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Title Searchers and Examiners

The Job

Clients hire title searchers and examiners to determine the legal ownership of all parts and privileges of a piece of property. The client may need this information for many reasons: In addition to land sales and purchases, a lawyer may need a title search to fulfill the terms of someone's will; a bank may need it to repossess property used as collateral on a loan; a company may need it when acquiring or merging with another company; or an accountant may need it when preparing tax returns.

The work of the title searcher is the first step in the process. After receiving a request for a title search, the title searcher determines the type of title evidence to gather, its purpose, the people involved, and a legal description of the property. The searcher then compares this description with the legal description contained in public records to verify such facts as the deed of ownership, tax codes, tax parcel number, and description of property boundaries.

This task can take title searchers to a variety of places, including the offices of the county tax assessor, the recorder or registrar of deeds, the clerk of the city or state court, and other city, county, and state officials. Title searchers consult legal records, surveyors' maps, and tax rolls. Companies who employ title searchers also may keep records called indexes. These indexes are kept up to date to allow fast, accurate searching of titles and contain important information on mortgages, deeds, contracts, and judgments. For example, a law firm specializing in real estate and contract law probably would keep extensive indexes, using information gathered both in its own work and from outside sources.

While reviewing legal documents, the title searcher records important information on a standardized worksheet. This information can include judgments, deeds, mortgages (loans made using the property as collateral), liens (charges against the property for the satisfaction of a debt), taxes, special assessments for streets and sewers, and easements. The searcher must record carefully the sources of this information, the location of these records, the date on which any action took place, and the names and addresses of the people involved.

Using the data gathered by the title searcher, the title examiner then determines the status of the property title. Title examiners study all the relevant documents on a property, including records of marriages, births, divorces, adoptions, and other important legal proceedings, to determine the history of ownership. To verify certain facts, they may need to interview judges, clerks, lawyers, bankers, real estate brokers, and other professionals. They may summarize the legal documents they have found and use these abstracts as references in later work.

Title examiners use this information to prepare reports that describe the full extent of a person's title to a property; that person's right to sell, buy, use, or improve it; any restrictions that may exist; and actions required to clear the title. If employed in the office of a title insurance company, the title examiner provides information for the issuance of a policy that insures the title, subject to applicable exclusions and exceptions. The insured party then can proceed to use the property, having protection against any problems that might arise.

In larger offices, a title supervisor may direct and coordinate the activities of other searchers and examiners.