How Long Does a Title Search Take?

Article Summary:

A title search will typically take between 10 and 14 business days to complete. However, the exact timing will depend on how old the house is, how quickly the title search company receives the necessary information, and what judgments or liens currently exist against the property.

If you’ve ever bought or sold a property, you know it can take a long time to sell a house. Between all of your applications, appointments, and document signing, you’ll wait around. A lot. The goal is to ensure that you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s to prevent problems later.

One potential issue you might run into is a “dirty” title. Encumbrances, like unpaid back taxes, can cause real problems during real estate transactions. That’s why exploring a property’s history (and potential skeletons) with a title search is so crucial. Here’s what to know about how long it takes to find this crucial piece of the property-owning puzzle.

What is a property title?

In real estate, property deeds and titles are different concepts. Your deed is a physical representation of your property rights. The document outlines your physical boundaries and marks your legal and financial claim and responsibility. In other words, it’s a legal, physical representation of your title that transfers between buyers and sellers to establish ownership.

But your property title isn’t written down in the same way. Think of property titles as legal theories that are required to own property. Your title establishes a “bundle of rights” that acknowledges your legal and financial ownership of a property. Without a clean title, your legal claim to real estate may be put into jeopardy.

Pro Tip

Even though property titles aren’t outlined on paper, they’re still “owned.” Before buying or selling property, it’s important to ensure that only the owner can claim the title. Otherwise, the seller may have no right to transfer the deed.

What is a property title search in real estate?

A property title search is just what it sounds like: an investigation into a property’s ownership details. The process requires a thorough review of the property’s ownership, debt, lien, and legal history. At the end, it should clearly establish the rightful owner of the property.

To do so, the title company will dig through documents like:

  • Deeds
  • County land records and maps
  • Bankruptcy and divorce court records
  • Probate case judgments
  • Tax, construction, or mechanics liens
  • Previous mortgage documents
  • Street and sewer assessments

Pro Tip

Most mortgage lenders require title searches before they fund loans. However, searches only uncover recorded claims. You may also be required to conduct a judgment search to identify unrecorded issues. Fortunately, title insurance can protect against unresolved claims that arise after closing.

How long does a title search take?

The speed of a title search varies dramatically based on several factors:

  • The age of the house (older properties often take more time)
  • How quickly county offices hand over information
  • The complexity of the documents regarding the property
  • Any past liens, judgments, or inheritance concerns

Generally, the property title search process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. That said, most title searches take 10 to 14 days. The process takes even longer if the title agent has to verify that past issues have been resolved, or clean up existing issues.

Who does the title search?

Prospective home buyers usually pay an attorney or title company to examine public records. They then use the information to create a title abstract, a recorded chronology of all documents and transactions related to the property. In some cases, the title agent can also assist in repairing dirty titles, depending on the issue.

Though a title search isn’t always required to get a mortgage, it’s generally a good idea. Some underwriters even require it before approving you for a loan. If you’re ready to begin the title search process on your dream home, come prepared with a better idea of your mortgage terms by comparing the lenders below.

Pro Tip

If you buy a house at auction, check with the auction company to ensure that the property has a clear title. If you win, you’ll want to buy a title insurance policy ASAP for added protection.

Is title insurance necessary?

Title insurance, or a warranty of title, can mitigate the financial damage of post-closing claims on your property’s title. Generally, lenders require you to purchase insurance (included in your closing costs) before funding a loan.

Private transactions usually offer a warranty of title instead, which represents the seller’s guarantee that they have the right to transfer ownership.

Why you need a title search

Think of title searches like your employer’s background check, but for real estate. The process reveals anyone with a legal or financial claim to the property.
During a house title search, the title company examines public records to confirm a “chain of title.” This trail determines previous owners and any past or current claims. (In some cases, the current owner may be unaware of old claims. In others, they may be trying to dump their problems onto someone else.)

