Property recording consists of two connected processes: document origination and document recording. Here’s how submitters handle paper real estate document preparation and recording.
Successful document recording requires the recording office (the clerk, recorder or register of deeds) to review, endorse, index, image, and acknowledge the submitted document. Two to three working days are commonly required to record and process a document, although some recording offices have been known to take months due to large paper backlogs. Though the actual process may vary slightly between jurisdictions, depending upon local laws and practices, a typical paper recording process for recording offices is as follows:
The Recording Office’s Process
Receive and Examine the Document
At the recorder’s office, the clerk receives the document and examines it to make sure it meets all of the necessary recording criteria. If there are no problems with the document, it proceeds to the next step.
If there is a problem with the document, it is rejected. Rejected documents must be returned to the originator. When a document is delivered in person, the recorder can simply hand it back. However, if a document was delivered by mail, it has to be returned by mail or some other delivery service, which can lead to significant delays.
After the document is accepted, the clerk counts the pages and assesses the appropriate fee. Most fees are based on the type of document and number of pages. The page count can be affected by formatting, white space, signature blocks, and other variables.
The payment formula and variables are unique from county to county.
Recording offices require that payment accompany each document. This is simple when a document is presented in person. The clerk accepts the payment and gives the person a receipt. However, when the document is delivered by mail or some other service, incorrect payments may result in a rejected document and more delays.
Endorse the Document
Once the document is accepted and paid for, it is endorsed by the recorder. The endorsement generally consists of a stamp, a date and time, an entry number, an assigned book and page number (a recording convention) and the recorder’s signature and seal.
At this point, the document is considered legally recorded. However, the process is far from complete. If you are presenting the document in person, the recorder’s office takes your money and the document and you go home (or back for more documents). You will eventually receive the official document, but not before the recording office has spent considerable additional time processing it.
Index the Document
After recording, the receiving clerk generally puts the document into a stack to be reviewed later. As members of the office staff review the recorded documents, they generate a document index so that others can retrieve the documents when needed. This process may be manual, with the indices kept in physical ledgers, or electronic, with the information entered into a database. If it is a busy recording office, the indexing of documents may take anywhere from days to months. Until the document is indexed and the next step is completed, the document is unavailable to other parties who may need to review it.
Image the Document
The recorder’s office keeps a duplicate of the original document in its books. Until recently, those archives were bound volumes of recorded documents. Many offices now create electronic images of original documents and file the images, not the paper. Whatever the process, each document is duplicated or scanned and copies are placed in the archives. Additional copies are distributed to other county departments such as the assessor or the platting department.
Return the Document
The recording office is now finished with the original document. A member of the office staff will generally return the original document and recording receipt to the originator (or designated receiver) via mail.
By the time the originator receives the recorded document back, days or weeks may have passed.
These potentially long document recording timeframes and the complexity of the recording process were a few of the factors that led to the promulgation and widespread adoption of electronic recording legislation, as we will review in our next chapter.