how to find liens on a house

How to Find Liens on a Property: 5 Ways to do a Title Search

If you are wondering how to find liens on a property the first thing you should know is that there are several ways to look up property liens. You can do an online or in-person title search at the county recorder’s office, but you can also check for liens with a third-party online service, a title agent, or a real estate attorney. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. We are not experts in legal matters, and readers are encouraged to seek the proper professional legal counsel for specific guidance.

Is there a lien on my house?

If you’re interested in doing some financial digging into a property, performing a lien search is a good plan. Whether you’re considering buying or selling the property, knowing more about its financial standing is key. You can search through the county on your own or can turn to title professionals.

If you need a little more information on what liens actually are, you can take a look at our “what is a lien on a house” article for more details.

How to find liens on a property

A lien lays legal claim to a property, which makes finding any liens on the home you are intending to sell important. Investors are generally looking for a clear title, which means there are no pending liens. Each of California’s 58 counties has its own system for researching property records, including liens.  

In California, liens are a matter of public record, and those who are interested can obtain the information they’re looking for by requesting it through the appropriate channels. The county recorder in the county in which the property is located holds all attached liens.  

1. Property title search online

Learning how to search for liens on property yourself isn’t hard, but it tends to be a lot of work. Most county recorders offer a free property lien search by address online. These searches are always free, and the process is relatively straightforward.

When it comes to how to do title search on property yourself, it’s important to note that not every county in Southern California offers online searches. Some require searchers to do their looking in person. There are, however, third-party companies out there that support fee-based title searches. 

How to do a property title search yourself

If you’re interested in how to do a title search on property yourself, the first source to check out is the county recorder for the county of your home’s location. From here, you can run your title deed search through the website’s search tool – based on the owner’s name or document number but not on the property’s address. 

The information that will help you find a lien on a house or another property through a county recorder in California includes the following:

  • The property owner’s name, including any variations
  • The instrument or document number
  • The book or page number
  • The legal description of the property
  • The recording date – or the date the agreement was recorded

The California State Association of Counties maintains a website that shares the office location and web address of every county clerk in the state. If the county doesn’t offer information online, there are third-party online services that allow searches based on address.

2. How to find a lien on a property in person using county records

If you need to look up liens on property that is located in a California county that doesn’t offer an online search tool or if you prefer to search in person, you can do so at the physical address of the appropriate county recorder. Check out the recorder’s website to determine if they require appointments or if they allow walk-in services. At this physical location, you can inspect all the on-file property records related to your home. 

3. How to check liens on property using a title agent

You can also obtain information about the property you’re interested in selling through a title company that charges for its services. Title companies not only conduct thorough title searches but can also help homeowners resolve various types of liens. 

4. How to check liens on property using a third-party lien company

There are also a range of third-party services that allow buyers and owners alike to research property title records on their own. Similar  to title agents, these lien companies require payment for most searches, but because you do the searching yourself, the fees are generally lower. 

Third-party title search companies offer more comprehensive search options, which can make conducting a thorough search less challenging. For example, third-party companies allow you to search for liens by address alone. The county recorder, on the other hand, doesn’t afford this search option.

5. How to find a lien on property using a real estate attorney

The costliest but arguably the most effective means of checking liens on a property is hiring a real estate attorney to do the searching for you. Working with a seasoned professional can provide homebuyers with considerable peace of mind when they want to make sure about a property before they buy,

Be sure to check property for liens that are unrecorded!

When you check a property for liens, it’s important to be aware that some liens aren’t recorded. A recorded real estate lien is any lien that’s found in the public record. Title searches through public records – however they’re performed – can find all the following:

  • The property’s vested owner
  • Any mortgages on the property
  • Any property taxes due
  • Any liens or legal judgments on the property

An unrecorded lien, on the other hand, is an involuntary lien on a property that isn’t included in the public record but can accumulate considerable fines. Common examples of involuntary liens, which can go undiscovered until they cause problems with the sale, include the following:

  • Fees related to certifications, inspections, and open building permits that go unresolved
  • Code violations on the property, including for structural issues, debris, and overgrown lawns
  • Outstanding utility bills
  • Special assessments for improvements, such as sidewalk repairs, sewer hookups, and road paving
  • Outstanding charges from the city related to pest control, abandonment, and overgrown weeds

