A modern title plant is a computerized index to the documents recorded in the county recorder’s office, as well as the scanned images of the documents themselves. Title searchers and examiners query the title plant for documents related to specific property by legal description, or by an individual’s name (there may be other search methods used also, but these two are the most common). The title plant must, therefore, be accurate in indexing the legal descriptions and names listed on all recorded documents.
Recorded documents are prepared by many parties in a county, and are generally acceptable to the recorder if the documents meet minimum requirements. The Recorder’s staff seldom reviews documents in depth to confirm that all the information on the document is correctly prepared. Title plants, however, require the abstracted information to be correct and complete.
When the information noted on the recorded documents is either incomplete or incorrect, the document becomes a “locate” document. A locate document requires a researcher to either complete the information or correct the mistake. Sometimes a corrected document has to be filed with the recorder’s office. Incorrect legal descriptions and missing legal descriptions on lien and release documents are common conditions that result in a locate document.
HDEP estimates that between 10%-15% of the documents require some form of research prior to being considered correctly abstracted for the title plant.
Locates require a variety of research complexity, from simple to extremely complicated. Based on our experience, between 60% and 75% of the locate work can be researched by a query into the title plant itself (depending on the depth of the plant). The other 25% to 40% of the locate research requires resources that are outside the electronic title plant (e.g. maps, specialized knowledge, other resources). The types of locates that HDEP has done include:
- Determining a prior reference document number if it is not noted on the current document
- If a legal description is incorrectly noted on the current document (e.g. missing a phase number), we can review a prior document and determine the correct legal description
- Filling in missing information due to illegible characters in the current document
- Other locate types (see below)
In order for HDEP to do locate work, the title plant database and images should be in electronic format, historically deep and remotely accessible. If a county’s tax assessor office gives web access to a searchable database, we can do a larger set of locate work.
Some items to consider:
1. Locate work done pre-import or post-import of keyed records:
If HDEP is posting the daily plant for a county, locate work can be done either before we send the completed keyed index, or after. We believe it is best if HDEP can do the work before final posting to its customer’s title plant, because “fixing” the title plant after the records have been posted causes its own set of auditing issues.
On the other hand, some plant software resolves minor discrepancies, links documents, populates missing data etc upon import of keyed records, thereby reducing the number of documents kicked out for manual research. In this case, locate work could be done most effectively post-import, because some portion of the locate research can be automated.
2. Correcting the title plant database
This work generally involves resolving incorrect or incomplete legals that bounce out when the imported records are run against software edits. Also any information missing because it is illegible – date, document number, and so on – can be handled. HDEP staff can assist in all these conditions.
3. Enhancing the database
This work includes such things as:
- Adding the legal to documents that have only a prior reference doc number
- Adding survey or M&B descriptions to unrecorded subs
- Adding property to GI docs by researching plant database or tax assessor websites when the source has an APN, property street address and so on.
The extent to which this research is done is a business decision – plant sales, market share, user expectations and similar would factor into how much effort a company wants to put into the plant versus leaving that to searcher/examiners when an order comes in.
4. Reporting database corrections and enhancements
Some systems have an online commenting system for each document touched. Other customers request an excel-type spreadsheet listing the doc number and brief description of change made, and any locate documents left untouched because they could not be resolved.
If you report source property errors to the scrivener, an online comment entered on your system, or an emailed exception report from HDEP, could identify the document number and problem.
For all locate scenarios, HDEP would need to learn the customer’s rules and define the latitude for assumptions versus flagging. The depth, organization, and reliability of the electronic data may be factors in developing the rules.