Short Sales and Title Searching

Posted on 17. Nov, 2011 by ctlms in Blog, Foreclosures, My Blog, News, Real Estate, Short Sale

Should an agent do a search of the title on a listing?

Alright, so it has been way too long since my last post on short sales.  I totally apologize.

Today's topic is going to be on searching title.

In today's real estate environment there are a few things agents should be doing with their listings to cover their own "assets".  Asking the sellers about their mortgages and any liens is one of these.

You do not want to be the agent that takes the word of a seller that they have plenty of equity to sell without a short sale, only to find out a week before closing that it is not true.  This just doesn't look good for you or your brokerage and it can jeopardize your commission if the deal falls through.

Plus, there are many cases where the seller does not know that they have title issues.  Many people do not realize that small claims and collections judgments as well as medical judgments can be, and often are, attached as judgment liens to their property.

It is very important today that you research the title of your listings before taking the listing.  Many agents already go down to the town hall and pull the field card for the property and allot of agents also get a copy of the deed.  Some Broker's actually require this be in the file, as they should.

So while you're there you should be searching the title for mortgages and any other liens that may be on the property.

Many towns now have their land record index right online where you can search the title and get an index of what documents are recorded for that property.  A simple search like this can quickly reveal documents of concern such as; Judgment Liens, Tax Liens, Water or Sewer Liens, Lis Pendens, etc.

Now I am not saying that every Realtor needs to be a title search expert.  But a simple purchase date forward search of the land records can uncover any possible issues to your transaction closing so that they can be addressed long before the 11th hour before closing.

In the case of a short sale this is critical.  Any money judgments against the property need to be negotiated with the lien holders.  If we do not know about them, we can't negotiate them.  It is also very difficult to renegotiate with a mortgage company to pay a judgment after they have already approved a short sale and that judgment was not listed as an expense from the beginning.

On top of that, many judgments for credit card liens and medical liens are very difficult to get released for less than full payoff.  Spending months negotiating a short sale on a property that has unknown judgments on it that will doom the property to foreclosure, or the seller into bankruptcy, is not fair to all parties involved.  These need to be known up front so that if they are unwilling to negotiate, all parties know it sooner rather than later.

One of the most useful resources here in CT is  Here you can search by the seller's name and find foreclosures and lawsuits.  There are 2 areas to search.

Under the Case Look-up link on the left;

1. Civil/Family will find foreclosures, collections and divorces.  If the plantiff has the same last name as your client, it's probably a divorce

2. Small Claims will find all small claims files.

Any judgments for collections or small claims that do not show as satisfied are more than likely recorded as a lien on the property as well.

In addition to this resource, the town clerk's office will have any and all liens recorded against the property.  When searching though an electronic index the following guide of commonly used document short cuts may be useful.

ASN = Assignment, FCL = Foreclosure, IRS = IRS Tax Lien, JDG = Judgment Lien, LN = Lien, LPN = Lis Pendens (foreclosure initiated), MEC = Mechanics Lien, MTG = Mortgage, QTC = Quit Claim, REL = Release, SOJ = Satisfaction of Judgment, TXL = Tax Lien, WAR = Warantee Deed

This is by no means an exhaustive list and the short cuts differ from town to town.  You may also come across others that are less common.

But if you are fortunate, your listing will have 1 War, 1 or more MTG and that is it.

When processing a file for a short sale, we typically try to check any online resources available to us to investigate the status of the title.  But we rely heavily on the listing agent and the seller to inform us of any issues that need to be addressed in the short sale negotiations.  The only other alternative would be to require every single seller that we process a file for to pay for a title search on their property.  Since these issues come up without being presented to us by the agent or seller a small percentage of the time, we feel that would add cost to many sellers unnecessarily.

These issues can be easily discovered by a cursory search of the land records by the listing agent and many brokers already advise or require their agents to do so given the pervasiveness of title issues today.

So if you do not often take this extra step on your listings, I hope these suggestions cause you to consider doing so in the future to save yourself some future headaches.

Sean Wilder