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How to Find The History of a Property

Real Estate Agent with RE/MAX Executive Realty 91362

How to Research a House You Want to Buy

One of the essential parts of a home purchase is doing proper due diligence. Researching carefully means doing both an online and offline search for any information you can dig up.

Unless you have bought a brand new property, the home will have some history. Even with new houses, it's possible the land could have some historical significance.

While the history of a house might not be too intriguing for many homes, you could uncover something very interesting.

If you search property history, you might discover a famous previous owner or a story that could add to the home's value. Typically homes that have a historic designation are valued higher than those without. Historic homes can also benefit from tax incentives, so if you think your house could have an exciting history, it could aid you to find out for sure.

We will take a look at how to find the history of properties so that you can discover if your home has a colorful past. Maximum Real Estate Exposure has an excellent article referenced above that will be worth taking a look at.

Start With Your Real Estate Agent

Researching the history of a house should start with your real estate agent. Your buyer's agent should begin with the basics by looking over the multiple listing service and the previous sales history. You can learn things like the previous owners, what they sold the house for, and when.

The agent can also verify other vital facts about the home, such as the square footage of the house and how much land the property contains. One of the more critical things to know when researching a home's history is heading to the local town hall and checking whether all the proper building permits were pulled for work done to the house.

Many sellers neglect to pull proper permits, which is an absolute no-no. Without legal permitting, there is no way of knowing if the work was performed up to code. Don't let someone else's problems become yours!

Historic Registries

If you don't know whether your home is considered historical, the National Park Service operates the National Registry of Historic Places. This is a database of homes of historic significance thanks to their age or architectural importance.

You can also check the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s register, which can contain different information. Your state or city might also run its own register. If you find your home in this register, it will mean someone has already done the research and asked for it to be placed there.

You can also check the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records. They will give details of title transfer from the federal government, plat maps, and even field notes from the initial survey of the land. In these cases, the initial land survey would likely be before subdivisions were created and the land divided up into smaller lots.

Records Search

If your home isn't found in the historic register, you can find a lot of other information by paying for a record search through companies like US Reality Records. Typically, a search like this isn't going to cost very much, perhaps just a dollar or two, but it will give you a place to start your property history search.

Before You Buy

Check with your real estate agent when buying a home that you think could have some historical importance. They should know whether the home is designated as historic or in a historic neighborhood. They might also be able to give you the details of previous owners to help with your search.

However, if your home is located in a historic district, it will likely be subject to more rules than a typical home. It is crucial to find out about these issues before moving into a new property, as you might find them too restrictive.

Asking lots of questions and doing proper due diligence is always worth it, especially when it's your first time buying a home.

Sales History

A big part of the history of a house is the people who have owned and lived in it previously. Usually, you will find that previous owner information is readily available and accessible online. Most counties should let you search this data online for free, but you can also visit an appraiser or get the information through a title search.

If you own the home, you should have access to the title search completed before closing. If you don't have access to this report, you can always perform a title search online through many publicly available websites.

As previously mentioned, your buyer's agent will need this information whenever they put their real estate comps together to form an analysis of value for you.

Census Data

If you are interested in going further with your property history search, checking the census data can show more information about the people that lived in the home. This can give you the names of most people who lived in the house since it was constructed.

Additionally, you'll also find:

  • Their age
  • Location of birth
  • Marriage status
  • Occupation
  • Immigration information

Other interesting details could also turn up in these records. However, the pieces available in this census data changes over time. Before 1840, for example, only the head of the household was listed in the census data. Census records for more recent occupants are also not available for privacy reasons.

You can find the census records online or in a public library. If you do use a library, you should discover that the librarians have experience in performing these types of searches and should be able to assist you.

With the names of previous owners or occupants, you can find out if they were historically noteworthy. You can check with a local historical society if there is one or get help from a historian. More extensive libraries could have records of local history for your area that you can search.

Looking for Archived Photographs

Your local library and might also be able to help you with historic photographs of the area. Preservation and historical societies can also have these types of collections that could show images of your home.

Finding Clues in Your Home

Perhaps there is a plaque on the home, or maybe a previous owner has left some possessions behind that could give you a clue to help in your property history search. Even things like the architectural style or additions to the home could be important clues to look out for. There could be old decor or wallpaper hidden behind more recent renovations as well.

If you explore enough, you might discover some very interesting things that could lead your research in a different direction.

Check With Your Neighbors

While often somewhat limited in the information they could provide, your neighbors, however, might have some info on previous residents or stories about the history of the home you haven't previously heard. They might tell you about an intriguing rumor that you can research to potentially uncover a fascinating story.

Local History Publications

There might have been books written about your city or even your local area. Your local library or bookstore might carry these publications, but you can always check with Amazon, of course.

Researching the History of Properties

Uncovering a property’s history, while sometimes challenging, can offer a fascinating window into the past. It can also be profitable, increasing the value of your home and making it easier to find a buyer.

Even if you don't find anything genuinely historical, an interesting story tied to the property could engage the interest of potential buyers helping a home sell faster. As a buyer, it is worth the time and energy to find out everything you can about the home you're planning on purchasing.

Hopefully, you have found this information on finding a home's history to be helpful.

Posted by

With three decades of experience, Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate sector. Bill writes informative articles for numerous prestigious real estate sites to help buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Placester, Realty Biz News, Credit Sesame, and his own authority resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. Reach out to Bill Gassett for his real estate, mortgage, and financial expertise.


Dick Betts
REALTOR® The Villages, Florida

Thanks for sharing, recently I sold a home to a worship pastor we dug a little and found out the man that built the home was a pastor, the next owner had connections to Country Music and many stars visited him!  Needless to say the current owners are delighted!

Oct 01, 2021 01:05 PM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning Bill - sometimes the history isn't so good but that is why you deal with a professional.

Oct 02, 2021 03:58 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Pasadena And Southern California 818.516.4393

Hello Bill - some good clues and as Grant Schneider suggests a local real estate professional can be quite helpful.  Trust but verify - consider each source - history is an interpretation. . .  

Oct 02, 2021 05:25 AM
Bill Gassett
RE/MAX Executive Realty - Hopkinton, MA
Metrowest Massachusetts Real Estate

Sometimes it is pretty amazing what you can dig up on the history of a house.

Oct 04, 2021 07:29 AM