If a lien was put against your real property, you definitely want to know about it. Liens can make it hard to sell your property, and they can also negatively affect your credit score. Finding out if you have liens is a simple process; you can order a title search for a fee, or you can search the records in the office of the state property recorder in the county in which the house is located. Property liens are public record.
Read More: How to Contest a Lien
Is There a Lien on my House?
A property lien is legal notice to the world that you owe someone money and that as a result, you have to pay that person if you want to sell the property. The creditor prepares the lien and records it in the same recorder's office where you recorded your property deed when you bought the house. Anyone going to that office to take a look at your title will discover the lien.
A lien holder files the lien to secure his debt. Some lien holders have the right to sell the property to collect what you owe them, but for most liens, it isn't economical if you have a mortgage. Since the mortgage was probably placed on the property before the liens, it will have to be paid off from sale proceeds before any liens are paid.
Still, for a creditor, putting a lien on your property secures the debt since you cannot sell or refinance the property without clearing the liens. A property lien almost guarantees that the creditor will, in time, collect the debt from you.
How Do I Know if my House Has a Lien?
If you owe state or federal taxes that you have not paid, or you are in a disagreement with a contractor over payment for work done, you can be pretty sure your house has a lien. But it's always better to be sure and not hard to nail it down.
You can proceed in any of a number of ways to find out if there are liens on your house. If you want to do it yourself for free, you can use an online search provided by the county recorder, county assessor or county clerk where property records are kept in your area. You'll find the link to an online search engine on the office's website.
If the relevant county recorder does not offer online search or you would rather perform the search in person, head over to the property records office. Once you are there, ask a clerk to help you figure out the liens on your property. You'll find it easier to bring a copy of a recent property tax assessment to provide the required information.
Another option is to take your inquiry to a title company. Part of the job of title companies is to run title searches, so this kind of search is right up their alley. There is likely to be a fee, however.
Read More: How to Release a Property Lien
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.