If you're thinking of investing in a parcel of land, you'll likely want to learn about the property's history and natural features before you make an offer. The bigger the potential deal, the more research may be required -- and the more desirable the land is, the more factors may be in play.
Whether you want to make sure a chain of title on a home is pristine or check for air easements before you buy a home with an epic view, the county government maintains a repository of all the information related to the property at the recorder of deeds office. More documents than you might have guessed may be stored there. All of them fall under the umbrella term "land records" -- and they tell the full story of the history and legal ownership interests in the land from the time the government claimed it till now.
The purpose of the county recorder's office is to track and maintain land records, and through them, ownership and other rights to real property, and assist people in accessing those records. Most are public records and therefore available to be accessed and reviewed upon request. It's also the place where people file land records.
Land records are information, but many are also legal instruments
Some county offices store as many as a hundred different types of land records dating back 400 years, but the average deed registry office only offers its filing service for a couple dozen types of records -- or "instruments," as certain executed legal documents are referred to. Many document templates are available for download on the county recorder of deeds's website for people who wish to record something. And for those who are searching for them, most requests can be made online as well. Land records can be organized in categories:
In addition to deeds, this includes:
- Articles of association.
- Assignments of lease.
- Memorandums of trust.
- Partnership agreements.
- Rights of way.
- Trust agreements.
In addition to mortgages, this includes:
- Mortgage modifications.
- UCC filings.
- Satisfactions of mortgage.
- Transfers of mortgage.
Lien records -- all records of encumbrances on real property
In addition to various types of liens, this includes:
- Child support records.
- Contractors notice of project.
- Releases of liens.
- Certificates of judgment.
This is an index of maps, including:
- Survey maps (plat maps).
- Parcel maps.
- Assessment maps.
- Subdivision maps.
- Right of way maps.
- Plan line maps.
Land records are updated and added to every day
In addition to storing and safekeeping land records, the registry of deeds exists to record all new land records and related instruments. This duty is very important, since these records are often the decisive word in disputes on real property ownership and rights. But regular folks don't often make their way to the registry office to file these documents. Instead, the service is usually requested by real estate professionals: bankers, commercial lenders, lawyers, and so forth.
Research before you make land ownership decisions
When they're trying to sell a piece of property and get a nice commission, Realtors can slip right around questions pertaining to rights of way, unpermitted work, and other home details that can surface and wreck a sale. The standard Realtor's MO is, don't tell anything unless directly asked -- and if you're directly asked and the answer is potentially damaging, soft-pedal how much you know.
So sometimes, it's better to go to the source of the information. Arguments over ownership, intrusive neighbors, fears of eminent domain -- all these things can typically be resolved using knowledge gleaned from land records that are safely kept by the county over the decades and centuries.