The typical cost of a title search

Most title searches cost between $100 and $250 for residential properties, and upwards of $1,000 or more for commercial properties. The exact price varies by state, as well as how complicated the search becomes. You can ask a title company for an estimate of the cost before they get started.

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You’ve found your dream home, made an accepted offer, and you’re closing in on finally moving into the space. It’s an exciting time, but before you make the home yours, you’ll have to go through a few steps, including obtaining an inspection, having the home appraised, and conducting a property title search.

Most people have heard of home inspections and appraisals, but what is a property title search? It may be a more obscure part of the home buying experience, but a property title search is absolutely essential to ensure you close on a new home without any hiccups.

Here, we’ll explain what a title search is, how it works, and how much you can expect to spend to get one done. Because yes, you will need to pay something.

What is a title search?

It’s reasonable to assume that the person you’re buying a home from is actually entitled to sell the home. However, that’s not always the case! Sometimes, somebody else may have a claim to the property (such as in an inheritance dispute), or there’s a lien on the property because the current owner owes creditors.

A property title search examines public records on the property to confirm the property’s legal owner. It’s a very important step of the home buying process, because it’s vital to legitimizing the process. A title search reveals if there are any claims or liens on the property and could stall or cancel the purchase.

Why do you need a title search?

Because someone who doesn’t hold the title can’t sell a property, you must perform a title search before closing on a home. It’s for your own protection. Is it legally required? No, but most lenders require both title searches and title insurance as part of mortgage underwriting. If you’re buying in cash and want to skip the title search to expedite matters, that’s playing with fire.

A current owner might not even be aware of an old claim against the property’s title. They may have inherited a lien without knowing it or the property previously passed hands with improper record keeping. Second, debts follow the property. Even if there have been two owners since someone was delinquent on property payments, those debts may come back to bite you.

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Who does title searches?

In most cases, a title company or attorney will take care of the title search for you, the buyer. Sometimes, the lender will handle it. If you’d like, you can also perform the search yourself.

Just because you can do it yourself, however, doesn’t mean you should — it’s a better idea to leave it to the professionals. (Unless, of course, you are a public records professional.) These people have done it before, know where to look, and have a trained eye for perusing complicated legal documents. 

How do you do a title search yourself?

All property records are public, so you are entitled to search for a title yourself.

Bear in mind that all counties and municipalities organize property information differently so before you even begin searching, plan to visit multiple government offices. You can usually find the records you need at places like the county courthouse, the recorder’s office, and the county assessor office. 

First, you’ll need the legal description of the property, found on the property tax statement. With this information, either search online or visit the Recorder’s Office or Office of the Examiner of Titles in your county and request access to public records using the legal description. Then, do the manual work of looking through property records to identify the current titleholder and any liens.

Many counties offer property title records available online, searchable through the county appraiser’s office or the county deeds office. (It may take a little Googling.) Depending on the county, you may search by the owner’s name, the property address, a business name, or other criteria. You’ll also likely find the exact boundaries of the parcel of land covered by a property title, which could be a surprise.

How much does a title search cost?

Most people leave it to the professionals because a title search just isn’t that expensive in the grand scheme of the home buying process. Most title searches cost between $100 and $250 for residential properties. The price varies based on the state you’re conducting the search in and how complicated the search becomes. If you’re buying a commercial property, a title search may run north of $1,000.

At the end of the title search, which typically takes 10 to 14 days, you’ll get a simple report on the documents connected to the property, highlighting any obstacles you may face if you move forward with the purchase. If there are no issues, it’s a very brief report.

Before you choose a title company, ask for a specific estimate of the prospective cost. If you provide them with some specific property details, like the address, they should be able to give you a good estimate. 

Additionally, make sure you verify that the title company has a recognized underwriter that will fund a claim if you have an issue down the road. Most title agencies underwrite their policies through major companies like First American, Fidelity, TRGC, Stewart, or Old Republic. In a perfect world, it won’t matter, but it’s good to know upfront that your title company has the backing of a major underwriter. That’s because those underwriters will pay your claim if you have an issue later on, and they’ll be the ones providing your title insurance.

Buying a home takes a lot of time, money, and effort. There are many good reasons why that’s the case. Cutting corners can lead to problems for both buyer and seller. Just as you wouldn’t want to skip an inspection or an appraisal, you shouldn’t overlook the title search either. Title searches tend to cost less than $250 but could save you thousands in potential debts and legal battles down the line. It’s worth paying the professionals to take care of it for you before closing.

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