A title search is a must before making any real estate purchase. Title searches ensure that the seller has the legal right to sell the property, and that there are no other encumbrances (such as liens) that could prevent the buyer from taking full possession. In the Canadian province of Ontario, land titles are held at the local Land Registry Office. Ontario is also the first jurisdiction in the world to hold land registration records electronically. This creates several options for a title search: going to a land-registry office in person (the cheapest), paying a search service (more expensive) or purchasing software to access the database directly (much more expensive, but cheaper if you will be doing multiple searches).
Visit the local registry office. This is the cheapest option. The Government of Ontario has a list of land registry offices and their contact information available on its website. Go to the office and fill out the appropriate form. You will need the details of the property, including the Property Identification Number (PIN), the address, the legal name of the current owner and a description of the property. The seller should be able to provide all of this. You will also need to pay the search fee. In Ontario a title search costs $8 according to the government fee schedule -- as of Sept. 2010, still the one set in 2000 -- but some other small fees may accrue for additional services. The total cost should not exceed $20 per property. You then simply wait for the clerk to provide a copy of the search. The whole process can take a few hours, so be sure to allocate enough time.
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Use a search service. Find a title search company that offers Ontario title searches online. A Google Search for "Ontario Title Search" will provide several options. As of Sept. 2010, they charge between $35 and $100. You must provide the same details you would provide to a land registry office clerk. Pay the search fee. With online search companies, you will need a major credit card. After a brief wait, you will receive a copy of the search. Ensure that it is complete and for the correct property.
Search the database directly. Check if the area you are searching has been entered into the database. Teranet, the company that runs this service for the Ontario government, has a list of covered areas available on their website. Purchase the Teraview database software. As of Sept. 2010, prices started at CAD $595 for the package, making this an expensive option. If you will be searching many titles and wish to invest the time to learn the software, it can be cost-effective. Manuals and guides are free and available online to teach you how to use the software. Use the same details on the property as in the other two methods to perform the search.
If you choose to engage a search company, shop around. Prices vary widely. Be sure to set aside plenty of time for results to come in, or several hours at the land registry office.
Skipping the search entirely is not a good idea. The property might have a lien on it, turning it into collateral for the seller's financial obligations. Since the lien is on the property, and not a person, it could transfer to you.