You may have heard the Latin phrase “caveat emptor” meaning “let the buyer beware.” This is generally spoken as a warning to buyers to not expect much more out of a product than they were able to discover on their own before they bought the product. If nothing was promised, then nothing should be expected.
However, we may need a new warning for owners who have already bought a product or service, but are told later they need to purchase something more to “provide legal evidence of ownership.” These are known as document retrieval services or record transfer services and they are being marketed in our community. These services charge a significant “processing fee” to provide you copies of “legal” title documents you either already own or could obtain on-line for free or for a fraction of the cost from your county register of deeds office. On-line real estate record information can be located on the following links:
Ottawa County: https://www.miottawa.org/Property/
Allegan County: http://cms.allegancounty.org/sites/Office/EQ/SitePages/PRDSearch.aspx#.V2myc_krJ9g
In one particular case, shortly after I assisted my client record a real estate deed with the County Register of Deeds Office, a California company sent my client an official looking business envelop which a detachable “PAYMENT STUB” and used words like: “RECORDED DEED NOTICE”; “OTTAWA COUNTY PUBLIC INFORMATION”; “Document Fee”; and even a bold “Respond by” date in large print. So, for $83.00 my client could purchase “legal evidence” of his deed (that he already possessed) and could also receive a “Property Assessment Profile” (which is otherwise available for free on the County website). Fortunately, my client asked me about the legitimacy of this notice before sending money anywhere.
While the NOTICES from these services do provide disclaimers (on the back side of their official looking NOTICE), they do look official and are being sent to persons known to have recently recorded documents with a public agency in the hopes of confusing people into believing that additional “document fees” are owed – WHEN THEY ARE NOT! Selling someone something that they don’t have – but think they might need – is one thing. Convincing folks to buy something they already own (or could obtain for free) is a new low.
So, owners beware and never buy something you already own and never send money to an unfamiliar company outside the State of Michigan – unless you know exactly what you are purchasing. When in doubt, ask questions or call your attorney.