How to find a previous property owner

Written by david carnes
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If you are a property owner, or considering buying a piece of property, it may be important to know its history of ownership. You want to make sure there are no problems with the title that can prevent you from selling the property later on down the road. You also don't want to be taken by surprise by someone claiming the property as his own. Here is how to perform a rudimentary title search:

Skill level:
Easy

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Go to the County Recorder's Office, the Register of Deeds, or its equivalent in your county. You can also search property records on some counties' websites.

  2. 2

    Ask to see the grantee index (not the granter index). This is a record of buyers, or heirs of all real estate within county boundaries for several decades, sometimes centuries.

  3. 3

    Search the grantee index for the name of the current property owner. When you find the deed of transfer, note the date of the transfer and the name of the granter (the person who sold it to the current owner). The deed should also identify the property both by street address and by lot number. Record this information and use it to confirm that the deeds you find refer to the property in question.

  4. 4

    Work backward in the chain of title from grantee to granter until you are satisfied that you have a list of all the previous property owners that you need. Going back 50 years should be sufficient.

  5. 5

    Note the name of the earliest granter on your list and then ask to see the granter index (the record of sellers).

  6. 6

    Search for the granter's name in the granter index and find the deed of transfer representing the earliest transfer of the property in your search (a copy of the same deed you looked at in Step 5). Find the grantee's name on the deed and look up that name in the granter index.

  7. 7

    Continue moving forward in the chain of title until you reach the most recent transfer of property. You want to make sure a granter did not transfer the property to two different grantees. If this were the case, the latter grantee would not have a good title to the property; a potential problem if that grantee were listed in your chain of property owners. If the two lists of grantee-granter and granter-grantee are consistent with each other, then you most likely have a list of all previous property owners. If there are any inconsistencies, then it is likely that a serious problem with the title exists.

Tips and warnings

  • Many counties also index the transfers of real estate in chronological order. If you have any trouble using the alphabetical index, note the date on the most recent transfer of deed that you have and switch to the chronological index. It would be a good idea to check the chronological index after you perform the above title search just to make sure that the records are consistent.
  • The rudimentary title search will not uncover "wild deeds". Wild deeds are improperly recorded deeds that are not indexed. You will need to consult a title insurance company to perform a more thorough search.

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