It’s Hurricane Season (again) – Are You Prepared?

It’s Hurricane Season (again) – Are You Prepared?

By E. Christopher Caravette

July 2, 2017

With hurricane and storm season upon us, take time to review and record your possessions and important papers.

If a storm strikes, knowing what you have will help if disaster strikes.

• Safeguard your Paperwork – make sure all of your important legal documents (your will, powers of attorney or health care surrogate designation, birth and marriage certificate, social security card, passport or naturalization certificate, deeds and property records, and financial records) are protected or stored in the cloud or elsewhere)

• Inventory your Personal Property – make a list or, better yet, photograph or video your property with your mobile phone

In terms of your real estate, beware of the potential damage from wind, blowing rain and flooding. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes offer these tips to help reduce damage to your home.

• Check for gaps around pipes, electrical boxes and vents. Use waterproof caulk to seal any gaps or holes

• Purchase storm shutters (consider permanent ones – they could be worth the price) or plywood (½-inch to ¾-inch thick) to cover windows. Installing the hardware now will make putting up the shutters or plywood easier when a storm heads your way

• Add weatherstripping to hurricane shutters or plywood where they meet with walls to provide extra protection against water intrusion

• Trim tree branches that could break off in high winds and cause property damage

• Put away items around your yard, such as garbage cans, patio furniture and kids’ riding toys

• Roll up area rugs and move them to a second story, if possible, to help prevent growth of mold in case water seeps into your house

• Inspect sump pumps and drains to ensure they operate properly

• Remove outdoor items that are not tethered down

• Fill gas tanks in your cars

• Get extra cash from the bank or ATM

• Move furniture away from windows

• Store important documents in waterproof containers

Finally, prepare a Hurricane Kit. Make sure it includes:

• Flashlights & extra bulbs

• A battery-operated radio

• Battery-operated lanterns

• Batteries (in different sizes!)

• Matches

• A first aid kit

• Duct tape

• Rain gear

• A clock or watch (wind-up or battery-powered)

• Plastic garbage bags

• A fire extinguisher

• Scissors

• A can opener

• Clean clothes

• Extra blankets

• Heavy gloves

• Food and Water – Pack non-perishable food for each person for 3-7 days, including bottled water (1 gallon per person per day), bottled juice, two coolers (one for drinks, one for food), canned foods, and a manual can opener

• Dry pet food (if you have a pet).


(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

Cook County Treasurer Goes Paperless!

Cook County Treasurer Goes Paperless!

By E. Christopher Caravette

February 18, 2017

Like many credit card companies, the Cook County Treasurer now offers eBilling to taxpayers. Beginning with the 2016 2nd Installment Tax Bill (which will issue this summer), you can receive your tax bills via electronic mail.

To participate, all you need to do is create an eBilling account at The eBilling service is free and will allow you to link to your online bill where you can view details and make online payments.

Once you are registered, you will no longer receive tax bills via the U.S. Postal Service.

In addition to sending tax bills by email, the Treasurer will also send you a reminder prior to the due date of each installment.

This service is especially helpful if you keep track of multiple tax bills. You can register up to ten (10) properties per eBilling account.

Some of the benefits of this new service include:

  • It saves paper and postage
  • It provides a permanent electronic record
  • It provides convenient access to pay online
  • You won’t have to worry about late or lost mail

For additional information, please contact me at


(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

First Installment 2016 Cook County Tax Bills are Out!!

First Installment 2016 Cook County Tax Bills are Out!!

By E. Christopher Caravette

February 1, 2017

By now, every owner of real estate in Cook County will have received the First Installment of 2016 real estate tax bill.

What you should know:

  • In Cook County, we pay annual real estate taxes in two (2) installments. The First Installment bill is always fifty-five percent (55%) of the prior year’s total tax bill. The Second Installment bill will, therefore reflect any increase or decrease in annual taxes.
  • Many homeowners already escrow taxes each month with their mortgage lender. If you are one of those homeowners, your lender will pay this bill (so don’t pay it yourself). It is always advisable, particularly if it is during your first year of ownership of the property, to make a quick call to the lender to confirm they received and are paying the bill.
  • Those homeowners who do not escrow taxes must pay this bill on or before Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Payments can be made online, in person, or at several banks (go to for details).

