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Property Lien Search: How to Find out if there are Liens on a Property

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Recently, I was talking to a friend who was looking at purchasing a piece of property. He was nervous because it was going to be his first home and he asked me about liens and doing a property lien search.

His concern for liens against his property is valid – liens can hinder your ability to sell your property in the future, and can cost you a lot of money to resolve.

How Do I Find Out if There Are Any Liens on a Property?

The answer is pretty straight forward. Liens are a matter of public record once recorded. To find if there are any liens, here are your options:

  • Search the county recorder, clerk, or assessors office online. All you need is the name of the property owner, or its address. If your county does not have the data online, then:
  • Visit the county recorder, clerk, or assessor’s office in person. Generally, you will find the people in these offices will be quite helpful, and can even give you pointers if you need help.
  • Contact a title company. Title representatives can be extremely helpful in many ways . . . finding liens is one of them. I strongly advise having a good title rep as part of your investing team!

What is a Lien?

A lien is a legal claim against your property. It gives creditors a stake in your home, and a way to collect debts owed to them.

There are two types of liens that can be placed against a property. A Voluntary Lien is a lien the homeowner agrees to – like a mortgage. There is usually a contract involved to place the voluntary lien on the property and it does not negatively affect the property, its title or the homeowner’s ability to convey title.

An Involuntary Lien is typically placed on a property due to unpaid obligations like a tax bill or home improvement invoice.

While title can be conveyed without all liens being paid, most retail buyers will not purchase the property without clear title. Certainly no lender would approve the purchase.

Title Insurance

If you are getting a mortgage on your property, your lender will require you to purchase a Lender’s Title Insurance Policy, which protects their interests in the property should there ever be a dispute in the title. It is important to note that a Lender’s policy ONLY protects the lender – the owner of the property is not protected. In order for an owner to be covered, they must purchase an Owner’s Title Insurance Policy.

The Title Insurance policy, Lender’s or Owner’s, only comes after a thorough Title Search performed by the Title Company. After the search is performed, a policy is written. The search should turn up any liens on the property, and the insurance policy protects against most liens not found, such as undisclosed heirs, errors or omissions in transferring deed, and forgeries.

Title Insurance is a little different from most insurance policies. Other types of insurance policies are purchased to protect you against future issues – you buy auto insurance to cover damages and losses in potential accidents. Title Insurance protects you against past instances that actually have nothing to do with you personally.

Make Property Search Part of Your Due Diligence

Clouds on title pop up unexpectedly. Many time, the cloud is a surprise to the seller – they may not have purchased title insurance when they bought the property. But not everyone is 100% honest all the time. The seller is trying to sell the property, so they may conveniently “forget” about those unpaid taxes. Trust but verify is the best course of action.

A quick search of the public records can give you the peace of mind you need.

About Author

Joshua Dorkin (@jrdorkin, Google+) is the founder and CEO of BiggerPockets.

29 Comments

  1. I am in Chicago and there are excellent sites that I use all the time in analyzing a property to look for liens and even existing mortgages. Contact me if you want to know the sites I use plus a lot more.

    • andrew smith on

      This site is good but I didnt want to bid without knowing if the property had liens on it or not. What site were you talking about

    • I would like to find out where I could reasearch property liens recorded or title status to see if there is or it isn’t a lien on a property.

    • I’m real new to this real estate research stuff. Could you send a link or address to those sites that tell about liens on properties. i sure could use some help.

      Thanks,.
      Bill

    • Nelda Walsh on

      hi Ryan, I see its been going on 8 yrs since you posted this. if you still can provide me with info that would be great..Also..are some of them free/ I’ve searched and searched online to see if there is a lien on some property I own with my 2 sisters. They say free until the end.
      Thnks…….Nel

    • Dale Myers

      I would be curious what you might have as well. If you can send me a message I would appreciate it.

      I know sometimes there might be an IRS or Government Lien on a house and would like a swift way to search rather than paying $175 to a title company….

  2. Hello,

    My question is if there is a lien on my property but that same lien is being garnished from my pay, can the lien be removed due to the garnishment?

    If not what are the alternatives to have this lien removed?

    My concerns are if my home was to sell will I be refunded back all that was taken from garnishment?

    Can this company that placed the lien continue to add interest and other penalties while recieving the garnishment or increase the lien amount?

    Your assistant would be of great help.

  3. Suzanne Horvath on

    How can I find out if the borrower has paid down any of the liens (mortgage and HELOC)? The county records show the original amounts that were recorded, but I need to know if there is now enough equity to foreclose on the collateral.

  4. RE: “I am in Chicago and there are excellent sites that I use all the time in analyzing a property to look for liens and even existing mortgages. Contact me if you want to know the sites I use plus a lot more.”

    Ryan, would you let me what those site are? My family still lives in Chicago.

    Thanks,

    Jose

  5. Hello all,

    Cooks Assessor website as well as Cook Registry of Deeds website as well. However, the registry of deeds website is not free, so if you are not proffessional searcher, you will end up paying to check on lien documents [ad removed]

    Good luck!
    Alex

  6. Yes but there is a lien on my property and it’s recorded in another county 4 states away and it doesn’t show up on my county records. How can I search for liens on my property applied by all the states?
    I heard there was a data base where I could access that. Any help would be appreciated

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  9. Can you please help me to Search the county recorder, clerk, or assessors office online. I am not good with internet.

    Or a direct to link to those websites will be appreciated.

  10. Ive searched the local assessors office site and found no information on liens or such on a property i am looking into purchasing at a forclosure auction at the end of Oct. Is there anyway to find out if there are any liens without having to pay for it. I would hate to pay and find out there arent any and thats why i cant find anything or pay the money and find out theres to much in leins making it not worth bidding on.

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  12. It seems like most places you can search the county recorder, clerk, or assessors online most of the time and i agree it’s best to have title insurance just to protect yourself..good info

  13. my father bought a building and it has lean but i wounld like to get a loan on the house how can i do this or what do i need to do .also he is past away but he had it as a corp.

  14. Neil Mc Dannel on

    Ok when I get to the Real Estate Records, Assossers Records, County Records where on that site do I find out about homes with Leins ?
    Don’t know a lot about buying leins but realy want to get into how to do it and do ot the right way if u can help that would nice and it would help me out on my first steps thank u. Again Neil Mc Dannel

  15. Hello

    I was able to find out the lien records from the County. How does one know what is the oustanding debt? Also is it possible that a lien exists on the property but is not recorded in the county records.

    Thanks
    Inder

  16. What process is normally in place to remove unsubstantiated liens or rather how can they be challenged? Also, if a Lender is acquired by another company…are they required to submit an updated Lien document to the Recorder as the new lender or is this legally assumed as the new parent company of any previous liens? Thanks-Brian

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