Every county maintains Public Records. For a general explanation of Public Records and the rules regarding maintaining public records and the public policy behind them, you can go to Florida Statute 119 here.
Thanks to the internet, all these documents are available at your finger tips for almost all municipalities. Once you go into the Public Records database, you can search all the documents recorded which name an individual, corporate entity or legal description. The difficulty will be if you have a common name. For example, in Miami a name like Maria Garcia is very common and you will get results which will not be relevant.
For example, I decided to fill out a search for Maria Garcia, but only for documents recorded in since November 1, 2016 because I was searching for a document which may have been recorded during this time period:
If you click on the document type box, you can narrow your search by the type of document. This search box has a breakdown of all the different types of documents you can conduct a search on. For example, the following documents are options you can scroll through:
If you are working on a real estate transaction, the documents you will be most commonly looking for are documents which affect a property owned by an individual. The following are some of the document abbreviations you will find which are most pertinent:
REL - Release. If there was a release, then at some point prior there was a lien. This is helpful because if you go back and find old liens against a property, you can gather information about previous issues where a property had a lien placed on it. Usually, the release will reference the previous lien, and you can go back and search by the Book and Page of that lien to understand any history of liens against the property.
MOR - Mortgage. You can see how much is owed against the property and how many mortgages the owner has against the property. You can then make a preliminary determination of equity. How recently did they get the mortgage? Do they owe more than the property is worth.
QCD - Quit Claim Deed. This is a Deed usually executed by individuals when they want to transfer whatever interest they may have in a property to another. If you find someone is Quit Claim Deeding multiple properties around the same time period, you will want to inquire the reason behind these transfers. For example, some times it may be estate planning but some times it could be an individual seeking to avoid a creditor.
LIS - Lis Pendens. This document is recorded to place parties on notice that there is an action pending with regards to a parcel of real property.
The difficulty I encounter with doing document specific searches is that a document may be incorrectly labeled on this system and may not appear if you conduct a document search by name and document type. This is one of the advantages of a title search as the majority of documents have already been indexed by the title underwriters title plant.
Regardless, going through official records can provide you with a number of documents which you can read through to obtain more information. As with anything, it is important to read through these documents to see exactly what the document entails and how it affects your transaction. Do not jump to conclusions, read through the document which can contain valuable information.
PRACTICE TIP: While searching through public records can provide valuable information, it should never be done in lieu of a title search. Many litigation files we have involve situations where an interest in a property was purchased without a title search. Instead a cursory search through public records was done and individuals assumed a property did not have a mortgage or a foreclosure when it fact it did.
Miami-Dade County Official record's link is here:
Broward County Official Record's link is here:
As always, if you have any questions, want to discuss a situation or otherwise just chat real estate you can email me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org.