Ron Cunningham - Etica Group Title Researcher 

Ever wonder what a title researcher does? We’re going break it down for you.

April 19, 2022
Ron Cunningham

The civil and transportation engineering industry has many niche specialties that come together to develop comprehensive, complete projects. Today we are going learn about one of these specialty areas, title research.


What is title research and what does a title researcher do?

Often known as an abstractor or title researcher, a title examiner is the compilation of documentation for a specific property for a period of time (which could be simply the last deed or anywhere from the last year as far back as its inception). It shows everything about the ownership of the land, zoning, legal descriptions, encumbrances, liens, and can include information about the land or minerals. This information is needed primarily in the financial world anytime someone buys, sells, refinances or mortgages real estate.

Title research has been around for well over a hundred years. It used to be done with heavy ledger books before computers (in some Indiana counties it is still by heavy ledger books).


How did you get into title research?

I used to like research projects in school growing up, this is a bit similar. I was working as a draftsman and a Deputy Assessor in the Real Estate Division for my local county early in my career, and then was introduced to the world of title research. I’ve been doing it ever since the 1980s now.


What does this have to do with engineering?

When a local body of government is looking to improve the local infrastructure, the project limits need to be identified. Before a surveyor can begin a project, the surveyor needs to know who owns the property and notify the landowner they will be on site and why. Engineers need to understand constraints of project limits they are designing within. Title research begins that process for the design teams.

My job is to do that research to help prepare the surveyors and engineers for their work. When you are researching for residential vs. commercial development there are a few key differences as well. For residential work, the title research needs to include the acreage for each property if it is described with metes and bounds or if subdivided it is then indexed by the lot number. For commercial research, you need to look at the acreage meets and bounds. It’s often not within a subdivision and requires more extensive research and being able to read and draw out metes and bounds legal descriptions, with encumbrances, access rights and leases, in addition to the typical deed and mortgage.

If an infrastructure project is going to affect the project limits outside of an existing right-of-way, title research and preparing a Title & Encumbrance Report is then needed. The report helps to determine the ownership of the affected land for the appraiser to use. The appraiser will determine a fair purchase price for the property being affected by the project.

Not all engineering firms have the INDOT (12.2) certification for title research, even though the service is required for all engineering projects if landowner property is being affected. It is the beginning process to learn what is out there and what the property is. Etica Group provides comprehensive survey services, inclusive of title research and right of way engineering.


How do you stay current with the needs of title research? How long have you been a member of the American Land Title Association and the Indiana Land Title Association? What does it entail? Is the Title Action Network a part of this, or separate?

I am a long-standing member of the American Land Title Association (ALTA), a national professional organization providing current education of what’s happening in the title industry. My membership helps keep me informed and provides me with tools I need for my job while representing the Etica Group.

I have recently been appointed as a Congressional Liaison with ALTA. I am provided with the tools necessary to provide the Legislature with an understanding of what title companies do, how a Bill could be affecting the process so we can lobby accordingly, and more. I help reach out to local Representatives and Senators about our stand on bills to lobby as needed. For years they have been holding virtual meetings with an in-person option at the Capital in Washington DC.

In addition, I am a member of the Indiana chapter of ALTA, the Indiana Land Title Association and the Title Action Network. With the Indiana Land Title Association ILTA, I have volunteered on the education committee helping with quarterly meetings. We need these sessions to maintain our license for title research. The Title Action Network recognizes fellow title professionals and researchers so we can network and to hold classes for the CE Credits with others involved in the industry. It’s nice to build a network to discuss issues facing the profession and how we can all advance.

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