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How do I conduct a title search?

In August 1997, I made the decision to enter law school. I wasn’t really sure why I was going; I just knew that I didn’t want to make a career out of my current job.

At law school, people had no qualms about giving their own “two cents” on everything. One opinion, in particular, proved defining for me. A friend stressed the importance of getting a job in the legal field while in school. Oddly enough, that same week, I ran into a non-law-school friend who was connected with a practicing lawyer in my area. Fast-forward to later that week. I was introduced to this attorney, and we hit it off immediately. I ran into him a lot after that, and he always showed interest in my career, so I had no reservations about asking him for a job. A few days later, I was in his office discussing my new job as law clerk.

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My first assignment? Conduct a title examination on a property. I had no experience, so my new boss gave me a 10-minute lesson. All I remember were these commands: “Run the title back, then run it forward to the current owner.” Off I went in my car to the Hillsborough County (N.H.) Registry of Deeds. I asked everyone there for help. Three very long days later, I knew how to run a title.

You can conduct your own title research, and I’m going to show you how, but you should have a professional produce the one you base your decisions on.

Most property records are online. Go to www.masslandrecords.com. Click on your county. Is the parcel registered land (most of the property in Massachusetts is) or recorded land? Don’t know? Search both databases. Look under the current owner’s name or the property address. Hit return, and, voila, the records appear.

Find the current owner’s current deed. Make sure it was properly transferred. Search the current deed for the book and page number. Write them down. Now search the registry using the book and page number. Comb those records (go back 50 years) to make sure that all liens/encumbrances have been properly discharged.

Once you have the records in front of you, you need to start with the current deed/current owner of the property. Look to see whether the deed has been properly transferred. Outstanding mortgages, probate issues, and federal and state liens are some examples of things that could affect your title to the property. If there are outstanding liens, you need to go back to the original lien holder to obtain a discharge.

Examining a title is like putting a puzzle together. Make sure you have all of the pieces. Good luck.

Hugh Fitzpatrick is the founding partner of New England Title and Fitzpatrick & Associates PC, a Tewksbury-based law firm specializing in real estate conveyancing. Send your questions to Address@globe.com.
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