For additional information, please contact me at



(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

14 Important Rights for Landlords and Tenants in the City of Chicago

14 Important Rights for Landlords and Tenants in the City of Chicago

by E. Christopher Caravette

Although many landlord/tenant relationships are governed by a written lease, in the City of Chicago, The Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance also applies and controls the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants.

Here are 14 things every landlord and tenant should know:

  • An oral lease and a written lease are both contracts and enforceable.  A written lease is always preferable, and one should take care to include all agreements (i.e., whether pets are allowed or whether smoking is allowed) in any written lease.
  • Every tenant is entitled to live in an apartment in compliance with all building codes and free of pests, mold, leaky ceilings, and with adequate heat and water.
  • If a repair problem arises, a tenant should advise the landlord in writing and request that the repair be remedied within 14 days.
  • A tenant is entitled to a receipt for any security deposit and is also entitled to know the name of the bank where the security deposit is being held.
  • A tenant is not relieved of the duty to pay rent if the property is in foreclosure.
  • A landlord may not enter a tenant’s apartment without first providing at least 48 hours prior notice, except in the case of an emergency.
  • A landord cannot retaliate against a tenant because a tenant complains to the City of Chicago or calls 311 to complain about repair issues.
  • Late fees cannot be outrageous.
  • A tenant may demand a rental receipt each time rent is paid, and is particularly advised to do so when rent is paid in cash.
  • To document repair problem in a court of law, a tenant must have photographs.
  • Upon moving out, a tenant must turn in all keys and is advised to get a receipt from the landlord.
  • A tenant should only be asked to pay for utilities that are used by the tenant within the apartment, and not for utilities for common area spaces.
  • Before filing a forcible action (for rent or for possession or both) a landlord must provide a tenant with a 5 day notice, a 10 day notice, or a 30 day notice, depending upon the situation.
  • A tenant is entitled to have an attorney to protect the tenant’s rights and assist with any court matters.

For a link to the full text of the ordinance, go to Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

What is a Land Trust, and How Can it Benefit Me?

by E. Christopher Caravette

Illinois is one of only a few states that allow Land Trusts which can be a terrific estate planning tool.

What is a Land Trust, and how can it benefit you?

A Land Trust is established by signing a Trust Agreement with the trustee, usually an institution in the business of land trusts.  It offers you, as an owner of property, a unique package of benefits that while letting you enjoy all the advantages of ownership without some of the complexities.

Some of the benefits of a Land Trust may include:

  • Privacy – Once the Trust Agreement is executed by both parties, and once real estate is conveyed to the trustee, the title is held by the trustee, not you as an individual.
  • Avoidance of Probate and Cost Savings – A Land Trust can allow your estate to avoid having to probate the real estate upon your death contingent beneficiaries are named, which can significantly reduce expenses to your estate.
  • May allow you to use your signature alone for property documents, eliminating the need to have other joint owners sign on deeds, mortgages, leases, and other required documents.
  • May reduces joint ownership risks, such as faulty titles due to insanity, divorce, or a co-owner’s death.
  • May reduce the paperwork associated with real estate sales, making the transfer of title a simpler procedure.
  • May avoids ancillary probate for out-of-state owners.
  • May sometimes allow you to take advantage of certain tax deductions as a beneficiary which are not otherwise available.
  • May allow ownership interests to be assigned. You may use the equity as collateral for borrowing purposes.

A revocable living trust may be of tremendous benefit to you, but each individual has to weigh the costs and benefits. Our firm has been assisting our clients with their estate planning needs, including advising clients on land trusts, for more than twenty-five years, and would be happy to help you as well.

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)



Citizen’s Guide to the Chicago Zoning Ordinance

What is Zoning?

As established by the State of Illinois statutes, zoning is designed to secure adequate light, pure air, and safety from fire and other dangers; to conserve the taxable value of land and buildings; to lessen and avoid congestion in the public streets, and most importantly, to promote the public health, safety, comfort, and welfare of the citizens of Chicago.

Zoning is a police power based on the right to pass laws for the benefit of the public, and to protect the character and maintain the stability for residential, business, commercial and manufacturing areas within the City.

Zoning sets standards to which buildings and structures shall conform in order to prevent neighborhoods from becoming over-developed by limiting the number of homes and apartments that can be built in a given area.

