Buying and selling real estate are common business transactions in Los Angeles. Apart from Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, no day passes without millions of dollars in real estate being transferred from one party to another. Most people accept this fact without wondering how these transactions are recorded or made public. Unlike an automobile or large appliance, parcels of land are not taken into the possession of the purchaser. The answer begins with the system of land title recording that was created by the state Legislature soon after the state’s admission to the Union in 1850.
What is a land title?
As noted, land does not move. Instead, the ownership of land is registered in a county agency known as the county recorder’s office. Every county in California has a recorder’s office. The function of the recorder’s office is to keep careful written track of all transactions involving real estate located in the county.
To accomplish this end, the recorder’s office provides a means of filing written notice of these transactions. The recording is not mandatory, but modern business practices have evolved into a system in which written notice of virtually every land transaction is filed with the county recorder. These documents are public and may be reviewed by anyone.
Title to real estate is transferred by one party accepting a valid deed from a party who has the legal right to sell the land. Other kinds of interest, such as a mortgage that secures the repayment of a loan or a lien for taxes owed to the state or federal government, can also be recorded.
Anyone who wants to know if a person who is offering to sell a tract of land has the legal right to do so by examining the property records in the county recorder’s office. A search of these records (called a “title search”) will show whether the putative owner received a valid deed from another party whose right to convey title to the land was not questioned. The recording system will also reveal whether any party has a lien or mortgage on the land that has not been paid off (“satisfied”).
This system has many technical details. For example, a deed must satisfy several formal requirements before it can be considered valid. In addition to being written, the deed must accurately describe both the parcel of land and the identity of the seller and purchaser.
Anyone who is considering the purchase or sale of real estate in Los Angeles County may wish to consult an experienced real estate attorney before consummating the transaction.