You’re about to buy your first home. It’s an exciting time, but as you get excited about a recent gem of a house you’ve found, you realize that it has old debts on it. Unfortunately, this happens quite often, which is why it’s so important to check for liens. It’s a key step to make sure your new home doesn’t come with surprises.

Property Liens 101

A property lien is a legal notice that says the owner of a property owes money. If someone doesn’t pay taxes, their contractor, or their loans, a lien might be placed on their property. This means if you buy a property with a lien, you might end up being responsible for those unpaid debts. That’s why knowing if there are any liens is a must-do before you decide to buy a property. Basically, it helps you avoid big problems later.

Preparing for a Lien Search

Before you start looking for liens, you need to gather some important details about the property and its owner. First, find out exactly who owns the property. Then, get the legal description of the property, which is like a detailed address that legal documents use. You can usually find this information online or at local government offices. Knowing these details will help you search the right records and make sure you don’t miss anything important.

Steps to Conduct a Lien Search in Florida

Once you have all the information you need, you can start looking up liens. Here’s how to do it in Florida:

  1. Check Local Records: Start by visiting your county’s official website. Each county in Florida has a database where you can look up property records, including liens. For example, here’s the link for Pinellas county.
  2. Visit the Assessor’s Office: If you need more details or can’t find what you’re looking for online, you can go to the local assessor’s office. They have all the records about property ownership and debts.
  3. Look at State and Federal Records: Sometimes, liens come from unpaid state or federal taxes. Check the Florida Department of Revenue and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service websites to see if there are any tax liens.

These steps will help you get a clear picture of any claims that might be on the property. This way, you can deal with them before they become your problem.

Should I Hire a Professional?

A lawyer shaking hands with his new client

Title services/agents and real estate attorneys bring a level of expertise and precision that goes beyond basic record searching. They are trained to interpret complex legal documents and identify subtle issues that could pose significant risks later.

For example, an experienced real estate attorney can detect discrepancies in the chain of title that might indicate fraud or clerical errors that could affect your legal ownership. They also ensure that all procedural requirements are met, including the proper filing and release of liens, safeguarding your investment from future legal disputes.

In states like Florida, where real estate law can be particularly intricate due to issues like hurricane damage claims or condo association liens, their expertise becomes even more essential (especially with the ongoing changes and turmoil in the insurance industry).

The Importance of a Title Search

A comprehensive title search examines the property’s entire ownership history, ensuring that every transaction leading to the current ownership has been legally sound. This includes:

  • Verifying that all previous liens have been properly discharged
  • Checking for any restrictions or easements that might limit how the property can be used
  • Confirming that the property’s boundaries are accurately described in public records

Such thorough diligence is vital because any oversight can lead to legal challenges. For instance, if a previous owner failed to pay a contractor, and the contractor filed a lien that was never resolved, this could become the new owner’s responsibility unless it’s addressed before the sale.

Exploring Tax Liens as Investments

Investing in tax liens in Florida presents a unique financial opportunity, but it also requires a nuanced understanding of the process itself.

When a property owner fails to pay their taxes, the county places a lien on the property. Investors can purchase these liens at auctions, essentially paying the taxes owed in exchange for the right to collect back that amount plus interest from the homeowner. If the homeowner fails to repay within a set period, the lienholder may even have the right to foreclose on the property.

All that said, it goes without saying that this type of investment is far from risk-free. Thorough research and sometimes legal advice are crucial to understanding the property’s value, the likelihood of repayment, and the legal steps involved in case of foreclosure.


Remember, the cost of a comprehensive title search and legal consultation is minimal compared to the potential financial and legal issues that could arise from an undiscovered lien. Investing the time and resources upfront to thoroughly understand the property’s legal standing will not only provide peace of mind but also secure your property’s value for the future. Happy hunting!


Stephen K. Hachey P.A. Stephen K. Hachey P.A.
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