How Abstract of Title Works

Lawyers or a licensed abstractor typically draw up an abstract of title document. An abstractor is a trained professional who researches the property's history, summarizes all the relevant documents, and certifies them as complete and accurate. The sole purpose of an abstract of title is to prove the descent and ownership of the property or estate.

Typically, an abstract of title document begins with the first grant deed (legal document for transferring ownership of the property), all ensuing changes in ownership, along with a list of the owners and duration of ownership, and any additional claims. An abstractor meticulously searches out information about the property from county records and can pick out erroneous or void documentation.

Obtaining an abstract of title is often an expensive and time-consuming process, and many people feel tempted to bypass it when purchasing a piece of property or estate. However, it can reveal potential risks attached to the property like litigations, HOA liens, restrictions, and covenants. If you're interested in purchasing property, obtaining an abstract of title is the recommended first step. It will give you a clear legal position of the property.

Example of Abstract of Title

While an abstract of title is a summary, it can contain several pages with many entries, depending on the property's history. Some of the entries you can find on an abstract of title include:

  • Entry 1 identifies the land and specifies its size.
  • Entry 2 records the time and place when the government conveyed this land to a private user.
  • Entry 3 shows the land patent or the first owner's title defense. This entry is the proof of title of the first governmentally recognized owner.
  • Entry 4 contains the date the land's subdivision—if applicable—was filed and approvals from the local government.
  • Entry 5 documents the sale of part of the subdivided land and includes information regarding a rightful land ownership warranty provided to the buyer.
  • And the entries continue to the current owner of the property.

Abstract of Title vs. A Torrens Title

Across the US, it is common to register property transactions through county recorders. A researcher can then trace these transactions through abstracts. But what happens if the property in question has an incorrect or unavailable abstract of title?

Several states have adopted a different titling process for properties that have no official title histories. This process is known as Torrens title or certificate of title and seeks to simplify and facilitate land sales through registering title deeds. Named after Australian economist Sir Robert Torrens, a Torrens certificate acts as the final authority on a property's title. It bestows inviolable ownership of the property to the registered titleholder.

As a Torrens property owner, no other party has a claim on your property guaranteed. Any potential claimant to your property not included in the Torrens certificate will have to petition the government for compensation.