Tips for Determining a Property’s Legal Status
We often receive requests from our international clients for assistance in determining the legal status of a property they own in Florida. Other inquiries are being made because a client thinks a certain property of interest may be in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure and they want to determine if there is an opportunity to negotiate a deal or if they can buy it at the foreclosure sale.
Here is a short guide of how to determine if the property has liens on it and if a foreclosure action is pending. In order to begin your search you will need either the address of the property or the owner’s name. Start at the Property Appraiser’s web site. For Palm Beach County the web site is found at www.pbcgov.com/PAPA/index.htm. If you are looking outside Palm Beach County, Google “Property Appraiser + Name of County” and that search should identify the right internet site. For Palm Beach follow these steps after arriving at the Property Appraiser’s home page:
- Step 1:
Click “Record Search” in the top left hand column.
- Step 2:
Click the empty circle next to “Address.”
- Step 3:
Type the street address in the search fields. You may have to play around either using or omitting the “Pre Direction” and “Suffix” fields. Click “Search.”
- Step 4:
The search result will either take you directly to the property you are looking for, or to a list of property addresses, but are located in different municipalities. For example, there may be a 230 Mangrove Drive in Boca Raton and one in West Palm Beach.
- Step 5:
On the Property Information page you will find the owner’s name. You should then click the button for “All Owners” located next to the owner’s name to make sure that you get all the owners names as there may be more than one name. This is important because the mortgage may be recorded under one owner’s name, but not the other. Also note if the name includes a middle initial as this will facilitate the subsequent search in the Public Records.
- Step 6:
Important: Take note of the legal description and the date the owner purchased the property as this will save you a lot of time in identifying the correct public records in the search that follows. With the owner’s name, the date of purchase and the legal description you are well equipped to do the next search in the County Public Records. The public records will then tell you if the owner has a mortgage on the property and if a Lis Pendens has been filed against the property. A Lis Pendens is the lien that is recorded in conjunction with the foreclosure action. For Palm Beach County a free public records search can be done at www.mypalmbeachclerk.com/officialrecords.aspx.