When most people think of a real estate title, they think of something similar to a car title. An official document declaring that you own the car. Sounds simple, right? But, it really isn’t that simple.
In most states, including Florida, when you own real estate you do not get a physical document declaring your ownership rights. It might surprise you to learn that, you cannot go down to the county comptroller’s office and order a certificate of title for a piece of property you own. In the system Florida uses to track land ownership, there is no actual title or certificate of title used to prove ownership of real property.
But, what if I have a deed? Doesn’t that prove I own the property? Nope. A deed is simply evidence of the transfer of ownership interest, not proof of ownership. Then how is ownership of a piece of real estate proven?
Florida tracks evidence of real estate ownership through what is called the “abstract title system”. All documents related to transactions affecting a particular property; deeds, mortgages, liens, etc. are publicly recorded. This way information is freely available to anyone considering some type of transaction involving the property. As a body, those documents are called “evidence of ownership” and are summarized into a document called an “abstract of title” or “title abstract”. A qualified real estate attorney must then review the abstract and create a report called an “Opinion of Title.”
The Opinion of Title report is the closest thing you will get to a “real estate title” in Florida. The report uses information in the title abstract to outline/describe current ownership rights. It also outlines and steps necessary, if any, to enable the transfer of those ownership rights – remove encumbrances and defects to make ownership of the property in question transferable, aka a marketable title.
It may seem like a convoluted system. But, the system was designed to protect prospective buyers and lenders from, fraud, secret encumbrances, sales, transfers etc.