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STATE ASSURANCE OF
TITLE TO REAL ESTATE
AN EXPLANATION OF THE TORRENS SYSTEM
FROM THE LAWYER'S STANDPOINT--THE
PRESENT NEEDLESS WASTE OF TIME AND
MONEY IN THE CEASELESS EXAMINATION OF
i.J. W. Bailey in Progressive Farmer. I
Under this head I propose to
discuss in two articles tin* mat
ter embraced in what is known
as "The 'irons Land System."
The present article will trout of
the subject generally. The next
article will discuss the specific
sui'. oct of the act to be proposed
by the North Carolina Commis
sion l'or a.lontion by the tlenoral
Assembly with a view to institut
ing in North Carolina the Tor
rens System or plan of State or
county assurance of titles to real
estate. I shall do this because I
presume that the North Carolina
plan will serve as a model for
other States that should have
the Torrens System, and that a
discussion of its details will serve
the purpose of a specific exposi
tion of the law.
I must assume that the reader
knows somewhat of the present
land system in effect throughout
the SoutK. He knows that when
he purchases real estate, he
takes a deed of conveyance to
the real estate, and has it regis
tered in the office of the register
of deeds for the county in which
the land lies. And he knows.
that unless he employes an at
torney to investigate the title to
to that real estate, he has no
assurance whatever that he has
a title to what he has paid for.
What the attorney does when he
"investigates the title" the
reader probably does not know.
So let me here set down in a
general way what the attorney
THE PRESENT SYSTEM.
The attorney must first estab
lish thi "chain of title." That
is, he must trace the real estate
embraced in the deed back from
♦SO to 100 years through all who
have held it. He must trace it
for at least GO years in order to
establish that those who have
held it and conveyed it really
had a legal right to convey it. i
Even 60 years is not always a
sufficient length of time, al
though it usually suffices. The
s ifest attorneys trace the title
in question back 100 years, and
to the State or original grant if
Next the attorney investigates
t'ie encumbrances on the title.
That is, first he investigates to
s - what the former owners of
t l ind have done with it. Have
..i-y mortgaged it? Have the
mortgages Uen satisfied? Have
uxc> jn i: been paid? Have the
owners suffered judgments to be
tak'-n aga.nst them while they
weiv* owners of the land? Are
the judgments active, etc.?
lii the course of 100 years
any piece of land goes through
many hands, and those hands goj
through many experiences. One ;
man makes a mortgage. Anoth-1
tr (ties and leaves no will, i
Another gets into debt: judg
ments are docketed against him
and his homestead is laid off.
Another dit;s in debt, and his,
personal property not being
sufficient to pay off his debts, :
his real estate is subject to sale, i
When one dies without a will,
widow and children inherit the
land the former having her
dower laid-off, the latter having
land divided amongst them.
Only attorneys realize what a
variety of events affect and in
volve a title to land. Irregular
deeds, informal and enigmatical
wills, partition proceedings,
mortgages, unpaid taxes, judg
ments, liens, etc., mark the
history of nearly every title.
These each and all must be in
vestigated, carefully read and
passed upon, before the attorney
xan approve the title. As a
matter of fact, in many instances
attorneys cannot "make sure"
that a title is good: they give
only their opinion.
It should be noted that if an
attorney negligently approves a
bad title, he is liable for the
damages hi.-, client may sustain—
provided the attorney has the
money, and the client can prove
the negligence. An attorney
with no property can afford to
look up a title for £lO, perhaps.
An attorney with property can
not afford to do so for less than
s2s—for the single reason that
he is in a very real way a guaran
tor of the titles he approves. If
the land is valuable, he ought to
be paid in proportion.
Now, these are the facts as
they stand. What does the Tor
rens System propose, and what
is the reason for adopting its
FEATI'RES OF THE TORRENS
The Torrens system proposes
once and for all to look up a
title—to settle the questions of
■ the past and to assure the
present owner that his title is
As matters now stand, every
time a piece of land is sold or
mortgaged a lawyer has to go
over the same ground that was
gone over the last time the land
was sold or mortgaged. And
every lawyer so doing gets his
fee. I was looking up a title last
week. I traced the title back to
IS3O. I had to read some 20
deeds, and examine about 40
mortgages: investigate judg
ments against six individuals;
look into the settlement of two
estates, and see that the taxes
had been paid for 20 years. A
year ago this same land was
mortgaged. Some attorney did
then just what I did last week.
The year before the land was
purchased. Some .lawyer then
went over the same ground that
I did last week and the other
lawyer did last year. The year
before that, this land was pur
chased by another man. Again
a lawyer had to go over the
same ground. Every time it was
mortgaged some lawyer went
over the same ground. I sup
pose investigations of the title
to this lot had cost all told about
S2OO and 20 days' time. The tax
valuation of the lot was less than
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THE DANBURY REPORTER
"I Recornmend It Wherever
I Millor.-lu r g,
I Intl., writes:
I "I have
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tarrh i i t!i'»
stoma- ! and >
con.-tMn , |
anil a ■ ■ j'l«-
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-' "I bought*
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"I tell my friends that saved
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am, and when any of our /oiks are sick,
1 give them Peruna witl» success."
; SI,OOO. In other words, prob
ably one-fifth of the tax value of
■ 1 the land had been spent i.i title
. 1 investigations.
> The reader must perceive what
an immense expense and loss of
• time is here involved. This is
" no unusual instance.