Does Zoning Follow Guidelines?

The Zoning Ordinance was passed in 1957 and controls the use of land within the city, which means all buildings and property developments are affected. It consists of guidelines, which help protect the value of residential property by preventing the development of undesirable uses. For example, areas developed for residential purposes are set apart from heavy manufacturing or other incompatible uses.

The Ordinance also sets standards which help control the size of buildings, and the type of related facilities that may be provided, such as off street parking areas. It prevents neighborhoods from becoming over-developed by limiting the number of homes or apartments that may be built in a given area. Additionally, it helps determine where buildings may be placed on a lot, and encourages developers to provide open space surrounding buildings.

Nuisances such as odor, noise and vibrations are restricted by the ordinance by requiring certain industrial performance standards.

The ordinance consists of a map and text. The map divides the city into various zoning districts. The text contains regulations, which apply to each district.

How is the Zoning Ordinance Enforced?

The Department of Zoning employs a team of inspectors who conduct daily inspections in response to citizen and aldermanic complaints regarding ordinance violations. Upon these reports, conclusions are made whether any violations are taking place.

If violations are taking place, the CODE ENFORCEMENT BUREAU mediates by taking legal action. The Bureau was established on January 1, 1994 by the Department of Zoning, and targets serious zoning cases, such as illegal conversions, home occupations, illegal junkyards, and illegal signs. It conducts weekly hearings resulting in fines, penalties and possibly incarceration if violations persist.

What are the Various Types of City Districts?

A. Residential Districts
There are eight residential districts. In R1 and R2 districts, only single-family, detached dwellings can be built.

The remaining residential districts, R3 through R8, are General Residential Districts. The principal difference among these classifications is in the intensity of the use permitted.

In the R3 to R8 districts, the ordinance limits the number of dwelling units that can be built per lot area of land, with the most units permitted in an R8 district. Zoning classifications also include Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.) which limits the amount of building floor area that can be constructed on the lot.

The same exact building type could basically be permitted in any of the six General Residence Districts; however, the required size of the lot varies, with the largest lot required in the R3 classification. A tall apartment building could even be built in an R3 classification, but it would have to be surrounded by a comparatively large area of open land.

B. Business and Commercial
The Zoning Ordinance specifies seven classifications of business districts and four classifications of commercial districts. These classifications are also broken down into several sub-classifications according to different building bulk controls.

Classifications of business and commercial districts serve two purposes:

  • To protect neighborhoods by preventing encroachment of nuisance uses Adjacent to residential districts;
  • To separate uses which do not make good neighbors.

C. Manufacturing Districts
Manufacturing districts are classified as M1, M2, and M3. Performance standards in these districts include restrictions on such nuisances as odor, vibration, noise, fire, and explosive hazards. Restrictions are the most severe in M1 districts, which accommodate manufacturing uses producing a minimum of nuisance, and in M3 districts which are designed for heavy manufacturing operations.

D. Special Districts
A special district is a zoning district which imposes special supplemental and zoning regulations for the use and development of land within such district. These types of districts consist of unique cultural, historical and physical characteristics that positively contribute to the city’s diversity and livability. These supplemental zoning regulations are intended to reduce conflicts between new construction and existing developments. They apply in addition to existing zoning regulations.

What is a Zoning Amendment?

An individual applies for a zoning amendment to change the designation of one’s property. You can do this only when the subject premises contains 10,000 square feet of lot area; contains 100 feet of frontage on a public street, or adjoins a parcel of land which is in the same zoning district as the proposed zoning change.

Procedure for Zoning Amendment

  • The applicant submits an updated plat of survey to the zoning department.
  • The applicant submits a completed Zoning Amendment Application to the Zoning Department
  • The applicant pays the appropriate fees to the Revenue Department.

What is a Special Use?

Special uses are variations, which are allowed in certain zoning districts for uses which are unique and are determined on a case by case basis only with the approval of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

What is the Zoning Board of Appeals? (ZBA)

The Board of Appeals is a public body consisting of a chairman and four other members appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council. The board is empowered with the authority to permit or deny applications for special uses and other variations. Additionally, the board deciphers appeals from the rulings of the Zoning Administrator that are held monthly.

