Ideally, property records found online should be trusted to be free of human and technological error. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for documents associated with a property. Being that the information comes from multiple sources, there is room for errors to appear when that information is handed off between parties.
Some errors are harmless, while others are detrimental and require immediate attention before a home can close. Title insurance is meant to protect both the homebuyer and the lender in these cases but it’s much easier when you can catch the errors before they cause an unnecessary delay.
Avoiding these errors is close to impossible, but we’ve put together a few strategies that can be used to catch them, leaving you closing with confidence.
Tip #1: Compare Documents Side by Side for Matching Information
Property results can lack uniformity and not all information is updated on the same schedule. Performing a side-by-side analysis between sources can ensure the correct property is being searched. The Property Appraiser and the Property Tax Collector are among the easiest places to compare to find errors.
Property characteristics, assessment, and tax data are typically updated on an annual basis but not always during the same time of year. For example, assessment data typically updates early in the calendar year (most states adopt an annual assessment date of January 1), while taxation data updates around the billing period which depends on the location.
Common errors include:
- The property’s age
- Total square footage
- The legal description
An error in one of these fundamental property characteristics can significantly impact title clearance. Compare both sites and check for the following details below.
Look into all possible names that the owner could be under. For Example, Robert and Susan Smith could be under Bob and Sue Smith. Additionally, Susan Smith could also be found under her maiden name, Susan Johnson.
To make matters more complicated, there could be potential descendants of a name (i.e. George Smith Sr., Jr., III., etc.) that could end up being a false positive – a name that may be correct but for the wrong person.
The surname Smith occurs slightly more than 828 times per 100,000 people in the U.S. In Hillsborough County, FL alone, there are 3,425 matches under the last name Smith. Chances are, searching under the owner’s name may bring several pages of results so it’s important to pinpoint the correct person.
The slightest details are crucial when it comes to how an address is laid out online. Pay attention to how the address compares to the address on other documents and make sure you are looking at the situs address, not the mailing address. This is especially important when it comes to investment and secondary residences as mistaking a mailing address for a situs address is more common than you would think.
It’s important to note that a street address is not a legally binding description and often changes. An example of this would be alternative street names. For example, State Road 123 may also be known as Montgomery Road. Other occurrences that may impact the address are newly split parcels, newly built property, etc.
Additionally, minor details like misspelling or street directional usage can lead to the wrong property being searched. For example, 123 Blueberry Lane vs. 123 Blueberry Lane South could be two separate properties within an area. A wrong compass direction can change the boundaries and even the correct jurisdictions of the property.
The legal description is a document of county accepted detailed information that assists those in the industry to assure themselves that they are working with the correct property. An incorrect legal description is a fatal error.
Scan through the legal description and ask yourself the following:
- Does the square footage match what is on other records?
- Does the listed acreage match what is on other records?
- Does the parcel ID correlate with the owner and address?
- Is there a unit number associated with this property?
Property tax and assessment records may use a brief description that appears to be comprehensive but is actually insufficient to legally describe a property, and therefore, may actually describe a different property than on the deed. The full legal description more accurately describes the property.
There is one flaw to this strategy – some information may not be available to third parties due to Privacy Rights. Confidentiality could either apply to select information like exemptions, address, owner name, etc., or apply to all property information.
Some sellers choose to list their property with more discretion by requesting the concealment of their property’s information in the public records which ultimately, makes fewer resources available to Title agents. Acting as the middleman in these cases can be a major disadvantage and may require some owner involvement in order to get all of the needed documents to compare.
Tip #2: Check the Date of When Information Was Updated