) Take another instance: A real
5 estate company at Raleigh re
i cently purchased 110 acres of
1 land and converted the tract into
'! 369 building lots. The title to
t this tract is one title. It might
> be certified under the Torrens!
J System say for S2OO (I place the'
1 ' sum high because the land is
- 1 valuable) and that would end the
•' question of title. But as matters
> now stand there will be 360 con
' veyances and the title may be
l lcDked up C6O times, at a mini-:
» mum cost of $3,500 for the first'
I round. The titles to all these
lots will be looked up again in
' the course of 20 years—at anoth
-1 er cost of $3,600 and so on.
' Could any system be more ex
' pensive and wasteful?
I was today investigating a
title to a large tract of land near
1 Raleigh. I saw evidences (in
: the foim of five sales of portions
1 of it and seven mortgages) that
' the title to this land had been
investigated 10 times or more in
1 10 years. I have no means of
' knowing what these ten investi
' gations have cost the owners of
1 the land. Five hundred dollars :
would not be too much.
What the Torrens System pro-'
j poses is to close up the past; to i
! go over the title once for all, and I
I to put an end to the expense and'
waste of time required by this
eternal procession of lawyers go
ing over the same beaten path, J
j each taking a fee for his work. I
One lawyer will not and should
j not take another's statement of,
title: but any lawyer wiil take
! the State's or county's judicial
| assurance of title.
So the sum of the proposition j
|is that the State or county shall
employ a lawyer to look up titles,
j and so far as possible clear them
of question (by judicial process,
jof course) and have the land
owners pay the State once and
forever for the service.
This is the first outstanding
feature of the Torrens System.
I have heard it said that lawyers
are opposed to it on the ground
that it will take work from them.
Only foolish and little lawyers
would oppose it on such grounds.
Any man who will oppose the
means of saving so much time
> and money to the public in order
! that he may have work, is too
little to be a lawyer. Such an
argument is an indictment of the
legal profession. The world can
not afford to lag 4'J years behind
in order that any man or set of
men make a living. And the
( man who requires it had better
stand aside. The laborer oppos
ing the introduction of machin
ery and the lawyer opposing the
introduction of State or County
assurance of land titles in order
that he may have business, are
on a par with the idol-makers of
Ephesus fighting Christianity in
the interest ol their tiade.
Resides, title investigation is
one of the lowest, most poorly
J paid and most hazardous of a
lawyer's employments, r.nd good
lawyers wilt be glad to be re
lieved of the business. If they
are worthy of their profession,
they will find plenty else to do.
LAN'D # AS QUICK ASSETS.
The next proposition of the
Torrens System is to enable the
land-owner to pledge his deed
byway of collateral for money
borrowed, as one now pledges,
a certificate of stock or bond.
Let us suppose that a land
owner has his title certified anfi
registered by the county. Let
us suppose that he has received j
from the county a certificate of,
title, on which the proper blanks
are printed. Let us suppose
t'lat it is law that the assign !
rn?nt of that certificate by the
man and his wife shall have the
effect of a mortgage and that
possession of the certificate
shall be necessary to conveying
the land. (These are the Tor
rens System ideas). He goes
to the bank, the certificate is
signed and deposited, and he
gets his loan. As matters now
stand, the bank's attorney must
investigate the title: a mortgage
must be executed; and it must be
I j registered. A land-owner can-'
1 ; not borrow money on his land
! without expense, time and
; j publicity. Under the Torrens,
'! System these would be elim
; inated: and a man's land would j
be as good as bonds in aid of
his credit. It shou'd be said
here that under any system the
title must be investigated with
regard to taxes, judgments and
iiens; but these three items are
mere incidents to the main mat
ter of the title.
THE ARGUEMENT AGAINST THE
The arguement against the
Torrens System is that it upsets
our present tenures; that it does
violence to the ancient law of
real property. Granted. But
as Artemus Ward says, "You
| cannot argue again a success."
! The Torrens System is working
well in five American States
including such States Illinois
and Massachusetts. It will work
in any Southern State just as
well. No amount of argument
can meet the facts of success
where the system has been in-
I I stituted.
j I wish to be understood as not
saying that the Torrens Sys
torn should be compulsory. It l
should be optional with each 1
land-owner. I further advocate
that each man pay well for his
, certificate of title, and pay ac-'
cording to I':e \alue of the land
certified. 1 ">t no man expect to
have the v. done for nothing.
The outlay will be fully repaid
in the increased value of his
land. I doubt if the State or
county can afford to investigate,
register, assure and certify any
title for less than under
any circumstances, and in most
cases more will be required.
And finally, while I heartily ad
vocate the lvfoim 1 would ni>t.
advise any one to expect too
much of it. The American ut- >-
pie are in the habit of expect
ing and politicians are in the
habit of promising too much
in the name of reforms. The
Torrens System will not bring!
in the millenium. but that it
is a step in that direction I have j
not a doubt. We must be con- i
tent to gain one step at a time.'
And in my judgment it is bound
to come. It is in the inevitable
line of human progress.
And we can bring it to
pass in this State within two
years if we desire it with
sufficient earnestness. All you
have to do is to tell all the
political candidates, high and j
low, who shake your hand this J
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Mr. N. O. Petree left Monday
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I have shoes and slippers at
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State of Ohio, City of Toledo,
Frank J. Cheney makes oath
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