Procedure for Obtaining a Special Use:

  • Individual presents plans and a plat of survey to a zoning examiner for an official denial.
  • Individual submits an application to the ZBA.
  • The ZBA sets a date for a public hearing.
  • The applicant must notify all property owners within 250 feet of the proposed special use.
  • Interested persons may present testimony on the application at the public hearing.
  • The ZBA makes the final decision on the application.

Is There a Fee for These Requests?

The fee for applications for amendments or special uses filed by, or on behalf of the owner of the property affected is $500, payable to the Department of Revenue.

What is a Variation?

A variation is considered if there are practical difficulties or particular hardships in complying with the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance. Variations to the bulk provisions, yard requirements, off-street parking and loading requirements of the Zoning Ordinance may be allowed by the ZBA if the circumstances are unique and if the change will not result in causing harm to the surrounding area.

Procedure for Variations:

Individual presents plan/plat of survey to zoning examiner for an official denial.
The individual submits application to the ZBA.
The Board sets a date for a public hearing. The applicant must notify all property owners within 100 feet of the proposed variation.
Application for a variation must be accompanied by a fee of $250, which shall be paid to the Department of Revenue.
The ZBA makes final decision on the application.

What is an Execption?

An exception is sought for various reasons — such as to reduce required yards by up to 50% or to grant permission to maintain a pre-ordinance dwelling unit.

Procedure for Exceptions:

The applicant must comply with the Department of Zoning.
The applicant must obtain an official denial.
Application for an exception must accompany a fee of $250 which shall be paid to the Chicago Department of Revenue.
The applicant must inform immediate neighbors of the intended exception with an approved letter issued by the Department of Zoning.
A decision is rendered by the Zoning Administrator.

Is Zoning Involved in Sign Regulation?

Yes. The Department of Zoning regulates signs including billboards, by enforcing restrictions such as type, placement, square footage and size of all signs in residential, business, commercial, and manufacturing districts. Zoning works in conjunction with sign companies as well as the Chicago Building Department to implement these regulations.

How is Landscaping Involved with Zoning?

The Department of Zoning is responsible for the review and approval of landscape plans as required under the Chicago Landscape Ordinance. The Ordinance cites specifications for parkway planting and landscaping in and around parking lots, as well as requires tree plantings and landscaping for new buildings and rehabilitation projects. It also requires all new construction and major building renovation projects to plant one tree for every 25 feet of street frontage. Single family homes, two-flats, and three-flats are exempt from these particular landscape regulations.

Is Zoning Involved in the Approval of Licenses and Permits?

Yes. The Zoning Department reviews all applications to ensure that all zoning regulations are adhered to before any of the following are issued:

a.) Building permits
b.) Business Licenses
c.) Occupancy Certificates
d.) Signs
e.) Driveways
f.) Garages

If I am Seeking Assistance for Various Permits, Do I Need to Bring Any Documents to the Deparmtnet of Zoning?


For Building Permits You Will Need:

  • A current drawing of your property and a site plan.
  • An elevation drawing that illustrates building height and slope.
  • A floor plan that describes use of the interior of the intended structure.
  • A plat of survey.

For Business Licenses You Will Need:

  • A description of the type of business or nature of the activity to be conducted.

For Signs You Will Need:

  • A description of the type and location of the sign
  • The use you wish to depict on the sign
  • The dimensions and projection over the public or private way

Certification of Zoning Compliance

The Department of Zoning will issue Certification of Zoning Compliance to certify the number of lawful and non-conforming residential dwelling units when a building is sold or transferred.

The purpose is to keep the buyers from acquiring property with illegal dwelling units. The process will notify the seller and buyer as to how many lawful dwelling units exist. The ordinance applies only to residential property zoned for one family dwelling unit, two family dwelling or multi-dwelling containing five or fewer dwelling units. The ordinance does not apply to condominiums or cooperative units.

The application for Certification of Zoning Compliance is filed in Room 802 at City Hall. The fee is $50.00 and the fee is due at the time the application is filed. The entire ordinance may be found at Title 3-32-020; 3-32-040; 3-33-045; 3-33-070 of Chapter 3-33 of the Municipal Code of Chicago.

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

About the Title to Your Condominium Home

“We’re Buying a Condominium!”

You hear this expression more and more as condominium ownership now covers almost every form or residential housing. Townhomes, duplexes, single-family detached homes and apartment buildings. The principles of condominium ownership apply equally to all.

