If you're looking to buy a house, it pays to know about its history before signing on the dotted line.
Home buyers should be curious and ask a lot of questions. After all, a home purchase is a big-ticket item in life. Usually, people buy houses for keeps. So ask away! You have the right to know when the house built was? Are there any liens? Or, morbid as it may sound, did somebody die there?
However, not all sellers will tell you about a home's history unless you ask them about it. Some choose not to divulge information, while others don't know all there is to know about their property. As a home buyer, your job now is to conduct a little research of your own.
There are many resources you can use to conduct a property records check on your own . Let's take a look at them.
Resource 1: Public Records
Your first stop should be the city or county public records office. All cities have a place where the public can do research on a property. Public records are available either in the county courthouse, county recorder, or city hall. For instance, records staff can help you find out about a property's deeds and encumbrances.
A property records search can also reveal:
- Name of the owner
- Sellers who filed for bankruptcy
- Tax ID number or parcel number
- Sellers involved in litigation
- How long the seller has owned the home
- Amount of present taxes and whether the owner paid fees
- How much is still owed
- If there were any improvements made with or without a permit
- Whether the house is in foreclosure
As you can see, serious buyers willing to put in the work can learn a ton of information on a property by using public records.
Resource 2: Online Property Search
Don't have time for old-school research and leg-work? No problem. There are plenty of online resources you can use to do a little digging on the property you have your eye on.
Find out About the Neighborhood
For online property listings, there are a lot of services available where you can explore entire neighborhoods. Most sites use U.S. assessor records and other public property information to provide accurate information. You can search by property records by state, county, zip code, and street.
Find out if Someone Died
If you're worried about a death in the house you're looking at, there are sites dedicated to helping you find that out. Yes, it's a little dark, but a death in the home you want to buy is more than necessary - you'll be living there after all! Plenty of states do not require real estate agents to disclose this type of information, so if you don't ask, you'll never know.
Most sites charge for the service, which includes a report on whether someone died in the home and when it happened. The report also includes if the property has been in a fire or used as a meth house.
A Piece of History
Online historical maps of major cities are also a great resource if you want to explore a location's past. Expect to find maps for large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but know that most online services don't cover them all. Your best bet is to do an independent search on Google or head to the public library archives .
If you know the street, you can look it up on Google's Street View history, but you can only go as far back as 2007. You can also try searching for your home's address in Google Images to see what pops up.
Resource 3: Your Real Estate Agent
If you're working with a real estate agent, you can ask him/her to find out more information on the property. Agents are often subscribers to property search and information services not available to the public.
Only licensed real estate agents can use the Multiple Listing Service database, so if you have an agent, ask for MLS data. You can find out a lot about a property such as days on the market and how many times a seller withdrew a house from the market and put it back as a new listing.
Tax Assessor's Extraction Data
Real estate agents also subscribe to a tax record search service. These services show complete records on file from the tax assessor's office. The data may include the age of the house, roof type, number of rooms, and other pertinent information.
Online Title Companies
Agents also use online title companies they have access to. You can ask your agent to download deeds or lookup a property's mortgage history. Agents can also find out if there is a quitclaim deed from divorcing couples.
Before buying a home , the first order of business should be to research the property thoroughly. Make it a point to know everything you can about the house, from the previous owners to the history of the entire street. The last thing you want is to spend money on an unlivable home. Do your research, and don't hesitate to work with a real estate agent.