Title Tips by Tute
Volume 5, Number2
As some of you may have guessed from prior columns, Tute fantasizes about being a techno-geek. This scribe was one of, if not the first to submit articles to the Examiner in electronic format (does anyone remember ProComm (for DOS)?). Automating land records appeals to Tute for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the growing array of metal detectors around courthouses, the obvious desire of the very polite sheriffs that I not enter their courthouse without a full body cavity search, and the necessity to unload and repack the thirty-eleven pens and other implements of title work that are carried around. My legs aren't what they used to be, my vision and back are fading fast, and I really need that cup of coffee as I mull over my less-than-comprehensible title notes looking for the missing link in the chain of title. Remote access to digital land records could cure a world of ills.
In that vein, and copying relentlessly from late night television, Tute has the following Top Ten (OK, Six) list. From the home office in Wahoo, NE
(www.wahoo.ne.us/): Ten (OK, Six) Tips for Digital Title Examination
Less is More
Indexing instruments in the computer era requires consistency. Most clerks offices have many employees, several of whom will work at the deed desk. People tend not to be consistent. Thus, in one city in which Tute has verified data, one particular institution appears in the grantor's index in many varied iterations arising from misspellings of the name, abbreviations of the name, abbreviations with periods, abbreviations without periods, and the most ghastly of the bunch, beginning with a blank space. The Mark I eyeball is your best defense, so before zeroing in on a particular iteration of a name, look at the big picture by putting in as few letters as possible to retrieve the range of entries where your grantor should be indexed, and see how many multiple variations exist. Then look at them all.
Paper or Plastic
Whenever possible, keep a copy of your work. Digital records are not permanent. This, in fact, is one of the primary objections to electronic records. Clerks offices are charged with maintaining the records in a specific manner, and §17.1-250 requires the clerk to date any corrections as part of the index. It's a lot easier to convince your boss, or your customer, that you didn't make a mistake when a printout is part of your file.
Trust, but Verify
This phrase, from the era of arms control treaties, has increasing utility in the field of title examination. Statutes now authorize clerks to require Map Parcel numbers on deeds. These numbers also appear in the indices. Some trusting souls may rely on the index and not read the instruments in order to meet corporate or customer service deadlines. As noted in the material on indexing, "to err is human," and to complete and extend that quote, " to forgive is divine, and to pay requires title insurance." The index is not the instrument, and that little space cannot possibly inform the title examiner of the full contents of the deed. To give but one example, deeds are not required to show the map parcel numbers of any appurtenant easements. Read the instrument.
We'll Keep the Lights On
I've always wondered what the motel chain with this advertising slogan does during a power outage. Maybe each hotel has a backup generator, so the lights will stay on. But a clerk's office with no electricity in a digital era might as well be closed. Years ago (10 BD, before digital), Tute remembers continuing to do title work during storms in which the power went out (staying close to the windows, which became the only source of light.) No juice, and its back to the books, if there are any. If the books are all gone, replaced with microfilm or digital or optical images, best hope the clerk has a backup generator. Ask your clerk now, so you'll be prepared when the time comes, and maybe they will be, too.
Get with the Program
Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, ProComm Plus, and Joe Clerk's Handy Dandy Indexing Program are just a few of the programs that are or will be available to the digital title examiner. If you don't know how to navigate within the program, you won't know if you're searching the proper data. A search of the marriage licenses data base when you want to be searching deeds is not going to yield the proper results.
Who Are You (ooou ooou)
(with apologies to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)
Tute can't remember passwords. Digital systems want to know who the user is and whether or not he has permission to be there. Digital Signatures and public key encryption exist and are being refined in order to allow electronic commerce, and not too far in the future, electronic filing of instruments. I can't tell you what to look for now, but you'll have to know when we get there. After all, you can't tell the players without a score card, and the filing computer can't tell the filers without a password. What will I do?
It's a brave new world out there; see you on the electronic highway.
Virginia land records available on the internet as of this writing include:
Wise County - http://www.courtbar.org
Scott County - http://www.titlesearcher.com/ts/counties/scott-va.shtml
King William - coming soon to http://www.titlesearcher.com/ts/virginia.htm
Land Office Patents and Grants - http://image.vtls.com/collections/LO.html
And a few other locations
13 Tennessee counties, with 15 coming soon to http://www.titlesearcher.com/ts/tennessee.htm
Bureau of Land Management - General Land Office - Eastern States Public Lands - 1820-1908
Bureau of Land Management - California patents - http://www.ca.blm.gov/landpatents/
Links to various Massachusetts Registry offices - http://www.mass-doc.com/land_registry_dir.htm
Suffolk County, Mass. Registry of Deeds - http://www.suffolkdeeds.com/
Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds - http://126.96.36.199/deedsonline.asp
Maricopa County (Phoenix) Arizona - http://recorder.maricopa.gov/recdocdata/
*** Since this was originally written, additional jurisdictions have gone on-line . . . some of which were driven off line by what may be a misguided hysteria about privacy issues. These records have never been private . . . but they used to be pretty inconvenient . . . perhaps that amounts to the same thing.
Come and gone: King George County
Withdrawn immediately before going on-line: Hanover County
Available by subscription only: Fairfax County, Prince William County
There may be more . . . feel free to e-mail me at Tute@tute.us with additional sites.