Owner’s title insurance doesn’t typically cover unrecorded liens. They can, however, be found via municipal lien searches that are performed through municipalities. This generally involves the following:

  • Determining the  municipality involved
  • Confirming the property’s utilities
  • Researching the property’s annexation history
  • Identifying the governmental agencies with the authority to levy special assessments
  • Requesting the information required from the relevant departments

Because searches for unrecorded liens tend to be complex, working with a seasoned title agent or real estate attorney is often advised.

Our key takeaways on how to check for liens on property

A title lien search is a critical element of buying a home – or any other property. When a lien is placed on on a property, it translates to a hold on its sale – until the debt in question has been satisfied. The process of finding liens requires due diligence, which is why both buyers and sellers often work with local title companies, real estate agents, or attorneys. 

Can you sell a house with a lien on it? The fact is that you can sell a house with a lien on it, but it is important to proceed with caution to avoid a lengthy and more costly sales process, which generally means less profit. There are, however, real estate investing companies that buy houses with liens on them who can help you navigate the challenging path forward.

At SoCal Home Buyers, we buy houses in California that have liens attached, and we make the process as streamlined as possible. While not every property qualifies, we’ll determine if yours does, and if so, we’ll help you strategize the best approach for you.

Because we pay cash for homes in Southern California, we offer considerable flexibility. This means we can wait until you determine how to get a lien off your house and you’re ready to sell your home. Or, if the circumstances allow, we may be able to buy your property outright and to wait out the financial complications on our end. 

To learn more about your options in relation to selling your home with a lien on it, reach out to us at SoCal Home Buyers today. If your property qualifies for purchase, we’ll make the sales process as simple as the following basic steps:

  1. Contact us at 951-331-3844 or fill out the short form below to request your fair cash offer. Note: If you’re dealing with liens on your property, don’t worry. We have experience handling such situations, and we’ll do our best to find a solution.
  2. Await our prompt response to discuss your property and the liens in greater detail and schedule a one-time inspection. Note: Dealing with liens requires a comprehensive understanding of the situation, and our team will work closely with you to assess the property’s condition and lien status.
  3. Our in-house inspector will assess your property and liens to determine a fair cash offer based on the market value and the lien amounts. Note: The presence of liens may impact the final cash offer, but we’ll strive to provide you with the best possible solution to resolve the liens and purchase your property.
  4. If you’re on board with the offer, we’ll work diligently to address the liens and facilitate the sale process. Note: Resolving liens can involve negotiations and legal procedures, which may extend the timeline. We’ll work with you to find the most suitable closing date.

Throughout the process of selling your house with liens, we’ll handle the complexities and work towards resolving the liens to ensure a smooth transaction. While liens can add intricacies to the selling process, our experienced team is here to guide you through the steps and find a solution that works best for you.

Reach out to us today to discuss your situation further and learn how we can help you sell your California house with liens.

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Are liens public record?

Most liens are a matter of public record, but there are public lien records as well as unrecorded liens. Liens that are part of the public record include mortgage liens, HOA liens, judgment liens that are related to lawsuits, mechanics liens, child support liens, and property tax liens. 

Liens that are a matter of public information can be found through the appropriate California county, through a third-party title search company, or with the professional guidance of a title agent or real estate attorney. Unrecorded liens, on the other hand, can be located through municipal lien searches.  

What is a lien search?

A lien search refers to an investigation into whether or not a specific property has any liens placed on it that could bar or complicate its sale. When it comes to lien searches, you have a variety of options that range from doing it yourself to hiring it out.  

You can perform online or in-person lien searches on your own – through the appropriate county recorder – or can perform an online search with a third-party title service. Other options include hiring a title agent or real estate attorney.

Is there anywhere I can conduct a free lien search on property?

Yes, in California, you can conduct a property lien search free. The county recorder’s office in the county in which the property is located doesn’t charge for lien searches. While some counties offer online search services, others only support in-person searches. You will, however, be charged a copy fee. 

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