When you buy a condominium unit, you acquire individual and absolute title to the particular space which your unit occupies. In addition, you own an undivided interest — collectively with all other unit owners in the condominium — in all the ‘common’ parts of the property, such as the land, main walls, roofs, halls, lobbies, stairways, and other parts of the condominium property used jointly by all owners.

Your ownership of your unit is as complete and absolute as ownership of a house and lot. You have title to your unit just as you would have title to a single-family home — with the same legal status and financial advantages that are held by the single-family house owner.

Further Advantages

  • You can obtain your own mortgage with freedom to arrange the size and down payment, terms, and prepayment privileges. As the mortgage is paid off, the accumulated equity belongs to you.
  • You are only liable for your own mortgage — not for any of your neighbors.
  • You receive an individual tax assessment and are liable solely for your own taxes.
  • You have the personal income tax advantage of home ownership — both real estate taxes and mortgage interest are tax-deductible.
  • Because each living unit is owned individually, your ownership interest or your share of the common elements cannot be affected by any misfortunes or legal actions, which may beset owners of the other units.
  • You may rent or sell your unit whenever you wish in accordance with the terms of the condominium agreement.

How Can I Own Space in a Building or a Development?

Think of the matter as having title to a cube of space. You are purchasing — acquiring title to — a unit “air lot,” in just the same manner as you can acquire a title to a peice of land on the earth’s surface.

The principle of such air rights has long been established by law and there have been numerous commercial buildings erected on air rights over railroad tracks or other property.

A condominium is simply a variation of the process whereby each of a number of persons owns a “unit air lot” and they all own, in common, the land and remaining portions of the property.

Can Title to My Unit Be Insured?

It not only can, but should be, in exactly the same way that titles are insured for owners of other types of property.

Each purchaser of real estate wants to be certain of a good title — a title that is free and clear of any cloud, or defect, or claim that might possible affect ownership, or cost money at some future time, or make it more difficult to dispose of the property when one wishes to do so.

The same considerations prevail concerning the title to your condominium unit. As the owner of a condominium unit, you are in the same situation as any other property owner.

Title insurance policies are an accepted form of protection for buyers of real estate, providing that the buyer is receiving good title. Such a policy insures the rights of an owner, and makes certain that the owner will be able to convey good title when the time comes to sell.

How do I Benefit from My Condominium Title Insurance?

A title insurance company generally works closely with the developers of condominiums and their legal counsel to resolve problems and set up the procedures necessary to make the safeguards of title insurance available to those entering into this form of real estate ownership.

A fundamental problem is that of precisely and accurately describing the location of each individual unit in space; that is to say, establishing the physical boundaries of the unit with the same type of legal description that exactly locates a piece of land and identifies it from all other pieces of land anywhere else on the face of the earth.

Your individual unit must be described by dividing, locating, and measuring it, in three-dimensional terms, so that it cannot possibly be confused with any other unit space, if you are to have good title. Only by doing so does it become possible for a condominium purchaser to be safe from involvement in the interests or obligations of owners of other units in the condominium and to acquire such an interest in your own property as will permit you to obtain a mortgage on it, and at a later time dispose of the unit through sale or by your will.

Your title insurance policy insures — guarantees to you — that your condominium declaration and the deed to your particular apartment, do, in fact, thus describe, locate and identify your unit to the exclusion of all other space on earth.

Further Protection Provided by Title Insurance

Your attorney will explain to you that the title to your unit — and the safety of all that you have invested in it — are dependant upon the soundness of the title to the parcel (or parcels) of land on which your condominium dwelling has been erected.

You and other co-owners are the most recent parties in a continuous “chain of title” going back through all of the owners, mortgage lenders, and other parties who have ever had some interest or rights in the land on which your condominium home stands.

Just as when a single-family house and lot is bought, the title to the dwelling, which you are buying, is only as good as the weakest link in that chain. Somewhere down through the years which this land stood vacant, or while it had other structures on it, there could have been a forgery, irregularities in a deed, or unsatisfied judgements against previous owners. And you’ve heard of missing heirs, or persons declared legally dead, turning up at long last to claim their rightful share in property — with dire consequences to those who may have subsequently purchased it.

