We get a question from some people that has been bothering me lately... no matter how we answer, it keeps coming back up again and again:
"This other company can get that lien search back from the municipality in 24 hours -- why can't you?"
Sure, we can get information back faster by going the quick route and pulling them off the department's website, but we don't recommend it.
I'm going to say something that our competitors don't want you to know: There is no secret or magic formula for getting you faster turnaround times when it comes to getting results from municipalities.
If someone is promising you faster turnaround times, it's because they're cutting corners. There. I said it.
To be clear, I'm not talking about "rush" options that municipalities offer -- where you're getting written results sent to you faster for an additional fee. I'm talking about companies that simply boast 24-hour turnaround times.
"Muni" departments often have information easily accessible online, but what you may not realize-- what could really bite you in the ass--is the fact that these results are often incomplete, out-dated, and inaccurate. What's more, municipalities typically won't stand behind the accuracy, because even they know the information is frequently wrong. Most of the time the only way to get accurate, up-to-date results, you have to request and receive them straight from the municipality.
Getting guaranteed results
If you're interested in covering your own butt and your client's, it's much safer to get official results in writing rather than pulling unofficial results from a website. To give you an example, the City of Venice used to only make permit info available online (and this is sometimes the case in other cities) and that info was incorrect all the time. When we'd run across discrepancies with what was available online, they'd tell us we were S.O.L. More recently, the city started allowing you to request results in writing. A few weeks ago it came to our attention that we had received inaccurate permit information. When I called up the permitting department, they apologized and closed the permits out administratively. It's important to note that there are instances that the municipality will put a disclaimer on even their written results and they are not always guranteed and we have little recourse when that's the case. However, physical results with a date stamp and the name of the person who prepared the information are always going to be the more prudent option.
Missing information in online databases
Some municipalities that put information online are missing information that could come back to harm a buyer. For instance, Seminole County's website doesn't include permit information that predates 2004. What's more, we know the data on their site is only updated on a monthly basis. Furthermore, you can't find information for nuisance violations or building code violations on the Seminole County online database -- that information can only be requested in writing.
In Marion County, their online permit database doesn't include any fees that are due for open or expired permits. Not only that, but they also don't list all the information about code issues resulting from permitting issues -- this information can only be obtained by sending a formal request to the building department.
Is getting it faster worth getting it wrong?
You may be saving yourself a few days by opting to trust the information online, but you're putting yourself and your client at great potential risk. When that online information is updated intermittently -- you're not getting the most accurate results. And when this mistake comes back to bite you, it's your name and reputation that gets raked through the mud in the mind of the Realtor that referred you to their client.
We make these requests hundreds of times a day and constantly we see discrepancies between the data returned directly from the municipality and what's available on their website. That's why we always request everything in writing when it's an option. Because we've seen it come back to haunt us and our clients. What we want clients to know is that we're not trying to pull one over on you. There are no short-cuts for giving the best service possible.