Should I Buy a House with an Unreleased Mortgage or Deed of Trust Illinois


Should I Buy a House with an Unreleased Mortgage?

Purchasing a home is a significant decision that comes with various challenges and considerations, especially when dealing with complex issues like an unreleased mortgage. At We Buy Houses Chicago, we understand the nuances of such real estate transactions and are here to provide guidance on whether buying a house with an unreleased mortgage is a smart move.

What is an Unreleased Mortgage?

An unreleased mortgage occurs when a mortgage is paid off, but the lien associated with it isn’t formally removed from public records. This can happen due to clerical errors, oversight by financial institutions, or simply a delay in the recording process. Before considering a purchase under these circumstances, it’s crucial to understand what this entails and the potential risks involved.

Risks of Buying with an Unreleased Mortgage

Legal Complications

One of the main concerns with buying a property that has an unreleased mortgage is the potential for legal complications. The existence of an unreleased lien can lead to disputes over property ownership, and might even delay or derail the selling process.

Financial Risks

There are also financial risks. If the unreleased mortgage isn’t resolved, buyers might find themselves responsible for the previous owner’s debt. This is a risky situation that could lead to unexpected financial burdens.

Title Insurance Concerns

Without a clear title, getting title insurance can be challenging. Title insurance companies typically require that all liens be resolved before they will insure a title, protecting buyers from existing claims on the property.

Benefits of Due Diligence

Avoiding Future Problems

The best way to mitigate the risks associated with an unreleased mortgage is through thorough due diligence. Before proceeding with the purchase, it’s advisable to conduct a comprehensive title search and insist that any discrepancies are resolved. This can involve working with title companies, legal professionals, and the sellers to ensure that all liens are properly discharged.

Expert Guidance

At We Buy Houses Chicago, our expertise in real estate transactions ensures that we guide our clients through the complexities of dealing with unreleased mortgages. By leveraging professional advice, you can navigate these tricky waters with more confidence.

Should You Proceed with the Purchase?

Assessing the Situation

The decision to buy a home with an unreleased mortgage should be based on a detailed assessment of the risks and the potential for resolving the issues. If the seller is proactive in clearing the lien and the property is at a desirable price point, it might still be a worthwhile investment.

Professional Consultation

Consult with real estate professionals who specialize in such matters. This not only includes real estate agents but also lawyers and title agents who can provide crucial insights and assist in ensuring the transaction is smooth and legally sound.

Financial Considerations

Consider your financial stability and readiness to take on potential challenges that might arise from an unreleased mortgage. If the property is a good investment and the mortgage issue can be resolved, it could turn out to be a profitable decision.

What does “unreleased mortgage” mean?

An “unreleased mortgage” refers to a situation where a mortgage loan on a property has been paid off, but the lien associated with it has not been formally removed from the property’s title records. This typically happens due to an oversight or administrative error by the lending institution or the parties responsible for recording the mortgage satisfaction in public records.

When a mortgage is paid in full, the lender is supposed to file a document called a “satisfaction of mortgage” with the local government records office. This document officially releases the lien from the property’s title, indicating that the mortgage has been fully repaid and that the lender no longer has a claim on the property. If this document is not filed, or if there is a delay or error in the filing, the mortgage is considered unreleased. This can complicate the selling process because potential buyers and their title insurance companies will see the lien as still active, potentially questioning the clear ownership of the property.

What happens if you buy a house that still has a mortgage?

Buying a house that still has an active mortgage can be a common situation, especially when purchasing through a process like assuming the mortgage or buying with the help of seller financing. Here’s what generally happens and some considerations:

Assuming the Mortgage

In some cases, you might have the option to assume the existing mortgage on the property. This means that you, as the buyer, take over the payments of the current mortgage under the existing terms, rather than securing a new loan. However, not all mortgages are assumable, and this typically requires lender approval, as well as the buyer meeting certain qualifications.

