The purpose of pulling title on real estate is to confirm the property’s legal owner and the presence of any liens on the property. An individual can search property records in the state of Illinois with their county clerk’s office or the office of the appropriate county recorder. An individual should begin a records search with the name, document number, and property parcel number, which are usually found on the real estate tax bill or property address.
What Is a Title Search?
A title search is a full property search that shows ownership and all related property information, such as easements on the property. An easement allows another party besides the owner to use the property for a specific purpose. For example, an easement may grant a neighbor the right to enter a property to fish in a stream. A title insurance company is able to perform and guarantee a full property search.
The research department at a county clerk or recorder’s office is only able to assist with searches for recorded documents; it cannot provide full search services. The county office is not insured for errors and omissions (E&O). E&O insurance is a type of professional liability insurance that protects against claims of inadequate work or negligent actions, such as leaving out a document that relates to a title.
What Is a Title Report?
A title report is a report that an individual or title company generates after completing a public records title search. The report helps a prospective buyer learn all the information they need to obtain clear title. It allows that person to understand whether they will need title insurance.
Title insurance protects an owner from financial loss due to issues with the property title that are discovered after closing the sale. A title report typically includes: a legal description of the property; notices of liens or encumbrances against the title; data about the number, types and locations of easements on the property; whether taxes are owed; information about the property and the owner/s; and covenants, restrictions, historical rules and who has oversight over the property. A title report cannot determine whether the property may be insurable.
Search In-Person and Online
An individual can search paper property records in the county office, typically back to the mid-1800s and may be able to do computer searches in the county office on records that date from the mid-1900s to the present by name, property parcel number or property address. They should also be able to search plats, which are maps drawn to scale that show how a tract of land is divided into lots, from the 1800s to the present. The individual may also be able to do an online search for property records on the county clerk or recorder’s office website.
Proof of Ownership
A landowner can obtain proof that they own a property by obtaining a copy of their deed from the county clerk or recorder’s office, through an in-person search or online. The deed will not show whether liens have been recorded or released against the property. A landowner can also get a copy of the release or satisfaction showing that their mortgage has been paid off from the county office or online, once the release has been recorded.
A plat or survey is not commonly recorded in the county clerk or recorder or recorder of deeds' office. If it is recorded, the copy may be available from the county office or online.
Assessed Value of a Property
An individual should posit questions about assessments and property taxes on a property to the township assessor’s office of the county supervisor of assessments. Paying taxes on a property does not give a party an ownership interest in the property unless the person paying the taxes did so in a tax deed sale.
A tax deed sale is a public auction of real property that defaulted to the state because the owners did not pay taxes on the property. A tax deed is sold to the highest bidder. In Illinois, an individual can search notices of tax liens filed or released that are enforced by the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) on the state tax lien registry. The state tax lien registry contains liens filed by IDOR or the Illinois Department of Employment Security on the real property of taxpayers, other people or entities for unpaid final liabilities.
How to Check a Deed
An individual may want to check a deed to determine if a property is free and clear of outstanding liens or claims. A scammer can file a false claim after a legitimate deed has been filed with the county. The reason a scammer is able to do this is because a county recorder is not authorized to verify the legal claims made in a document.
Even if an individual has paid the taxes, paid off their mortgage, and holds full title to the property, a fraudulent or misfiled claim can affect their ability to sell, refinance or convey their home to heirs. The only way to know if a property’s title is clear is to regularly inspect the chain of title. Some county recorders, such as the Cook County Recorder’s Office, offer a free property fraud alert. The alert checks the county’s database every day and notifies the individual who signed up whenever a document is recorded against their property’s 14-digit property index number (PIN).
In Cook County, the process of checking a deed involves locating the PIN, the 14-digit number on a property tax bill from the county treasurer. The landowner can look this up online at the county assessor’s website or the county property tax portal and searching by address. The owner should check the photo of the home to make sure they have the right PIN. Next, they should visit the county clerk’s website to find the search portal, then enter the PIN.
Reviewing the Chain of Title
The landowner should review the chain of title for possible concerns. Documents that should be present include the deed, records of valid mortgages, and documents issued by the court, such as divorce decrees that regard property. Documents that may be fraudulent include deeds not signed by the property owner, loans the property owner did not get, and liens by a contractor or subcontractor when the owner never contacted such people to perform work. If the owner suspects fraud has occurred, they should contact the county’s property fraud unit.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.