Liens are probably the most common defect on a preliminary title report. A lien does not make a property unmarketable and a buyer can even take title with an existing lien against a property. When a buyer elects to purchase a property and assume an existing lien, the buyer is buying the property subject to the lien, thereby voluntarily assuming liability for the lien. Alternatively, the buyer can require that the seller pay the lien before transfer of title. These choices are made by a buyer when making an offer on a property.

The standardized real estate sale agreement typically requires the seller to convey clear title to the buyer, meaning that all financial encumbrances must be paid at closing. When the buyer is assuming any existing financial encumbrance, it must be specified in the offer.

There are voluntary liens and involuntary liens:

  • voluntary lien is one that a property owner voluntarily places against a property. Mortgages or trust deeds are the most common examples of voluntary liens.

  • Involuntary liens are those that attach to a property without the consent of the property owner. For example, mechanics or construction liens, court-ordered judgment liens, local property tax liens, and federal or state tax liens.

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