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How far back does a Florida title search go?

The city St. Augustine has the claim as the oldest city in the US, with its founding back in September of 1565. Most title searches in Florida don’t go that far back. But how far back do title searches in Florida go?

The truth is that each title search goes back as far as is needed to identify the ‘root’ deed and each transfer of the property after that. A proper search identifies the owner as it moved from grantee to grantee, ending in the present ownership. In Miami-Dade, this typically goes back 50+ years And takes anywhere from 10 to 14 days to complete. 

The time to complete the title search depends on a variety of factors, but in general the older the home, the longer it takes. If there is a lengthy number of transactions – say, multiple home equity loans had been made against the property, and if there were any property line disputes – it can take longer to make sure that the title is clear. 

What happens if issues surface during the title search?

While no one wants issues to be discovered in a title search, the point of the search is to make sure nothing comes up. A few of the problems that typically come up in a title search:

  • Break in the chain of title – Not uncommon, a break in the chain of title simply means that there is a missing deed in the chain – party A sells the party to party B, then party C transfers it to party D, but we can’t find a record of the transfer from B to C. This just means the title company has to do a deeper dive to find the deed connecting either B to C or B to D. Any evidence to restore the chain is the goal. 
  • Liens on the property –  Another issue that is relatively common is discovering liens on the property. Of late this happens regularly when purchasing a foreclosed home, but it can occur if there was a contractor disputing their pay as well. If the liens aren’t cleared you aren’t getting a clean title but would be inheriting the debt with the property. Not a major problem, just one that needs to be resolved. 
  • Public records errors – When there are tens of thousands of homes sold each year, there are bound to be clerical errors at the County level. Often it is just a simple misfiling, but the fact is incomplete documentation somewhere down the line in the history of your title can create a major headache if not fixed. 
  • Unknown heirs – If a home was bought after someone was deceased, heirs can show up and contest the title of the home. Heirs can come out of the shadows after the purchase of a home and cause all sorts of issues with ownership.

If any of these issues (or other more rare ones) arise, the homebuyer has a few options (of course, depending on the purchase contract):

  1. Ask the seller to resolve the issue before close
  2. Adjust the offering price to account for the changes
  3. Walk away from the deal entirely

The goal of your title company should be to ensure the seller is legally able to sell you the property and help get any issues resolved. If you are looking for guidance on this process, feel free to reach out.

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