Buying a home or property will likely be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — purchases you will ever make in your life. So it’s natural to want to find out as much information as you can about the property before you take that leap and dive into the unknown. But finding property history is sometimes not as easy as it sounds, especially if you don’t know where to look.
You may be relying solely on what you see in the listing, or having to go by what someone tells you about the property without verifying it for yourself. But chances are high that there is more information out there about the property’s history than you could ever imagine. It’s just about knowing how to access that information.
Luckily for us, property history is easier to find than ever with the advent of the internet. So let’s take a look at how you can find property history online.
What does Property History Teach You?
Looking into a property’s history can give you valuable information about the property that you may want to know before making a purchase. In general, the older the property is, the more history it will have available to find online. For example, if you’re interested in a brand new construction that was just finished this year, don’t expect to find much property history online. For many houses, however, you’ll find plenty of information quickly and easily.
What you can find online when searching for the property history can include any substantial changes to the home or property. This can include changes such as major renovations or remodeling and changes in ownership. So, for example, if you’re curious about learning of any additions to the property or significant changes in square footage since the house was constructed, you should be able to find that information online.
As you dive deeper into your research, you may be able to find more and more information — maybe even more than you were looking for, to begin with! Delving into a property’s history, you can find information on previous residents, any historical aspects of the property, any relevant restrictions on the land, and more. So put on your detective cap and read on to take a look at how you can find all this information online.
Search for Property Records
One of the first places to start your search for property history is to look at the public property records — making this even easier is the fact that they are public information. This means they’re easy to find, simple to access, and all the information you find within is open to the public.
Property records are usually held by the city or county that the property resides in, so your first step should be determining if the city or county in question has these records online. You can quickly do this by using the Public Records Online Directory, which will greatly streamline the process and make this portion of your research much simpler.
Once you get into the records, depending on what documents are provided, you’ll be able to find out the property’s chain of ownership, its sales history, its tax history, alterations to the size (square footage, acreage, etc.), and even parcel details. In total, these records provide some of the most useful property information you can find online.
The chain of ownership will help you create a list of the previous owners, which you can use in conjunction with other resources to find out more about the property’s history and past owners. The sales and tax history will provide you with the property’s financial history, including price history, property values, property taxes paid, and more. Being able to see if there have been any changes in the square footage of the house can be a good indicator that an addition or a major renovation has been done.
A little less well-known piece of information is the parcel details. From the parcel details of a property, you can learn the owner’s name and address, the property class, the size of the land, when it was built, what type of construction it is, and more.
Use Census Records to Learn About Past Residents
Census records provide information for all citizens in the United States and are compiled and provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. They used these records to keep track of the population and location of citizens, making them a great place to find out information about people who have previously lived at the property.
If you want to know more information about the previous owners or residents of the property, census records can give you personal information about them. By looking at census records online, you’ll be able to find information about the previous owners, such as names, birthdays, marital status, where they were born, and more. While you may not need all this information, it’s public information, and you’re welcome to look at it as much as you want.
Find the Property Transaction History Using Land Entry Records
One way to help you put together a complete transactional history of a property is to examine the land entry records of that property. These records are kept in the custody of the National Archives, and the process for getting access to them can start by using their site.
Although most other resources on this list can be fully done online through your own research, this one still requires a bit of help from those on the other end. These records can be requested online by filling out the proper form on the website, and once the request is processed and approved, you will be given the information.
So what will you be looking at once you have access to the property’s land entry records? In a simple sense, land entry records are files that show all the pertinent information about the original transaction of the land from the U.S. Government to a private party (i.e., people, companies, institutions, etc.).
Land entry records can be either be a trove of information about the property or give very few details depending on the property itself and when it was transferred from the government to the private sector.
If you can get your hands on an informative land entry record, you can find all sorts of useful information about the purchaser, such as name, age, birthplace, land use, citizenship, socioeconomic status, military service, education, and more.
Sometimes the records will only have bits and pieces of this information, but whatever you find can be used in conjunction with the other resources in this article to make the picture as clear as it possibly can be.
Look at the Land History Using the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records
One such resource that works in conjunction with the aforementioned land entry records is the information you can find through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records (BLM, GLO). To begin with, these records will verify the information you found in the land entry records and validate the transaction before you dive further into the history of the property.
The Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records is one of the best places to find historical data of the property, with information available from as far back as 1788. That’s only 12 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, just to give you an idea of how deep into history you’ll be looking.
The BLM, GLO provides access to a library of over five million images pertaining to Federal land conveyance records over the last 230+ years. In the records, you can find information such as survey plats and notes, records of land status, land patents, control document index records, and more.
When you first start your online search for property history, chances are good that you aren’t necessarily looking for information this far back, but you never know! If you want to find out every bit of information there is to know about a property, you will eventually end up here.
Check With the National Register of Historic Places
If there’s a chance that the property may be of historic value or importance, it is worth checking out the National Register of Historic Places. With nearly 100,000 properties registered in the program and at least one property in almost every county in the United States, it’s a great resource to learn any historic prominence of the property you’re looking at.
As part of the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic Places was created to house a database of historic properties that are worthy of preservation. Among the historic value of these properties that you can learn about from the database, owners can benefit from other things such as the federal preservation tax credit. So it’s worth checking out and seeing if the property is listed or if it can qualify in the future to reap the potential rewards!
Reach Out to Local Realtors
One of the best sources of information about a new property that you’re looking to buy is the local realtors themselves. Realtors in the area make a living knowing the nitty-gritty details of properties in the region so that they can provide insight into the property when their clients have questions. For this reason, the group of local realtors can be a potential treasure trove of invaluable information about the property.
If you have a real estate agent that you’re working with or planning on using, start by reaching out to them for any information that you’re looking for. They will likely know the answers to your questions right away, or if they don’t, they’ll research it for you and figure it out as best they can. Realtors have connections through a network of other agents or agencies to find out as much information as possible about the property. Since their commission is based on a successful sale or purchase, they’ll do what they can to give you any information that you need.
It’s easy to search for local realtors in the area to get an idea of who you should reach out to, and you have nothing to lose.
Read the Details in the Listing Itself
Undoubtedly the easiest way to get more information about the property in mind is to be sure that you read the entire listing in detail. In most home listings, there will be substantial information about the property that will answer many of the questions you may have. To find the listing, all you need to do is enter the property address into your search bar and hit enter.
Within the listing, you can find extensive amounts of property information that will help alleviate some of your concerns and answer a large number of the questions you have. Listings can include valuable information, including price history, when it was built, some of the transaction history, any major renovations or remodels, when it was last sold or listed on the market, etc.
If you’re researching a property that’s for sale, you’ll likely be looking at the listing anyway. Perusing through the entire listing is the easiest way to start finding information about the property’s history.
Property History is Accessible Online
Gone are the days of having to visit City Hall in person and hoping to find some records on a property you’re interested in. With everything becoming more and more digital in today’s world, it’s easier than ever to find property history online. Whether you want to know more information about past owners, the price history of the property, or any major renovations, you can find all that out and more with a simple online search.
Using any of the methods listed above — or a combination thereof — you’ll be able to find out everything you want to know. Best of luck in your property search, and we hope you find the perfect place for you!