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Ohio County's Records Lead to Headaches for Title Professionals

Source of Title 6/23/2008 reprinted with permission
 

Many real estate professionals, particularly title examiners and abstractors, have expressed concerns that they are woeful when checking information maintained in the clerk's office in Franklin County. The problem lies in how information is maintained in the clerk's computer system, which they say is rife with errors ranging from misspelled names, misplaced commas and first and last names often substituted for the other.

According to Robert Franco, the president of Source of Title and a seasoned title professional, he has spoken with individuals who work in Franklin County and the problem seems to stem from information that is submitted electronically to the county office.

"With an electronic filing, the indexing information is transferred from one computer system to the other," Franco said. "I don't think there are any human eyes looking at the original document when it gets entered into the index. It seems as though they have problems like the last name getting indexed in the first-name field, and vice versa. That can make an abstractor's job pretty tough. All an abstractor can do is check every which way he can imagine. That can be very time consuming."

Many title professionals are worried that the mistakes in the clerk's office will get pinned to them, and that they will take a hit on their errors and omission's insurance policies. They also fear that if they overlook a mis-indexed lien when conducting a search, they could expose unsuspecting borrowers to liens.

A family in Muskingum County was recently affected in just such a manner due to mis-indexed information in the county clerk's office. They received foreclosure papers after the former owner's name had been misspelled in the index and a search of the property failed to turn up the lien prior to the property's sale.

John O'Grady, the clerk of court for Franklin County, has not admitted to any wrongdoing, but according to an article in The Columbus Dispatch, the errors that exist in his county's indices are the result of poor information his office receives from the state. Yet, this excuse does not provide title professionals with much consolation.

"Everyone who has to use the system is basically playing roulette," said Dan Hritz, an independent title examiner who works for several prominent title companies. He said that he and others who have expressed concern about mis-indexed information were told to simply notify employees of the clerk's office when an error is discovered and it will be corrected.

"By then it's generally already too late," Hritz added. "If there's a judgment, someone is trying to collect. And, the property likely has already been transferred."

"We're aware that it's a problem," said Ted Hart, in an interview with the newspaper. Hart is a spokesman for the Attorney General's office. "It's been around for quite some time."

Despite acknowledging that a problem exists, no efforts seem to be underway to correct the problem, according to the title examiners who work in the office and rely upon the information its records contain.

"It's a title examiner's nightmare," said Debbie Howard, a title professional who often peruses the records and is forced to run names in every imaginable way in order to avoid missing a lien or exposing her clients to unforeseen risks.

"It is extremely important to me that the title examiners and the general public are able to access the public record with accuracy and confidence," O'Grady said when questioned about the alleged errors in the system.

Franco stressed the important role abstractors must take when reviewing any county's records and noted that mis-indexed information does not remove the validity of liens.

"If a lien is not found because it's mis-indexed, it may still be a valid lien for collection purposes," he said. "The recent story out of Muskingum County is a perfect example of how a simple typo can have a devastating impact on a homeowner." He added that title examiners need to develop very good computer searching skills, and they need to check several variations of the name, trying to anticipate how it might have been entered incorrectly in the index.

"Still, if it was not even close to being correctly indexed, there is little that can be done to find it," he said.

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