Property records (also referred to as deeds) may sound like archaic documents from a bygone era, but they contain current key information along with relevant property history.
If you’re applying for a mortgage loan, looking up property records could save you money, time, and legal entanglements.
If you’re selling a house, property records can help you expedite the selling process and receive the most property value.
Do you want to look up property records, but aren’t sure how? There are several ways to navigate through the property record search process.
What Are Property Records?
Property records contain essential legal information about a property, including sales history, tax records, square footage, and property lines.
The sales history lists the property’s previous purchase prices and the terms of each sale. Appraisers who follow the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) will include at least three years of sales history in their home appraisal process.
Tax records track changes in property tax rates. Property tax is levied by the local government and the rate reflects the property’s overall market value. Property tax rates are generally assessed yearly by a tax assessor.
Property tax history will include any past or current tax liens against the property. Tax liens occur when local governments place a claim on the property due to unpaid property taxes.
Property records also track the current and past square footage of property buildings and the land’s property lines. This may include property line maps, referred to as plats.
Buyers looking for the best property value for the best price will benefit from property records. Sellers who want a quick selling process, such as selling to a local area cash buyer like memphis.webuyhouses.com, will also find property records useful.
Why Look Up Property Records?
Property record details can indicate the true value of the property. Overvalued property for buyers and undervalued property for sellers can cost you thousands of dollars.
Sales history can help you discover past price discrepancies. These are a red flag for loan underwriters. Researching extreme differences in sales prices can safeguard your mortgage loan as a buyer or your asking price as a seller.
If a property previously sold for much less than the current price, the property could be overvalued or have considerable issues. If it increased in value or was sold undervalued, there will be indicators in the property records explaining why.
Home and property expansion or improvements can cause a price hike. Motivated sales can affect the sales price independent of its value. Motivated sellers will sacrifice money for selling speed, for reasons that include:
- Delinquent taxes / mortgage payments
- Job loss
However, motivated sellers can include negative property value changes. Owners may quick-sell neglected or damaged property to avoid repair costs. The current seller may only superficially address these issues before trying to re-sell at a higher value.
Property taxes will show value trends outside of sales history. These rates should show a steady rise on average. If the tax rates are irregular, it can be tied to property value or civic factors.
Property tax rates can also rise because a city needs more money for civic funding, or be cut as part of campaign promises. Lower tax rates can reflect property damage or the surrounding area losing value. Property taxes can rise to reflect improvements to the property and its surrounding area, or the neighborhood may be overassessed.
If the property is under a tax lien, it cannot be bought or sold until the tax lien is bought or paid off. You’ll ensure you don’t take on the seller’s lien as part of the sale.
How to Look Up Property Records
County and State Record Holders
A hard copy of property records is kept by local and/or county institutions. These can vary depending upon locality.
1. Determine the Property’s City and County
Most state or local governments will provide city and county maps. Depending on the map, these can be a rough estimate or accurate to the property address.
There are also online tools that will look up the information by address.
2. Find the Office that Holds Property Records
Once you determine the appropriate city for your property, you can look up which city or county office holds property records. These offices can include tax assessors, county courthouses, or city halls.
Some local or county governments include these records online for free. Others may charge a search fee.
3. Locate Property Record in the Database
You can search for the property by address, property (parcel/lot) number, assessor’s ID number, and current owner. You may have to search by multiple criteria as street names and owners change.
In some cases, the property or assessor ID number may be the only way to find a particular record.
4. Find all the relevant information
You can search the property record for information relevant to buying and selling such as sales history, tax history, and square footage, property lines.
Square footage is important when buying or selling, as property listings may not always match the square footage on record.
5. Make Copies
Organizing and providing property record copies can help you formally negotiate your mortgage loan rate or your asking price. A government office may charge a copy or printing fee.
More Property Record Resources
Additional ways to look up property record details include title companies, real estate agents, and private record databases. You may want to check with all these resources to gather all relevant information. You may have to pay one-time or subscription fees.
Other resources can include historical maps, property listing sites like Trulia or Redfin, and land surveyor records.
DiedInHouse is a database for on-property fatalities. This can be helpful for determining previous flood, fire, or electrical damage. You can also request a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Evaluation report for the history of property claim losses.
Property Records Safeguard Your Finances
There are many resources to help you look up property records. These records are a valuable tool to help you save money when buying and earn money when selling.
To find out more about buying and selling property, check out more articles in our Buy and Sell article section.