Chain of title

What is a chain of title?

The chain of title is a real estate records search that lists the successive owners of a home or property. The purpose of a chain of title search is to ensure the home or property is free to transfer to a new owner.

The search includes tracing the title of ownership back to the original owner and ensuring the title doesn’t contain any liens, judgments, foreclosures or any other encumbrances that would hinder the transfer of title to a new owner.

Deeper definition

During a real estate transaction, a title company or an abstractor will research the chain of title on behalf of the buyer. The chain of title isn’t an actual document or summary report, but a name that real estate professionals associate with researching the chain of ownership on a title to a home or property.

After completing the title search, the abstractor or title company normally issues an abstract of title or a preliminary title report, which is a written summary of all the recordings associated with a home or property title.

Abstractors and title companies verify the chain of title, using various documents connected to the home or property. They use any foreclosure documents, death certificates from joint tenants, judgments from quiet titles or any other deeds to the property.

The search usually starts in the county recorder’s office where the property is located. The recorder of deeds keeps copies of all the documents that determine the chain of title, starting with the property’s first owner.

Want to learn more about title searches? Learn some of the questions you should ask.

Chain of title example

It is possible to conduct a chain of title search on your own. To start a chain of title search, you should first visit your county assessor’s office or use the free tools available from your state’s government website.

Most states offer a “county assessor” tab on their website where you can start searching by the county and address of the property. If you’re unable to find the property on the state’s website, you will need to visit the county assessor’s office in person.

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