Have you had your title checkup recently?

Many people often visit their physician annually for a checkup. These visits are preventative and help disclose health issues early when they can often be most easily treated. We do the same for our oral health when we visit the dentist for cleaning and checkups. But our annual reviews don’t end with our body. We often take our motor vehicles for quarterly oil changes and periodic tuneups and servicing. And don’t forget finances. We often see our bookkeeper or accountant at least annually. Most people also make at least an annual call on their financial planner. But how many of you have made it a point to check on the health of your Massachusetts real estate title?

As a Massachusetts real estate lawyer, I represent many lenders, buyers and sellers in real estate closing transactions. When I represent a buyer and lender, I must review the status of the real estate record title found at the registry of deeds and registry of probate. My job is to determine that the buyer will acquire a piece of real estate that is free from defects of title, and that the lender’s mortgage will not be subject to any real estate title problems. When I represent a seller, I might be contacted by the buyer’s or lender’s attorney in regard to a title problem they have found in their search of the records. As the seller’s real estate attorney, I then have to correct the problem. Very often, there is very little time to do this prior to the scheduled closing date. In these circumstances, real estate closings are often delayed or perhaps fall apart.

There are many common issues that I have encountered in representing either side of the transaction. Perhaps the most common is an undischarged mortgage. Somewhere in the chain of owners there is a mortgage which may have been paid off, but which has never been discharged (released) on the record. This is a serious issue if the problem is from prior owners, as the current owner won’t have any information about the pay-off. Hopefully, the current owner purchased a Massachusetts Owner’s Title Insurance Policy and the title company will take care of the problem. If not, the owner bears the burden and cost to clear the matter. Even if the problem mortgage is with a current owner, the matter may not be easy to clear. If the problem is from an older mortgage the bank may now be out of business. A successor must be located. Sometimes these chains of successor banks will pass through many failures, name changes and mergers.

There are other problems which I have found in titles over the years. Improperly completed probates, interests of a part-owner that never was conveyed to the successor, wrong parties signing the deed, and descriptions of the property which are inaccurate and insufficient. The list goes on and on.

So, if you own real estate and might refinance it or sell it, why not see your Massachusetts real estate lawyer for a checkup today. You can have a current or two owner search completed. If there are issues, they can be remedied now when there is plenty of time to act. A correction that can be made at leisure might also be less expensive to make than the same matter attempted in a rush in short time.