These are called “hidden risks” when real estate is purchased. There are others, and most cannot be discovered by an examination of the public records. You have no practical ways of learning about these hidden risks or weaknesses in the title to the land beneath your condominium home — and hence, weaknesses to the title to your unit. Laws that govern ownership of all real estate may protect such unsatisfied claims even if they are generations old.

These are some of the reasons why the developers of your condominium dwelling may have arranged for each unit buyer to have the protection of a title insurance policy. It is the best assurance you can have that you are receiving good title. It is exactly the same kind of title protection used in the sale and financing of many real estate developments — from small cottages to multi-million dollar commercial and industrial complexes.

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

Triennial Reassessment Hitting City this Year

Those of us who live in Cook County, Illinois, know that our real estate is reassessed every three years.  Well, for those Cook County residents who live in the City of Chicago, this is the year (the south and west suburban townships experienced it last year, and the north and northwest townships will be reassessed next year).

Most Chicago property owners already have gotten the bad news in the mail from the assessor’s office.  Some have seen astonishing increases – more than double in some cases.

Because the Cook County property tax system is so confusing, remember that these are not tax bills.  Tax bills are based, in part, on the value of a property and the reassessment sets that value.  Tax bills founded on the new re-evaluation won’t arrive until 2013, as Cook County residents pay real estate taxes in arrears (a year behind).

The tax bill every Cook County homeowner will get in late summer of this year is the second installment on the 2011 tax bill and isn’t connected to the current city reassessment.

What can a property owner do about the reassessed value if one feels that the reassessment is unfair?  One can appeal to the assessor’s office.  But be aware that the deadline for appeal has, in some cases, already passed.

Property owners also can use the assessor’s Web site ( to obtain the assessed valuation, information about appeals, as well as well as information about the homeowner’s exemption, the senior citizens exemption and the senior citizens assessment freeze.  The website has property assessment information on the homes of neighbors, information that is quite valuable in making an appeal, especially on the grounds of uniformity (whereby you claim your property is assessed higher than your neighbor’s property).

One of the forms the assessor sends out with the reassessment allows you to make a simple challenge based on the “property characteristics” section in the notice.  If the description of your home given in that section is inaccurate in a significant way, challenge it via the form.  But beware: discrepancies in the number of fireplaces or bathrooms probably will come to naught.  But noting major errors in building or land square footage might be successful.

If you strike out with the assessor’s office, you still have another chance to impact that assessed valuation.  First, a property owner can appeal to the Board of Review (, a separate governmental body with its own appeals process (and this can be done even if you did not file an appeal with the assessor’s office).  As you might guess, there are deadlines for this type of appeal as well, and they are listed on the website.  The Board handles hundreds of thousands of appeals, the majority of property owners who took this route won relief in tax savings, according to Board figures.

Finally, if you’re still unhappy with your reassessment, there’s the state’s Property Tax Appeals Board.  You can find out more information on their website (

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

What Every Home Seller and Buyer Should Know About Title Insurance

Most home sellers and buyers have been informed that obtaining title insurance will provide them necessary protection over possible title defects; but many remain uncertain why this is so — or even about what title insurance is.

Why the Seller Needs to Provide Title Insurance

Any prospective buyer will need evidence that his investment in your property is free of title defects. In fact, your contract of sale probably requires it. The title insurance policy that you provide the buyer is a guarantee that you are selling a clear title to your real estate unencumbered by any legal attachments that might limit or jeopardize ownership. Title insurance reassures your buyer that the title has passed careful scrutiny. In addition, it can help your deal close more quickly and easily.

Why the Buyer Needs Title Insurance

Without a title insurance policy, you may not be fully protected against errors in public records, hidden defects not disclosed by the public records, or mistakes in the examination of the title of your new property. As a result, you may be held fully accountable for any prior liens, judgements, or claims brought against your new property.

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)

What’s in a Title Search?

A Step-By-Step Review of Title Searches

You’ve decided to purchase a home and hope to take possession as soon as possible. The terms have been agreed upon and all the financial arrangements have been made. But there’s one important detail remaining. Before the transaction can close, a title search must be made.

The most accurate description of title is a bundle of rights in real property. A title who owns them.

A title search is a means of determining that the person who is selling the property search is the process of determining from the public record just what these rights are and really has the right to sell it, and that the buyer is getting all the rights to the property (title) that he or she is paying for.

