 5577, page 850. The first number in the sequence is the "book" number and the second number is the "page" number. Decades ago these records were actually kept in big deed and mortgage books stacked up along a wall at the land records office similar to a library. The book number referenced an actual deed book and the page number was the page in that book to flip to in order to find the document. Nowadays most of these records are online but the old reference system is still used. The book and page numbers are sequential first by book number then by page number, so the larger the book number the newer the document (i.e. Book 5000 is more recent than Book 4000). The same goes for the pages in the books (i.e. Book 5000, Page 800 is more recent than Book 5000, Page 500).
The site will have a list of the book and page numbers for the various deeds in the "chain of title." A chain of title is simply the sequence of deeds that link the various owners of the property over the years. In Florida, a full title search is supposed to go back to a legitimate transfer of title (typically a WD or SWD) that has been recorded in the public records for at least 30 years. Most title claims prior to a 30-year old deed are barred by virtue of Chapter 712, Florida Statutes a/k/a the Marketable Record Title Act. However for most residential property titles there is a much simpler shortcut that can be used.
Also if you recall from Part 2 of this article, the second important point to remember is that in title searching the "legal description" is what matters and not the street address or the tax parcel #. If the legal description is a platted subdivision lot (see above deed - Lot 5, Block D, Monterey Subdivision Unit Six, Plat Book W, Page 68) as opposed to an acreage or metes & bounds type description, you can use this shortcut. You simply start with the deed for the last legitimate sale and search forward from there basically ignoring everything in time prior to that deed. The reason you can normally get away with this is because this deed will have been prepared by a title company with the buyer getting title insurance at the time of sale. Notice in the deed above in the upper left-hand corner that it was prepared by First American Title Insurance Company. Odds will be extremely high that the underwriter that issued an owner's title policy on that closing has already scrutinized the property's title prior to the recording of that deed. If there was a title problem, they fixed it at the time that deal closed.
Stay tuned for the next article in the series ... coming soon. Title Search 101 for Investors - Part 4