A recent spate of unethical business practices against homeowners in Mercer County has stirred warnings. A deed company and shifty tree removal contractors have claimed much attention.

Certified deeds. If you have received an official-looking letter from National Deed Service Inc. of Northbrook, Illinois, offering to provide a certified copy of your house’s deed for $69.50, throw it out, says Mercer County clerk Paula Sollami Covello. It is just someone looking to cash in.

It is not a scam — National Deed Service is a legitimate business and can be contacted at 888-480-1977 — but paying for the service is unnecessary. The U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center, based in Pueblo, Colorado, recommends that all homeowners have a certified copy of their deeds, and National Deed Service has used this as a reason to use its services.

But, says Sollami Covello, a certified deed in Mercer County is $1.50 per page, with a $10 certification fee. Most deeds are no more than four pages, meaning that if you were to do it yourself, you would likely pay no more than $16.

Letters from National Deed Service started arriving around central New Jersey earlier this year and became prevalent in Mercer County by late July.

The letters are sent in an official-looking, government-type envelope, advises property owners that their deed is recorded by the county clerk and leads the recipient to believe a certified copy of the deed is necessary.

It is not necessary to have a certified copy, says Sollami Covello, only recommended.

“This fee is excessive,” she says. “It is regretful that a company would prey upon unknowing, financially overburdened homeowners, especially during this difficult economy, by offering a service that already exists.”

Sollami Covello herself received a solicitation recently.

The Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs and county clerks throughout New Jersey have been successful in forcing National Deed Service to disclose that it is not a government agency, and that such records are available free or at nominal cost. Sollami Covello said she is working with state legislators to subject such outfits to criminal penalties if they fail to meet certain disclosure and registration requirements.

The Mercer County Clerk’s Office files and records all documents concerning real estate ownership, mortgages, and transfers. Homeowners looking to obtain a certified copy of their deed should go to the Courthouse Annex at 209 South Broad Street in Trenton, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m on regular business days.

Homeowners who cannot go in person should call 609-989-6464 and provide their complete property address, purchase date and lot and block number if available, along with the full name of the owner in order to send a letter and the appropriate payment to the county.

Tree removal. This summer’s stormy weather has brought out some unethical contractors, according to state Senator Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton). Baroni has warned residents to beware of contractors gouging people for tree removal and other repair services. Baroni recently talked to a homeowner who had spent $8,000 for the removal of one tree, something he said was as “textbook price gouging.”

Should a tree need removal, Baroni said, residents should contact their homeowner’s insurance companies immediately.

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