WATCH OUT: PROPERTY RECORD SCAM
Our office provides a variety of real estate services, including title and closing services. Buying or selling real estate requires transferring title with a deed and recording it with the county recorder’s office in which the property is located. Our office also has a large estate planning practice, where we regularly record Transfer on Death Deeds or deeds to trusts in the property records.
In almost every circumstance, the original deed is then returned to the buyer or property owner for safe keeping. If, for some reason, the original deed is lost or misplaced, copies of the deed can be obtained from the county recorder’s office, typically for the cost of about $1 per page. Although not originals, there is nothing wrong with these copies, as they are evidence that the deed has been recorded with the recorder. As a matter of practice, our office retains copies of relevant deeds in a client’s file and are happy to provide copies to our clients.
In past years, we have written articles explaining how there an upswing in the number of companies who are sending letters to Minnesota property owners that, at first glance, look like a bill from a government agency. These letters often look very official and attempt to get property owners to pay upwards of $100 to obtain a copy of their real estate deed or property profile. These letters may contain buzzwords like "U.S. Government," "official," and "certified copy" in order to coerce property owners into paying the fee. The fine print may disclose that a deed is not required, but many of us fail to read or notice the fine print disclaimer. Whereas in past years these letters only arrived after an actual conveyance of property via a warranty deed or quit claim deed, we are now seeing these letters arrive after other estate planning documents, such as transfer on death deeds are recorded.
The companies sending these letters rely on the fact that many homeowners don’t know how, where, or when to obtain the deed to their property. In the event that you are buying, selling, or otherwise transferring title to your property, or perhaps refinancing your mortgage, you – or the title company handling your closing – can always obtain a copy of your deed from the county recorder or registrar of titles. There is no need to pay a private company a large sum of money for what should be relatively inexpensive.
Wondering how these companies can get away with this? Remember, all property records are public record and available online. The companies access these public records and then provide you with a copy of the deed, at an absurdly high cost. Technology with these public records has been incredibly accessible as you can obtain property tax statements, pay your property taxes, and view a map or aerial photo of your property through many county websites.
When in doubt, it’s a good idea to contact your attorney or the title company that handled your real estate closing or estate plan about any correspondence you may have received about a recent real estate transaction.
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