The search process can be undertaken by the title company in those jurisdictions where the company maintains offices. In some areas, however, searches are made only by practicing attorneys. However the search is performed, in most real estate transactions today, a title insurance policy is purchased to insure the buyer that he or she has purchased a valid title.

In those transactions where title insurance is involved, the title company must determine insurability of the title as part of the search process. This leads to the issuance of a title policy, which insures the existence or non-existence of rights to the property.

The title insurance company will, at its own expense, defend the title and pay losses within the coverage of the policy if they occur.

But what, exactly, is involved in a title search? Here is a step-by-step review:

Chain of Title

This is simply the history of the ownership of a particular piece of property, telling who bought it and sold it, and when. The information may be derived from public records – usually a county clerk’s or recorder’s office – or obtained from title plants privately owned and maintained by title companies. There are great varieties of such plants – index cards, punch cards, tract books, even sophisticated computerized plants. However, they all contain essentially the same information from which the history of the title may be secured.

Tax Search

This is a search to determine the present status of general real estate taxes against the property. The tax search will reveal if taxes are current or weather any taxes are past due and unpaid from previous years. In addition, the tax search will indicate the existence of any special assessments against the land and, if so, weather or not these assessments are current or past due.

A due and unpaid tax or special assessment is a prior lien or claim on the property above all others. If a buyer purchases property with unpaid and past due taxes or assessments against it, he or she is likely to find a government body – the village, county or state – placing the property up for sale to pay those taxes or assessments. A tax search reveals the status of the taxes. Title insurance protects the buyer against loss from unpaid and past due taxes and assessments.

Report On Possession

Many title insurance companies send inspectors to look at the property to look at the lot size, check the location of improvements, look for evidence of easements that are not shown on record, and check on who is living there.

The purpose of this is to supplement the information learned from the title search. In the eyes of the law, any buyer of real estate is assumed to have notice of all matters properly shown in the public records as to that real estate as well as any information that an actual inspection may reveal.

If the inspector detects an unrecorded easement or other evidence of outstanding rights that could affect the owner’s title and possibly the value and intended use, the company tells the buyer of these things before he closes his purchase. Those matters must then be either disposed of or shown as exceptions in the title insurance policy. Sometimes when an acceptable survey and appropriate affidavits are received, an inspection will not be made.

Judgement and Name Search

One of the most important parts of the title search is to determine if there are any unsatisfied judgements against the seller or previous owners which were in existence while they owned the title. A judgement is a general lien against the debtor’s real estate and constitutes security for any money owed under the judgement. The real estate can be sold to satisfy the judgement.

For example, the name Smith might be spelled Schmidt, Schmid, Schmidtt, Schmidz, Schmied, Schmiedt, Smid, Smyhthe, and so on. The name Nichols can be spelled 73 different ways, from Nachols to Nychals. The task is to determine which of these applies to the owner in question. First names have to be checked, too. There are 25 foreign forms of John, including Johann, Jehan, Hans, Shaun, Gudi, and Efom.

Rights established by judgement decrees, unpaid federal income taxes, and mechanics’ liens all may be prior claims on the property, ahead of the buyer’s or lender’s rights. If a judgement is discovered that constitutes a defect in the title, it is pointed out, and the seller must then eliminate it before the title of the new buyer can be insured free and clear of that judgement.


When these searches have been completed, the title company issues a commitment to insure, stating the conditions under which it will insure the title. The buyer and the seller and the mortgage lender can proceed with the closing of the transaction after clearing up any defects in the title which may have been uncovered by the search and examination.

The mortgage lender is as concerned about the quality of the title as the buyer because the property is to be security for the new mortgage loan. The mortgage lender requires assurance that it has a valid first (or another acceptable priority) mortgage lien on the property. This is not only common sense, but generally is a legal requirement of regulated mortgage lenders.

The lender’s title insurance, however, doesn’t protect the new buyer of the property. Although the land is the same, the interest of the buyer and the interest of the lender are very different. The provisions of a lender’s title insurance policy are very different from those of a buyer’s policy, so the buyer should obtain his own policy, often issued simultaneously with the lender’s policy.

(Note: The information in this article is intended to be general in nature. Plan to discuss your particular circumstances with an attorney for how this might apply to you.)