Thorough title searches can reveal dozens of unresolved issues or encumbrances, such as:

  • Unpaid property taxes
  • Unresolved liens (such as mortgage or tax liens)
  • Unpaid HOA fees
  • Mechanics liens for past renovations
  • Legal judgments in bankruptcy or divorce cases

The title search process can also uncover any legal restrictions or limitations for your property. For instance, local governments may issue laws regarding pet or livestock ownership or how many vehicles you can have. You may also be subject to caveats that follow the property itself, such as easements or restrictive covenants.

Dirty vs. clean titles

A clean property title proves sole ownership over a piece of real estate. Essentially, clear titles amount to proof that the owner is the only one who can claim or sell the property. Transferring a clear title prevents creditor debts, pending mortgage claims, or previous encumbrances from hanging over the buyer.

By contrast, a dirty title indicates that a property may not be free and clear. Sometimes, this happens for reasons of record. For example, a county courthouse clerk may misspell or misstate information during the title registration process. Other times, a dirty or defective title occurs for more serious reasons, such as erroneous property line surveys, unpaid back taxes, or unresolved building code violations.

What happens if your title is “dirty”?

If your property title search uncovers a dirty title, the actions you can take depend on the specific issue. For instance, improper filings or missing descriptions — both common problems — can be easily fixed with a corrected deed. Breaks in the title chain (when the deed “passes over” previous owners) may require obtaining a new deed or quitclaim deed.

Other problems may take more effort to fix. For example, you may have to pay off a mortgage or tax lien before the title can transfer. For liens that have been sold, you’ll have to find the buyer. As a homebuyer, you generally have three options when title issues arise:

  1. Ask the current owner to rectify the situation at their own expense.
  2. Ask the seller to compensate you for the cost of fixing the issue yourself.
  3. Walk away and continue your home search elsewhere.

Pro Tip

In some situations, your ability to walk away may be hindered if you’re already under contract. But some fixes may take so long that you’ll jeopardize your loan commitment by staying.

FAQs

How long does a title search take in Kentucky?

Title searches can take anywhere from hours to weeks to complete. In Kentucky, many title companies note that the process often takes about five business days.

How long does a title search take in California?

Title searches in California may take just a few hours to complete, but they’re more likely to last at least one business week. Older houses, and those with multiple prior owners, take longer to thoroughly comb through the data.

How long does it take to update title deeds?

You should expect to wait at least four to six weeks to complete the legal process of transferring a title.

Can you do your own title search?

While you can conduct your own title search, professionals have the expertise needed to understand “legalese.” Additionally, if you want insurance, the insurer will require a professional review before issuing a title insurance premium.

You can conduct your own property title search by going through the property’s public records. Nowadays, most of this information is found online. Still, you may have to search physical records at the county courthouse, recorder’s office, or the county assessor’s office.

Key Takeaways

  • A property’s title defines the rights of the title holder and details the property’s ownership history.
  • Title searches involve verifying ownership and claims against a piece of real estate. These searches are normally conducted by title search companies, but individuals can conduct their own search.
  • The process ensures that the seller has the right to transfer ownership.
  • If a home has a dirty title, the seller, buyer, or title company may have to commit extra time or money to fix the underlying problem.
  • You can also purchase title insurance to protect against financial losses incurred by post-closing title claims.
View Article Sources
  1. Interest on Home Equity Loans Often Still Deductible Under New Law — IRS
  2. Reverse Mortgages — Federal Trade Commission
  3. Home Equity Conversion Mortgages for Seniors — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  4. How to Tap Into Your Home Equity Without Getting Into Debt — SuperMoney
  5. What Is a Second Mortgage? (And How To Get One) — SuperMoney
  6. Is It Wise To Use A Home Equity Loan For Debt Consolidation? — SuperMoney
  7. Home Equity Loan vs. Line of Credit: Which Should You Choose? — SuperMoney
  8. Reverse Mortgage vs. Home Equity Loan vs. HELOC: Pros & Cons — SuperMoney
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