You sign a contract for a piece of property, either commercial or residential, next either an attorney representing you or a loan officer you are getting a mortgage through will order title through a respectable title company. Once the exam and municipal searches are ordered, a reader (me) will examine the abstract.
What is it that we examine, exactly?
We look through the chain of title, making sure there are no defects, i.e., breaks in the chain (meaning deeds are recorded from seller to purchaser with no missing parties, for example A transfers to B, B transfers to C and then C should transfer to D but a deed was never recorded and the record shows D transferring to E). An exception will be raised to clear that issue to show title to be clean and clear.
We should look to make sure the legal description matches the tax map and the survey map to show we are insuring the right property as shown in public records.
You wouldn't want to be made responsible for a prior owners judgments/liens that they should have paid for right? As a reader, I make sure to raise any judgments/liens against prior owners and buyers to make sure they do not attach to the property. Again, so by the time the owners and lenders policies are brought to closing, title is clear!
We also check for easements and covenants and restrictions to make sure that you are aware of recorded documents that you made be benefitted or burdened from. It is our job to read these documents and know exactly what they state.
We check bankruptcy records, estate proceedings, land under water issues and virtually anything that may affect you and the property you are purchasing or taking a mortgage against.
Mortgages are the biggest problems in NY. I do mainly NY work, so for me, I have to make sure the correct mortgage tax was paid and that all mortgages state everything that is necessary. In NY many people record CEMA's to avoid mortgage tax (we are one of the few places that have mortgage tax) so I check for a gap mortgage and then review those CEMA docs to make sure they contain the language that actually makes the document correct.
I hope that this helps to explain what us readers do for a living. This does not explain it all but it does give a good description on what I do on a day to day basis.