While it may often be hard to pin a face or address to this title, the recorder of deeds holds a vast amount of local information. Their identity is therefore important to real estate investors, primarily because this official, or official office, holds all the information about every property in their respective county and will ultimately provide the relevant records for a title search.
Usually people pay a title company to compile these searches, but a lot of the information is freely available through the recorder of deeds. It's good as a property owner or prospective buyer to know how you can search, and how the office in your county works in general.
Who and what is the recorder of deeds?
First of all, is this a person or an office? The answer is, it can be both. This is typically an elected official who may have deputies or other hired staff. It can also refer to a county government office. The answer depends on how big and well staffed the county is -- in smaller, less populated counties, the office of the recorder of deeds might be a one- or two-person show.
The recorder of deeds's role is to receive, process, file, and preserve all public land records. They can provide records to people who are interested in a property, and they also are responsible for creating new records about the property -- especially at the time a deed transfers from one party to another.
There are two, maybe three times that the recorder of deeds will enter the picture during a simple real estate transaction. One will be during the title search, and then again at the time of the deed transfer. (Sometimes the recorder of deeds is responsible for collecting real estate transfer taxes.) But savvy real estate investors utilize this office long before closing. They pull records on their own to see a property's owner, check for encumbrances and restrictions, and get information on the property's history.
In addition to the important responsibility of keeping records, the recorder of deeds provides copies of those records for various purposes -- including to settle disputes between people. They are also typically responsible for maintaining indexes and/or digitizing documents in their keeping.
Basically, in a world where everything is digital and nothing has a footprint older than a couple of decades, the recorder of deeds is the keeper of land records dating back to the time they were created.
There are several terms that are connected to or interchangeable with the recorder of deeds, and counties often combine titles and offices as it suits their administrative interests.
Interchangeable with deeds office. This is the space where the recorder of deeds works.
Register of deeds
The register of deeds is the repository of information itself, but this can also refer to the office or the individual who maintains the records.
County recorder/county clerk
These two titles often are used to denote people who are responsible for more than land records. The county clerk can be responsible for registering voters, issuing and correcting marriage licenses, certifying notaries, and maintaining military discharge records.
Clerk of court
This county administrative officer is tasked with handling the legal records that come out of court, so: money judgments and injunctions, divorce filings, and bankruptcy proceedings.
In most counties there are many court clerks handling all aspects of court administration. Some work in the criminal court system; others may be responsible for fine collection. Typically, the clerk who specializes in land records will be responsible for entering new documents such as judgments or bankruptcies in the registry once the court has made its decision. In all but the smallest counties, the clerk of courts works with the recorder; one person doesn't have both titles.
What real estate records does this office have on file?
The recorder of deeds, or deeds office, should have all relevant land records dating back to the earliest. This includes:
- Land contracts.
- Chains of title.
- Mechanic's and tax liens.
- Plats and surveys.
- Public maps.
- Rights of way.
- And, of course, property deeds.
What else does this office keep track of?
The different categories of public record maintained in this office vary, according to what other officials are under the registry umbrella. The county recorder's office is a place to look for:
- Military service discharges.
- County officials' oaths of office.
- Notary certifications.
- Posthumous wills.
- Marriage licenses.
- Birth records.
How do you obtain records from the recorder of deeds?
These are public records, so generally, individuals can obtain them by requesting them -- online, by mail, or in person. The register of deeds is, according to those charged with preserving it, not too different from a library -- the library of documents related to a county's history. Real estate documents account for the majority of the records in the registry.
Sometimes minimal fees apply if you need help from the actual recorder of deeds or their staff in your search or if you desire printed copies. Also, the type of records maintained can vary according to the county. Some, for example, do not keep all types of involuntary liens on file.
The recorder of deeds's significance to real estate owners and buyers
People lose records -- even the most important ones. They sometimes want them lost. They argue over details… of sales, of ownership, of boundaries and access. Debts are incurred, and sometimes paid off. Partnerships are formed and dissolved. Landmarks may be built or destroyed. People's memories of all of this may not square up with those of the other parties involved. Moreover, they may not match with reality, especially when the events took place long ago. The recorder of deeds's role is extremely important in that it's dedicated to collecting, preserving, and protecting these records and sharing them with the public.
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