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BACK TO SCHOOL: Seasoned Professionals Advise Newbie Landmen and Attorneys about Researching Title

Posted 6:00 AM, August, 14th 2014 by Andy Choquette & filed under Blog, Legal

Becoming a good attorney or landman takes not only a lot of study, but sometimes, more importantly mentoring from seasoned professionals.  Below are tips from attorneys and landmen that may seem obvious later, but early in a career may be valuable to learn.

Derek Gibson - Midland, Texas:  I heard this conversation between two landmen. They were working together on an assignment in Goliad, Texas apparently doing some leasehold. One of them had been scrambling around running names, pulling books and back and forth to his plat and so on. Finally his team leader went over to help him and asked what the problem was. The landman threw up his arms and said, " I'm so frustrated right now.”  He pointed at his plat and said "look at this here...I've been searching all morning long and just can't find HBP Oil Company." We all had a good laugh at that one. (HBP is the acronym for Held By Production, which indicates that a lease is active either through drilling or producing quantities of oil or gas.)

Merrill Haas - Houston Texas:  One of the landmen reviewing county title for me on a Due Diligence deal in Greeley, Colorado couldn’t find a probate to chain the title of a decedent into her heirs.  We all knew she had to be deceased, and that probate was somewhere.  I told the landman to check the next county, which is where we believed the decedent lived prior to her death.  Sure enough, there was the probate.  It is also helpful to check nearby counties, as the decedent also may own property in that county and the family may choose to probate there. It may in some cases be necessary to contact the Operator to ascertain if there is information in the Division Order files to help locate the heirs.

Kay Peterson - Tuscaloosa, Alabama:  Landmen coming from other states may want to be aware of Alabama's statutes regarding lien releases.  Some states have a much shorter time frame after a mortgage's maturity date before a mortgage is "released by time."  In Alabama, that period is 20 years after the last payment date.  With most current mortgages lasting 30 years, your search parameters for mortgages may need to be expanded.  By the way, the same 20 years also applies to Claims filed against probated Estates in Alabama.  The statute on Claims states that claims timely filed are valid for 20 years after the last activity in the estate file.  The safest way to be sure that the claims have been satisfied is, of course, to determine that there has been a final settlement of the estate.  If not, be sure to check for satisfaction of each claim if the estate shows activity within the past 20 years. Because many, if not most, mortgages these days extend for a 30-year amortization, knowing the 20-year rule may help when determining the starting date for your mortgage search.  A 360 month mortgage signed in July 1964, not satisfied of record, has only now passed the "20 years past maturity" mark to be deemed released by statute.

Ben Webb - Houston, Texas:  While having title researched in Live Oak County, Texas, I found that it was faster and more cost efficient to go to the local Title Company Abstract Office and use their card file to get a starting place for each of the tracts we were covering.  It saved my client a lot of money and the team a lot of time trying to make a deadline.  I always tell landmen to check when they go into a new area to see if there is a good plant available.

A.K. Bridges - Hearne, Texas:  One of the first things I was taught in Robertson County is that if you do not have, or if you’re unable to use a title plant and have a gap, you can go to the tax office and ask to see the old books. The books are listed by abstract or block. You can search the books or computers by year to help locate owners listed during that year.

Scott Levy - Houston, Texas:  With regard to drafting title opinions, the best opinions identify every assignment affecting a lease.  Fewer and fewer title opinions identify the assignments. This information is very helpful in doing due diligence exams.  While the original recipient of a title opinion has access to the runsheets, subsequent reviewers do not have access to the runsheets.  Cross referencing all assignments to the leases identified in the title opinions makes it much easier to evaluate title in a later sale of producing properties.  It's penny wise and pound foolish to skimp on doing a "complete" title opinion.

Chris Stanley – El Reno, Oklahoma:  Early in my career, I was blessed to have been placed with a highly experienced, skilled, intelligent and just plain common sense old man.  After working under his tutelage for several months, asking tons of questions, learning and reading as much as possible, he related one Friday at lunch that our time together was coming to an end.  Our boss was sending another greenhorn to him and assigning me to my first solo “check and buy”.  Naturally I was excited, but also a bit nervous, so I asked him the most important things to always remember about being a landman.  He reflected for a moment, then gave me a very serious look and said:
a. “The number one most important thing you do as a landman is to prepare an accurate expense statement and submit it on time with all supporting receipts.  If you can’t or won’t do that, it doesn’t matter how good your work is because everything else you do will be suspect.  You have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’  The answer, of course, is to get paid.”
b. “If you’re driving into a county seat and not sure where the courthouse is, look for tall antennas on top of buildings.  That’ll likely be the sheriff’s office and the courthouse won’t be far away.”
c. “Nothing, but nothing, beats a cool drink of water.”
d. “Never pass up a chance to go to the restroom.  You’ll almost always regret it later.”

Bill Rodgers - Austin, Texas:  In some County Clerk's offices, such as Caldwell County, Texas (Lockhart), older Grantor/Grantee index books have a separate section in the back of the book for business or company names.  So, if you are chaining title and the trail goes cold, you might check to see if that’s the case.  Also, if you have ribs for lunch at one of the famous local barbecue restaurants, be sure to wash the grease off your hands before running your fingers down the pages of the index books.






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