No matter how attractive a property may seem, thorough research is a must before you sign on the dotted line. Creditors and governments can and do place liens on property to collect money owed to them. If you purchase property with an outstanding lien, you may be liable for hundreds or thousands of dollars in unexpected expenses. Take the time to find any liens or judgments on a property. Don't assume the real estate agent, or even the owner, is certain there are none. They may be unaware of a new lien.
Determine the address of the property. Usually this is a simple matter, but not always. If the address isn't listed on a mailbox, start by finding the name of the street. Check nearby homes and get their addresses.Note where the property is in relation to features like nearby homes or businesses. This information will help county officials identify the owner.
Find out which county the property is in. Usually you can simply ask a nearby merchant or get this information off a road sign. Another option is to ask at the nearest post office or fire/police station. If you have the street address, you can enter it in Google Search and press Enter. Usually the location will be displayed on a map that you can use to find the county the property is located in.
Contact the county tax assessor, clerk or recorder's office. Liens and judgments are "matters of public record," and one or more of these offices can tell you who owns the property and if any liens or judgments have been recorded. Many jurisdictions now post this information online, so you may be able to do this without physically visiting county offices.
Verify that there are no liens or judgments before you sign anything. Have a title search done that includes title insurance. More often than not, your do-it-yourself search for liens and judgments will tell you the actual situation, but not always. Title search companies that offer title insurance may find a lien or judgment you missed. The title insurance means the insurer assumes liability for any liens they fail to find.
Even when the owner of a property is acting in good faith, this is no guarantee there are no liens or judgments outstanding. A recently issued lien may not have been recorded in the tax assessor’s or other office and the owner may not have been notified.