Standard Purchase

More commonly, when you buy a house that has a mortgage, the process involves securing your own financing (a new mortgage) to purchase the property. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Sales Agreement: You agree on a purchase price with the seller. This price should cover the payoff amount of the seller’s existing mortgage.
  2. Title Search: A title search is conducted during the closing process to ensure there are no liens or other issues, such as an unreleased mortgage.
  3. Mortgage Payoff: At closing, the funds from your mortgage are used first to pay off the seller’s existing mortgage. This is necessary to clear the title so it can be transferred to you without any existing debts.
  4. Transfer of Title: Once the seller’s mortgage is paid off, any remaining funds are directed to the seller, and the property title is transferred to you, free of the previous mortgage.
  5. New Mortgage Recording: Your new mortgage will then be recorded, placing a lien on the property that reflects your obligation to your lender.

Risks and Precautions

If not handled properly, buying a house with an existing mortgage can pose risks:

  • Insufficient Funds to Cover the Mortgage: If the sale price does not fully cover the mortgage payoff amount, the seller must provide the additional funds at closing. If they are unable to do so, the sale may not proceed unless another arrangement is made.
  • Lien Issues: Failing to properly pay off and discharge the previous mortgage can result in liens remaining on the property, complicating your ownership.

Ensuring a Smooth Transaction

To ensure a smooth transaction, it’s essential to work with a competent real estate agent and a title company. The title company will manage the funds at closing to ensure the seller’s mortgage is paid off fully. They also provide title insurance, which protects you from any legal issues that might arise if something was overlooked during the title search.

By understanding these steps and preparing accordingly, you can effectively manage the risks associated with buying a house that has an existing mortgage.

I am buying a property with an unreleased deed of trust. Is a letter of indemnity from the title company sufficient?

When you’re buying a property with an unreleased deed of trust, it means there is an outstanding lien on the property due to a mortgage that hasn’t been properly released from the public records, even though it may have been paid off. This situation can complicate your purchase because the title isn’t clear.

A letter of indemnity from the title company is one way to address this issue, but whether it’s sufficient depends on several factors:

What is a Letter of Indemnity?

A letter of indemnity issued by a title company is a guarantee to the new owner (and possibly the lender) that they will take responsibility for any losses or legal problems that might arise because of the unreleased deed of trust. Essentially, it promises to defend any claims and cover any costs associated with clearing the title if the issue comes up later.

Is it Sufficient?

  1. Risk Assessment: The sufficiency of a letter of indemnity often depends on your risk tolerance as the buyer and the advice of your legal counsel. While it offers protection and assurance from the title company, it doesn’t remove the lien or clear the title by itself. The original issue with the deed of trust still exists until it’s formally resolved.
  2. Title Clearance: Ideally, the best course of action is to have the seller clear the title before you proceed with the purchase. This typically involves the seller or their attorney contacting the holder of the deed of trust to obtain a proper release. If this is not feasible, the title company’s letter of indemnity might be considered a practical, albeit less ideal, solution.
  3. Future Saleability: Relying on a letter of indemnity might complicate future attempts to sell or refinance the property. Future buyers or lenders may be cautious even with the indemnity in place, preferring a clean title without potential legal entanglements.
  4. Legal and Real Estate Advice: It’s crucial to consult with a real estate attorney who can provide advice based on the specifics of your situation. Your attorney can assess the indemnity letter’s terms and ensure it covers all potential contingencies adequately.

Alternatives and Precautions

  • Escrow Holdback: Sometimes, an amount can be held in escrow until the deed of trust is formally released. This gives the seller an incentive to clear the title promptly.
  • Direct Resolution: Contacting the lender directly or working through a title resolution specialist might yield a faster, more definitive resolution to the unreleased deed of trust.


Buying a house with an unreleased mortgage can be complex, but with the right preparation and professional guidance, it is manageable. At We Buy Houses Chicago, we’re committed to assisting our clients through every step of their real estate journey, ensuring they make informed and strategic decisions. Whether you’re buying or selling, understanding and addressing the nuances of unreleased mortgages is key to a successful transaction.