The Public Record Is Often Wrong

Real Estate Agent with & 9023635

House Hunting Tip: The information reported in the public record is often wrong. In my small town, the Assessing Department and the Building Department and often the Health Department and the Assessing Department do not compare their property records. What one department has, may not be a part of another department's information.  We even have 2 different, town authorized, online sources for property values that don't match all the time.

For anyone - agents, buyers, and sellers all included - there is a public record problem. For agents, knowing what exists and being asked to explain the public record differences can be frustrating. For buyers, the discrepancies create an air of mis-trust and concern. For sellers, the actual property components that should be noted and aren't, devalue their already stressed property value.

My explanation to buyers and sellers about the public record is that it is a point of reference - ONLY. Seeing the property that you like is important from the start. All public record questions can be resolved by including a request for explanation - acceptable to the buyer - inside any written offer.  Most parties to a transaction us an attorney these days. When the attorneys review the information, you get a legal opinion that either clarifies the question(s) or provides a point of negotiation.

In any case, relying solely on the public record can cause buyers to miss good opportunities. This is one more reason to use an experienced broker, or at least an experienced agent, to help you identify properties that meet your criteria. The websites of those same brokers and agents are the source of information and can usually provide the best resolution to concerns about public record questions.  The online info of sites that are not the broker's or the agent's is often incomplete at best.

Even addresses can be wrong on some websites. I recently had a huge site that starts with a T, show one of my listings with an incorrect address. My MLS information is correct. My information on my personal web site is correct. My information on my company's web site is correct. Their aggregating computer had changed the address for some reason.  Needless to say, the public was mis-informed and confusion was caused.

There is a lot to be said for starting to research property online.  However, don't let a difference in public information and listing information cause you to avoid a property.  There are usualy good answers and easy resolutions to these record differences.


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Victoria Lorusso
Illustrated Properties - North Palm Beach, FL
Florida and CT Real Estate

i once got a client a 10k property tax refund due to the city having measured the hoise wrong  so yes, verify everything!!

Feb 20, 2011 06:00 AM #1
Lloyd Binen
Certified Realty Services - Saratoga, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411

Hey Heath,

Out here, on the other coast, Pubic Records are also sometimes wrong, but helpful in discovering non-permitted room additions.  The square footage of these additions are not reflected in the Public Records.  Lot sizes in neighborhoods that have irregularly shaped lots are particularly erroneous.

Thanks for your post.

Feb 20, 2011 06:15 AM #2
AJ Heidmann ~ CRS
McEnearney Associates, Inc. - Alexandria, VA
YOUR Alexandria & Arlington, VA Real Estate Expert

A point of reference or starting point is a great way to preface any conversation about the public records.  Additionally, knowing how adjoining municipalities differ in how they count or calculate square footage is another great reason to use an experienced agent.

Feb 20, 2011 07:59 AM #3
Jennifer Fivelsdal
JFIVE Home Realty LLC | 845-758-6842|162 Deer Run Rd Red Hook NY 12571 - Rhinebeck, NY
Mid Hudson Valley real estate connection

Heath this is so true, I get annoyed when the information aggregated is incorrect.   I once had an expensive home listed for rental and some genius indexed it as a foreclosure so I was getting all these crazy calls. 

By the way I was looking back on my 2010 market report and saw your comment again.

Have a great week.


Mar 07, 2011 02:38 PM #4
Edward moloney
Edward Moloney Loan Officer GMH Mortgage Services - Holliston, MA
Loan Officer Providing 5 STAR SERVICE

Town records are often off. THey are understaffed and overworked. It is key to always check the facts against their numbers

Mar 20, 2011 12:27 AM #5
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Associate Broker Falmouth MA Cape Cod Heath Coker

Heath Coker Robert Paul Properties Falmouth MA
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