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When you’re getting ready to purchase a home, it makes sense to learn everything you can about the history of the properties you’re interested in.
Conducting a search on public property records can reveal important details about the property and help you make a more informed decision when it comes time to buy.
Here’s what you need to know about researching the history of a home:
- What can you learn from public property records?
- How to find property records
- 3 other ways to learn about a property
What can you learn from public property records?
Public property records contain several pieces of information that you might find valuable as you look to buy a house, including:
- Sales history, including who owned the home and what they paid for it
- Tax history, including current tax liens
- Deed history, including encumbrances and other liens
- Size of the lot
- Home’s square footage
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Zoning information
Shopping around for a home can be stressful. Fortunately, Credible simplifies the mortgage process and makes comparing multiple lenders easy.
How to find property records
When performing a property records search, it can make sense to not only look for information like sales records, but other public information about the previous owners — such as a divorce or bankruptcy — that can be used to piece together the home’s history.
You might also have to pay for your public records search. States and counties are allowed to charge fees, usually on a per-page basis. Call your local recorder’s office ahead of time to get an idea of what your request will cost you.
Another option is to conduct a search using an online directory like Netronline, which has information for official state websites that can help you access available public records.
Property sales records
Where to find them: County or city recorder’s office
Check with your local recorder’s office to find out information about who owned the home in the past and how much they paid for the house. This can give you a history of any increases in property cost over time.
Usually you can find out who the current owner is and how much they still owe on their mortgage too. You might have to pay a small fee to get a report from your recorder’s office.
However, it’s also possible, in some cases, to see sales price history for free on real estate websites, like Redfin, or get that information for free from a real estate agent.
Where to find them: State tax commission, county recorder’s office, or county assessor’s office
If you’re doing a property history search, you also want to know if there are any tax liens on the property. A tax lien can make it difficult to get a lender to approve your mortgage because the government has first dibs on the property.
On top of learning whether there’s a tax lien that could hold up the process, the tax records can also give you an idea of what you might expect to pay in property taxes, as well as how often you could potentially see an increase.
Where to find them: County clerk’s office, county recorder’s office, or state deed registry
A deed record search can be one of your best tools in helping you learn more about a property. You can find various liens on the property, as well as find out if there are easements, such as a utility easement in a subdivision or an easement that requires sharing a path that runs through the property.
The deed history may also provide information on the previous owners, the value of the land, and certain zoning restrictions.
Marriage and divorce records
Where to find them: County clerk’s office, county recorder’s office, or local courts
While not exactly related to your property history search, marriage and divorce records can offer insight into what’s happening with the current owners. You could receive information on sellers’ motivations for leaving.
However, this information isn’t usually something you want to bring up when negotiating.
Where to find them: State or county recorder’s office and online databases
There are many online search sites that offer information about death records, in addition to state and county records. If you’re interested in learning whether someone actually passed away inside the home, DiedInHouse can be a good resource.
This database offers information about whether someone died at the property, including the presence of chemicals or labs, and other circumstances.
3 other ways to learn about a property
You don’t have to complete a public records search in order to find out more about a property’s history. Here are some other ways to learn more about a property.
1. Ask your real estate agent
Your real estate agent can usually pull the relevant information you need through their own property search, or from information on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). A good real estate can help you learn more about the home, so ask family and friends for referrals to find the best one.
2. Check the National Register of Historic Places
If you’re buying an older home, check the National Register of Historic Places. If your home is on the list, you might be limited in terms of changes you can make to the property.
For instance, you might have to obtain additional permits to make upgrades to the home, or to make other changes on the property.
Double-check the situation and make sure you understand the limitations before you move forward with the purchase.
3. Get a title company to do the research for you
You can also get a title company to perform the property history search. A title company will pull the records on your behalf and can provide information about liens, back taxes, HOA fees, current and past owners, and more.
This search can run you a few hundred dollars, depending on the state you’re in and the property in question. But it can also save you a lot of time and effort, so it might be worth the cost to avoid combing through all the records yourself.