The agreement to sell between a real estate buyer and seller is governed by the general principles of contract law. The statute of frauds requires that real property contracts be in writing. Title to real estate must be marketable to be free from liability, which means that it must be free and clear of all encumbrances, liens, clouds, litigation risks or other title defects. To ensure marketable title, the buyer typically employs an attorney or a title insurance company to perform a title search. In a title search, the searcher examines the public records in the county in which a property is located to map a chain of title by examining all the recorded deeds concerning the property. The title searcher will also determine if there are any encumbrances on the property, such as mortgages, unpaid real estate taxes, liens for municipal improvements, unpaid federal taxes, government claims, legal judgments, foreclosures, condemnations, covenants and easements. A title insurance company will insure the buyer against losses caused by the title's invalidity.
To pass title, the seller must execute and deliver a deed with a proper description of the land. In Pennsylvania, the deed must be officially recorded to establish ownership of the property and to provide notice of its transfer to subsequent purchasers.