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Title plays significant role in home purchase

Hugh Fitzpatrick answers your questions on titles, transactions, legal issues, and more.

I have been involved in residential real estate for 17 years, practicing law for the past 14. I have played a role in countless transactions and hope to share with you the many lessons I have learned along the way.

Although each real estate deal is different, I have identified common concerns and questions. One concern in particular is a person’s property title. Before digging into the legal discussion about title, I wanted to share how I came up with this topic. As the father of two young girls (2 years old and 8 months), each night is different. My wife and I commonly discuss our predictions for the evening. (Are they going to sleep?) On my “shift” one night, I was awakened by cries over a dropped pacifier. After I remedied the situation, I couldn’t sleep and found myself watching an old Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

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Later, as I was thinking about what to discuss in my column, this movie suddenly popped into my head. The title perfectly represents what you need to know when buying or selling a piece of real estate.

What’s good? Ownership, to which the word “title” refers. But the condition of the title you hold can affect your ability to sell that property.

What’s bad? When you buy a piece of real estate, the attorney’s job is to make sure that you have good, or “marketable,” title. However, there are things that can be recorded onto it that can make your title bad, even ugly: federal and state tax liens, claims of heirs, and deed forgery, just to name a few.

Before you bid on any piece of real estate, confirm with your attorney that it has a good title. If it doesn’t, make sure that the seller’s attorney clears it up before you close. You can always buy a bad title, even an ugly one, but clearing it can get expensive. Be sure to revise your offer to one that reflects those projected expenses.

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For most of us, our homes are the most expensive item we will ever purchase. Do yourself a favor and make sure that a real estate attorney looks at your title before you buy or sell.


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.