Beginning Monday, May 11, the county’s recorder of deeds office, prothonotary, tax claim and tax assessment offices will be open on a limited basis for deed searches as they relates to real estate.
County recorder of deeds Virginia Cooper said the announcement comes after weeks of planning, as many Realtors and banks were left in a difficult position when her office closed, along with the rest of the courthouse March 16.
“There were a lot of upset people and we spoke with them all of them to explain that initially there was no way we could let people into the courthouse,” she said.
While president judge George Zanic closed the courthouse by judicial order, Cooper’s office as the not part of that order.
“The one office that was left out of that order was the recorder of deeds office because it has no judicial connection,” said Cooper. “The judge recognized the decision was up to me, but I felt I needed to close to put things in place that would be safe for visitors and employees.”
For several weeks now, Cooper has been working with various county departments to coordinate Monday’s “soft opening.”
“It’s been a coordinated effort with the sheriff’s office because of safety, the judge (because when a title search is done, people have the possibility to visit four offices), the prothonotary’s office, the tax claim office in the treasurer’s office and the tax assessment office,” she said. “It involves a lot of people.”
As part of the opening, the offices have issued guidelines for visitors.
Access to the office will be limited to one person at a time and by appointment only. Appointments can be made by calling the recorder’s office at 643-2740. In an effort to give as many people as possible access to search, appointments will be restricted to not more than three hours per day between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Cooper said offices have been rearranged for social distancing and public computers have been situated so they’re not near anyone, but visitors must wear masks, and well as staff.
All buildings remain locked and access is by appointment. Appointments will be scheduled 30 minutes apart.
“There will be a 30-minute pause between appointments so we can clean all surfaces before the next visitor arrives,” said Cooper.
Cooper announced plans to open Thursday and said the response so far has been positive.
“Within 15 minutes of my email, Monday’s appointments are full and half of Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Cooper. “So far, the response has been completely positive.”
In-person title searches are required in Huntingdon County when searching prior to 1982.
“Unfortunately, Huntingdon County doesn’t have all of its land records digitized,” said Cooper. “Ours are only digitized from 1982 forward and bonding companies and banks require a 60-year title search of a property prior to closing.”
That work must be done across four offices, the recorder of deeds, the prothonotary, tax claim and tax assessment offices.
“When the pandemic hit, many real estate properties had already been sold and all they needed to do was the closing, but banks and bonding companies wouldn’t waive the title search, so a lot of people were stuck,” said Cooper.
She also noted that appointments will only be granted for real estate purposes.
“We do have the general public that comes in to search a deed or a neighbor’s deed. Those kinds of searches are not emergent in nature, so I won’t be providing appointments for them. Searches for those trying to close on properties are a priority,” said Cooper, adding no appointments will be granted for genealogical research either.
The safety precautions and limited opening will be in place until further notice.
Cooper is thankful for the support and cooperation she’s received during this process.
“I greatly appreciate the patience of Realtors association, bar association, surveyors and banks,” she said. “They have all been cooperative with me and I appreciate that and I hope they know I wasn’t ignoring them, I was working on plans and procedures.”
She also credited her staff for their hard work and willingness to cooperate.
Cooper reminds the public to continue to do business with the office by video, mail or “curbside” to minimize exposure for staff and visitors whenever possible. We are here to help you, but we are operating under some new restraints that will serve to protect you and us.
In addition, visitors should bring their own pens, pencils and other office accessories. Visitors will also be responsible for making their own copies and copying fees will resume.
A public computer has also been relocated outside of the prothonotary and tax claim offices.
For a complete list of the restraints, contact Cooper’s office at 643-2740.
Becky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.