Title Search - Getting the same info that's on the preliminary report

Im in California. I’m doing my own title research currently. I’m familiar with the grantor/grantee index, and pulling documents, but the issue I’m running into is this. Some of these guys have very complicated, long title histories. I’m dealing with one owner that has at least 60-70 recorded documents, liens all over the place, and refinances nearly every other year. He also has a common name like “tom smith” and there are several guys that may or may not be him in the index. For instance, I have Smith, Tom A, Smith, Tom B, Smith, Tom C listed–each with a battery of documents to go through. It’s great that I can pull these into Foreclosure Radar at $3 a document, but that quickly adds up when you have the guy that’s done everything under the sun.

So what does everyone else do? Do you go down to the recorder’s office camp out there for a few hours? (And the paper copies aren’t free there either.) Do you call a title company for assistance? I’ve managed to get information over the phone from customer service, but it’s not the same as a prelim title report. Can you order one of those? What does this cost you? Will you go broke ordering those? Is it better just to pay the doc/copy fees through ForeclosureRadar and look at everything?

Ian, as you’ve described in your post, some of these title searches can be more than a bit convoluted to unravel and properly document. If you can find a good abstractor who works that county, generally for a modest fee, they will do the work of wading through the docs. A title company can also run a property profile or preliminary title report, but some title companies will understandably want to charge you for this service ($25 to $100) and they will not always get the work done in 24 hours (i.e. within the typical “need to know” timeline for steps investors). In my experience, nothing replaces the scope info you can personally gather by making the drive to the recorder’s office. You can find not only DOTs and liens but also often lis pendis and other judgements versus the owner that paint a picture of his/her disposition (e.g. litigious? lis pendis versus foreclosing lender? a long history of playing NOD roulette?) and circumstance. Moreover, it’s often helpful to know about other properties the owner may own and/or have NOD/NTS issues with (e.g. does he/she own properties next door to your target property?). This is the type of info that will not be on any title company report you might order.

The recorder’s office research gets quicker/easier with practice. One suggestion is to come in with your laptop. I’ve created my own template for tracking all open DOTs, liens, etc. and inputting important notes. I rarely if ever orders docs from the recorder … All key info can be input into my template (property research worksheet). Sometimes it’s nice, however to have a snapshot of one or two pages of a particular doc. I solve that problem by whipping out my cellphone (w camera) and snapping a screen photo of the doc page. If I want I can connect my phone to my laptop (right then and there) and upload the image directly into my property research worksheet. Saves $3 bucks and for me just as effective. Be sure to scrutinize the APN (research the right property) and DOT positions and any reconveyances. I also keep my eyes peeled for subordination agreements and liens. And of course any back due property taxes. As you also noted, be sure to look at variances of the owner(s)’ name(s). Amazing how common it is to find DOTs and other pertinent info under variations (e.g. John B. Smith, John Smith, etc.) of the owner/co-owner’s name.

As you noted, sometimes this process is quick and easy (10 minutes time to do full research necessary) and other times you’d better get yourself a cup of coffee … you might be there for a few hours. If there’s enough equity, the investment of time can be well worth the effort.

I should add that, beyond the recorder’s office data, it’s always important to do some quick fact-checking on the owner. Just by using Google, I’ve found important info about owners that weighs on my steps buying decision (e.g. owner recently arrested on drug-lab, assault and weapons charges).

Well said Danny B!! Clearly you speak from experience!!

How do you find time to find the deals you are wanting, comp them, drive them, research physically at the recorders office, and bid all in one day? I am looking to get started as an investor there, but logistically finding it hard to put together on how this would be done… Do you have a team of people or do you look for properties further out than the next days auctions?

Mike … that’s not something that can be summed up in a few short sentences. But there are many online resources (Redfin, Realtor.com, Google, maps/satellite photos, etc.) and personal contacts (agents w local knowledge) to help speed up the research … including of course Foreclosure Radar. Plan 3 or 4 days ahead if possible. There are many ways to use FR research tools … but it’s always a good idea to regularly check the FR Daily Auction Schedule… scan all properties that look promising and save them to your favorites and give them a rating … 1 to 5 stars. FR’s opening-bid e-mail alerts can also help. Bene’s opening bids often get posted at the last minute (i.e. less than 24 hours before the auction) and than often forces a mad research scramble if there’s equity potential. There have been a few times when I’ve set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. (due to a surprise late opening bid) to make a drive to an out of area county reorder’s office in time (at the door @ 8 a.m.) to do the mission critical pre-requisite research and then get to the steps in time to bid. I wish all counties would do their auctions in the late afternoon!;). Sometimes it’s a wild goose chase, sometimes it’s worth the effort. You can make it easier on yourself by focusing on your local county. I cover 5 Nor Cal counties and that can be a stretch for a one man team. Hence I will only do the early a.m. routine (when they are out of my quick drive zone) for a select few opportunities. Covering only your local county, however, is really not that difficult. Obviously it’s easier when you have a team that can divide and conquer … each focusing on their speciality (title research, comps, financial analysis, drive-by, bidding, rehab crews, etc.). But, it can definitely be done as a one-man (or woman) enterprise.

Hello my name is Keith Broom and I am inquiring about your doing research for lien judgements at no cost. I would like for you to contact me with further information regarding what you need on my part. As far as the Title Order on the property I have no problem in giving it to you. I am looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest convienence.

Danny B.---- Should you want help, please contact me.

Hello Kieth, Pls call me at 626 589 8822 or email me at simonwu01@gmail.com thank you

I could be wrong but the above sounds like an inducement of business which could be a violation of RESPA. BE CAREFUL

Having spent 15 years in title I am always saddened when obviously a title rep is attempting to provide great customer service and trying to remain within the parameters of SB133 and someone wants to call them out as if they have done something wrong. This rep did not offer anything other than title information in an effort to “earn” their business. If investors want to know why it is so hard to get the help of a qualified title rep and why so many title folks do not post great information in public forums it is because their competitors will “turn them in” and they risk losing their jobs. If someone can unequivocally tell me that what has been posted is a RESPA violation I will be happy to remove the post. If you are unsure if it is a violation please do not use scare tactics here. We appreciate the input of our title company friends and only wish more would answer the many title questions that pop up in these forums.