How to Safeguard Your Property: A Comprehensive Guide to Checking Your Deed

CEO Khai Intela
You may have recently received a postcard from our office, notifying you about a Quitclaim Deed filed against your property. This can be an alarming sign of potential fraud. Alternatively, you might be interested in...

You may have recently received a postcard from our office, notifying you about a Quitclaim Deed filed against your property. This can be an alarming sign of potential fraud. Alternatively, you might be interested in our FREE Property Fraud Alert and want to ensure the clarity of your title before signing up. Whatever your reason, this article will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to check your chain of title in our public database and identify any irregularities.

When you purchased your home, the deed was conveyed to you with the assurance that it was free and clear of any outstanding liens or claims. Unfortunately, scammers can file false claims on top of your legitimate deed after the closing and finalization of the conveyance. County recorders are not legally authorized to verify the claims made in documents, making it vital for you to take proactive measures to protect your property.

Step 1 - Locate Your PIN

The first step in checking your deed is to locate your Property Index Number (PIN). You can find this 14-digit number on your property tax bill from the County Treasurer. If you don't have it readily available, you can look it up online through either the Cook County Assessor's website or the Cook County Property Tax Portal. It's important to verify the photo of your home to ensure you capture the correct PIN.

Example Deed Example: Searching using Ernest Hemingway's boyhood home in Oak Park, 339 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, yields the PIN 16-07-105-030-0000.

Step 2 - Visit Our Website and Locate the Search Portal

Next, visit our website and locate the Search Portal by entering into your web browser. On the search page, you'll find a link that will take you to the Clerk's Recordings Search portal.

Step 3 - Enter Your PIN

Once you're on the Search Portal, locate the horizontal search bar at the top of the page. Enter the PIN for your property and click on "Full Search." This will provide you with a comprehensive overview of your chain of title.

By using Ernest Hemingway's Home as an example, we can see the following results:

If you prefer, you can also search by document number or utilize other available queries by clicking on the "Advanced Search" button.

Step 4: Review Your Chain of Title for Irregularities

In the search results, you'll notice that recorded documents appear in reverse chronological order, with the newest recordings displayed first. Each document has a unique Document Number, and you can view a summary of each document for free. However, please note that downloading the actual document may incur a fee. It's important to remember that online records are only available from 1985 onwards. If you need to access older documents, please visit one of the Clerk's Office locations.

When reviewing your chain of title, the following sequence is typically observed:

  1. A deed, usually a Warranty Deed, is filed to establish your ownership as the grantee.
  2. If you financed the purchase with a mortgage, the mortgage will be recorded above the deed, highlighting the owner (grantor) and the lender (grantee).
  3. Once the mortgage is paid off or satisfied, a Release will be recorded, freeing the owner from the terms of the mortgage.
  4. An Assignment indicates that the lender has sold their interest in the mortgage to a third party.

Additionally, other documents such as liens or Lis Pendens (indicating a pending lawsuit, often related to foreclosure) may have been filed against your property. It's crucial to be alert and vigilant when reviewing these documents for any unfamiliar or suspicious recordings.

What Should & Shouldn't Be There

Aside from your deed and corresponding mortgages, the following types of documents are generally found throughout the title history of real property:

  • Documents prepared and recorded by governmental agencies (e.g., tax deferral liens, building code violations, public aid liens).
  • Documents prepared and recorded by the property owner or their attorney (e.g., deeds into a living trust, warranty deeds, quit claim deeds).
  • Documents prepared and recorded by the mortgage lender (e.g., mortgages, trust deeds, assignments of mortgage).
  • Documents prepared and recorded by contractors and subcontractors (e.g., contracts, mechanic's liens).
  • Documents prepared and recorded by property management (e.g., condo association liens, condo declarations).
  • Documents prepared and recorded by other lienholders (e.g., broker's liens, attorney's liens).
  • Documents issued and recorded from court proceedings (e.g., judgments involving real estate).

On the other hand, the presence of certain indicators or hallmarks may suggest fraudulent recordings. These include:

  • Deeds not prepared or signed by the property owner or their attorney, which typically require the owner's knowledge and consent.
  • Loans not applied for or obtained by the property owner, as loan documents usually require the owner's involvement.
  • Contractor or subcontractor liens when no work was performed, excluding disputes between the property owner and the party responsible for construction or maintenance services.
  • Other types of liens where no services were provided, such as liens from real estate brokers or attorneys.
  • Court documents unrelated to the property owner or the property itself.

The list above provides some common terms and document names you might encounter while reviewing your chain of title. However, it's essential to consult an attorney to gain a deeper understanding of these instruments and how they may affect your ownership rights.

Protect Your Property

If you suspect fraud or have any questions regarding a suspicious recording, our Property Fraud Unit is readily available to assist you. Remember, regularly inspecting your chain of title or signing up for our FREE Property Fraud Alert can help automate the monitoring process, ensuring you stay informed about any potential threats to your property.

Please bear in mind that the information provided in this article should not be considered legal advice. While we are here to assist and address suspicions of fraud, it's always advisable to consult an attorney before making any decisions that could impact your ownership interest in the property.

Safeguarding your property is of utmost importance. By following these steps and staying vigilant, you can protect your investment and ensure the integrity of your title.