Mastering Property Liens: A Must-Know Guide for Real Estate Investors

Mastering Property Liens: A Must-Know Guide for Real Estate Investors

4 min max read

For anyone interested in real estate investing, understanding property liens can significantly influence the success of their investments. But what exactly is a property lien and, more importantly, how can it impact real estate investments? Let's dive in.

What is a Property Lien?

A property lien is a legal notice attached to a piece of real estate. It usually signifies that the property owner owes money, which has to be cleared for the property to be sold freely. It's a crucial part of real estate that every investor should understand.

Types of Property Liens

There are several types of property liens that real estate investors commonly encounter. Let's take a closer look at each one.

Judgment Liens

A judgment lien is placed after a court ruling. For example, if a property owner had a civil case and lost, the court might put a lien on the property until the debt is paid.

Mechanic's Liens

Also known as construction liens, mechanic's liens are often filed by contractors, subcontractors, or suppliers who haven't been paid for their work on the property. These liens can cause complications in the sale of property.

Tax Liens

A tax lien is arguably the most severe form of lien. These are placed when a taxpayer has failed to fulfill their tax obligations. Tax liens can apply at the federal, state, or local level and can lead to the property being auctioned off to pay the tax debts.

Mortgage Liens

A mortgage lien is default in nature. When you take a mortgage to buy a property, your lender will place a lien on it. If you default on your mortgage payment, the lien allows the lender (the lien holder) to claim the property.

Utility Liens

Another common type of lien involves utility payments. If an owner fails to pay their utility bills, the respective utility company can place a lien on their property.

The Role of Lien Priority in Real Estate Transactions

An often overlooked but critical aspect of property liens is their priority. Lien priority determines the order in which liens on a property are paid off. This is especially crucial in foreclosure or sale scenarios where multiple liens exist. Generally, tax liens have the highest priority, meaning they get paid first.

Mortgage liens typically follow, and then come judgment and mechanic's liens. For real estate investors, understanding lien priority is essential. It affects the investment’s risk and potential profitability. Prioritizing due diligence to identify and understand the hierarchy of existing liens on a property can prevent unforeseen financial burdens and ensure a smoother transaction process.


Implications of Property Liens in Real Estate

Accordingly, liens can complicate the real estate investing process. Here's how they can affect property ownership and transactions:

Buying a Property

Once a property is under a lien, it impacts the title, making it less attractive to potential buyers. This could reduce the overall value of your real estate investment.

Selling a Property

If you're trying to sell a property with a lien, you'd likely have to settle the lien before the sale. Otherwise, it could lead to prolonged negotiations or even deal cancellations.

How to Deal with Property Liens

Before executing a real estate transaction, it's essential to check the property status in the public record for potential liens. This could save you from unwanted surprises down the line.

If you're dealing with a lien, it's often best to settle it as soon as possible. Certain lien types, like tax liens, could have severe consequences like the forced sale of property.

Platforms like DealMachine can help you navigate these issues, offering detailed property data that includes lien information. This could make real estate investing more efficient and less risky.

Navigating Lien Releases and Discharge in Real Estate

Dealing with property liens doesn't always end with payment. After settling a lien, obtaining a lien release or discharge document is crucial. This legal document, typically filed with the county recorder's office, officially removes the lien from the property record.

For real estate investors, ensuring that a lien release is properly executed and recorded is vital. It confirms that the debt has been satisfied and clears the title, facilitating future transactions.

Investors should also be aware of the timelines and procedures for lien releases as they can vary by lien type and jurisdiction. Navigating lien releases requires attention to detail and often, professional legal assistance, to ensure the investment is legally protected and lien-free.


Understanding property liens is crucial for successful real estate investing. Knowing the types of liens and how to deal effectively with them can provide a smoother investing experience. So take the time to familiarize yourself with liens, and let information be your best investment tool.

Benjy Nichols

About Benjy Nichols

Benjy has been a media specialist at DealMachine for the last 2.5 years. He produces, writes, shoots, and edits our media content for our member's DealMachine and Real Estate education.