When you purchase your home, you expect to own it free and clear. In order to make sure that happens, you will need a title search done to determine whether anyone else may have a right to the property. You may find it surprising how often this happens.
If the property is sold as part of an estate, it’s possible that all of the heirs failed to receive notification of the previous owner’s death. An old but paid off mortgage lien may still show as active. Even a typographical or recording error could prevent you from owning the property you think you purchased. You may need to address these and other deficiencies in the title through the courts.
If nothing has happened so far, why go to court?
If you fail to clear any “clouds” on the title now, someone could come forward at some point in the future and make a claim to the property. In the alternative, an error in your legal description may mean that you don’t own the whole property you thought you purchased. A neighbor may be able to claim that portion of your land. You may have trouble selling the property in the future, and you may not receive title insurance until the defects are fixed.
Moreover, your mortgage lender will probably not allow you to close until the matter is resolved. Some defects are easily fixed, but others may require you to file a “quiet title action” in order to move forward.
Filing a quiet title action
You may request that the court enter an order removing another party’s right to the property or enter an order for the appropriate party to fix an error. However, when you file such an action, you risk the other party coming forward and opposing your action. At this point, the court may affirm the other party’s right to the property.
On the other hand, the other party may be willing to relinquish his or her right to the property in exchange for payment. Between this possibility and the expense of the litigation itself, you may need to be sure that you want the property enough to proceed. Many potential buyers include contingencies in their contracts regarding the receipt of a clean title search. If you include such a provision in your purchase contract, you retain the option to walk away if the need for a quiet title action arises.