What is a Title Search? My esteemed title partner, Derek Massey, President of Mid-Atlantic Settlement Services, shares what it is, and how it is done. Thank you, Derek!


An integral part of any real estate settlement is the title search. We all know we need one, but do we know what it is or how it’s done? A common misperception caused by the phrase “to pull title” is that obtaining a title search is like pulling a library book off the shelf or pulling up tax information on a website. A title search (at least on the East Coast) requires experienced searchers or abstractors reviewing indices, pulling documents, and writing up a report. Here is a brief example of how this works in Maryland :

1. The starting point to any title search is the Maryland Department of Assessment & Taxation’s “Real Property Data Search”. Known by the abbreviations “SDAT,” all one needs is a property address to get current owner names and deed references.

2. The abstractor then accesses courthouse real estate records (either at the courthouse or via the county website) to get a copy of the current deed. She examines the deed, checks the names and property description, and ensures it is properly executed. On that deed she will see “vesting information” which will point to how the current owners obtained the property. She then goes back to THAT deed, pulls it, and performs the same analysis. This process continues until the abstractor has gone back the requisite number of years. At that point the “chain of title” has been established.

3. Once the Chain of Title is established, the abstractor starts at the current deed, and runs those owners forward chronologically in what are called “Grantor” and “Grantee” indices. What she is looking for here are any items affecting the property during the current owners period of ownership. Are there any deeds of trust? Easements? Restrictions? She looks at anything and everything that could impact the title.

4. The abstractor then goes one deed back in the chain of title, and runs those owners forward – again looking for any matters which affect the title during their period of ownership. This “searching” process continues until all owners in the chain of title have been properly searched.

5. The abstractor then checks tax records to see when the last tax payment was made, how much it was for, and when the next one is due.

6. A “plat search” is then done to see what the property looks like. The plat that is pulled is compared to the legal description on the current deed to ensure that it matches.

7. In Maryland, judgments in certain courts may affect title to real estate. This means the abstractor must also perform a judgment search on the parties to see any legal matters brought against them affect the property.

8. All of this information – from the chain of title grantor/grantee search to the taxes to the plat review to the judgment searches – is analyzed, and is summarized on a “Title Search Summary” sheet or report. Where there are issues, they are noted on this summary sheet so the title attorney or reviewer can address them by either seeking more information from the seller or curing the issues where possible.
Derek also shared the form (from #8) his abstractors use to work on the title to better understand what they are looking for. Look for more posts from Derek coming soon!