Why do you need a title search on a home purchase?

The title to a home defines your right to ownership, possession and use of your property. Since the person you're buying a home from is already living there and using it, why do you need a title search?

Well, because the title to a piece of property can have hidden problems or "defects" that can suddenly crop up and interfere with your right to enjoy your property in peace down the line. The seller may not have any idea that there's any problem with the title -- especially if a property has been in the family for a while.

A title search is a kind of background check for your home that digs into all its historical records, looking for sources of trouble so that they can be settled before those problems occur. Title searches can reveal these kinds of common problems:

  • There's a lien: Maybe the seller -- or the seller's parents -- had some unpaid debts and their bank put a lien on there that needs to be paid. If you buy the house with the lien, you also buy their debt.

  • Errors in the record: A clerk could have recorded the numbers on the house wrong, or the dimensions of the property incorrectly. That can become a big issue later.

  • Illegalities: Someone may have forged their spouse's signature on a deed or the deed may have been previously made by someone who couldn't legally do so, like a minor.

  • Other owners: Maybe the house was left to more than one person in a will -- and one of those heirs never signed off on a sale.

  • Easements: Someone else could have the right to use your land -- whether you like it or not -- if there's an easement. While it may not trouble you if it's something like access for the utility department to some wires, it's smart to be aware of any that exist before you buy.

Real estate transactions involve a lot of money, so it's important to get them right. Find out how an experienced attorney can make sure that everything is handled correctly.