A mobile home title is the single most critical document when buying a mobile home. The mobile home title is a piece of paper that lists key information about the manufactured home, including who its legal owner is. When you buy a manufactured home, you’ll need to have the title transferred to you—but there are some issues that can arise during the title transfer process.
Today, we’ll take a look at three common title problems that manufactured home buyers face when buying mobile homes for sale, plus tips for avoiding or fixing these issues. (Please note: This article isn’t a substitute for legal advice, and the best option is always to work with a real estate attorney when resolving any of these problems.)
1. The mobile home title is lost.
If the manufactured home title has been lost, it’s usually a simple process of having the seller call the state’s DMV to ask for a new copy. For a small fee, the state will provide a new title, which you should keep in a safe place once the transaction is complete.
Note also that if you’re dealing with a double-wide or triple-wide manufactured home, the owner should have multiple titles for the home. Since double-wides and triple-wides are constructed in sections, they actually need to have one mobile home title per section in most states. If the seller only has the title for one section, they’ll need to contact the state DMV and ensure that the home has as many titles as it has sections.
The caveat: This process works only if the mobile home seller is the current owner of record. If they’re not, the process becomes more complicated.
2. The seller of the manufactured home is not the owner of record on the title.
It’s surprisingly common for someone who has physical possession of a manufactured home not to be its owner of record. This can happen for a lot of reasons, including because the seller isn’t paid up on their taxes or has been taking care of the home of a deceased relative.
If the seller has the original mobile home title with the original owner of record’s signature as seller, they can simply sign it, have the title transferred to themselves and then transfer it to you. If they don’t have a mobile home title with the owner of record’s signature, you’ll need to track down the owner of record and have them sign the title over to the seller and then have the seller sign it over to you. You might even need to hire a private investigator if the original owner is difficult to track down.
Some sellers may try to sell manufactured homes and/or land that isn’t technically theirs because the owner of record is deceased. In such cases, the seller must go through the legal process to establish what’s known as a “chain of title” before selling the property to you. This usually involves taking the property to probate court and may even end up involving disputes with other heirs if the deceased did not leave a will. These disputes can drag on for years, so think carefully before accepting a deal that requires such a process.
Finally, note that a Bill of Sale generally isn’t sufficient legal proof to establish ownership. The mobile home title–and only the title–is the final record for legal ownership of a manufactured home.
3. The title still has active liens against it.
Should a buyer purchase a manufactured home with liens against its title, the buyer becomes responsible for the debt, and banks will not loan money on a property with liens. Thus, buyers owe it to themselves to do thorough due diligence on any property they’re considering. Some sellers may not even be aware that their property has a lien on it, so don’t assume that you’re in the clear just because a seller seems well-intentioned.
If a mobile home title has active liens against it, the title will usually list the liens and their respective lenders. It’s always important for the seller to be able to produce the original title, as a photocopy may show an earlier title without liens. In addition to looking carefully at the original title, manufactured home buyers should always look up the title with their state DMV or other records agency to double-check that the title is clear. (If you want to proceed with buying a manufactured home with liens against it, make sure to subtract the cost of paying off the liens from the mobile home value when considering price.)
Mobile home title issues can cause big headaches for everyone involved, so the best way to avoid the potential pitfalls is to work with reputable manufactured home dealers and sellers who can show you a clear title from Day One. For more information on the key legal documents for buying or selling a manufactured home, see our article, “Selling a Mobile Home: Paperwork You Need.”