Tips For Researching a Home You Want to Purchase
Would you like to know how to research the history of a house online? If you’re smart you’ll be shaking your head in the affirmative right now.
Before buying it is vital to gather all the information on a property that you can.
When you are ready to buy a home, you might have a few questions about the history of the property.
Whether you have heard rumors about the home, or you just want a more in-depth understanding of the property you’re investing in, it is possible to find a lot about the history of properties online.
Buying a house is the biggest investment most people will ever make in their lives, so it makes sense to do as much research into this purchase as you can. When you’re searching for a home, you aren’t given much information about its history.
There could be many hidden details that you would rather know about before closing on the home. If you are willing to put a little bit of effort into researching the property, it could pay dividends.
There are potentially a lot of resources available to you to help in your property history search if you just know where to look.
We’ll cover the online and offline resources that you can use to search property history, to find the information that is otherwise hidden.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of how to do a property history search. We will reveal the best ways to search by property address.
Research The Property Listings
When buying a home, doing proper due diligence is a fundamental exercise worth doing. When you search property history it’s possible to uncover things that might make you second guess your purchase decision.
The first place you will want to start a basic property history search is the Multiple listing service.
The multiple listing service, or MLS, will give you details of how much the house sold for previously and when. This sales history could go back to the 1990s, showing you how the price of the home has gradually increased, or not, in that time.
Home sale history is easy to look at when you have access to MLS. The sales records for a property are as easy as typing in an address. The information on a property is routinely accessed by real estate agents when looking at public records of home sales.
The basic history of properties should always start with a visit to MLS when starting a search.
Searching For The Address Online
One of the best ways on how to find the history of a house online is through online research.
By doing an online search in Google for the address of the home you are looking to buy, you might be able to find some really interesting information. You might be able to find previous listings that reveal things you didn’t know about the home.
Simply Googling the address could reveal unexpected results. Perhaps the property has been in the news for some reason, maybe it was used as a business address, or maybe you’ll find nothing.
Whatever you find, it will only take a moment to check, so it’s something you shouldn’t overlook. It is one of the easy ways to check free house history.
Look at The City or Towns Field Data Card
When doing a house history search at the top of the list should be visiting the local town hall. By doing so, you’ll be able to search property history by address.
One of the key things a field data card will tell you is whether proper building permits were filed for work done at the property. Work with no permits can be a significant issue and one that should be rectified.
The upgrades made over the years and a record of their corresponding permits should be detailed. For example, if a new heating system or solar panels were installed these items should be listed.
The field card will also have other details on the history of properties such as assessed value over the years, the square footage, room count, the year built, current owner’s name, property characteristics, and much more.
When gathering information on a property this is another excellent means of doing so.
Not too long ago, I was doing a detailed search in Milford Massachusetts for a client.
Visit The Local Building Department
Knowing how to search property records will include a trip to your local building department. Here you will be able to confirm whether proper building permits were pulled on work completed at the house.
If the home is not that old, you may also be able to look at the original architectural plans for the home. Doing so will be an excellent means of getting additional information you might not otherwise have access to.
You may be able to learn about the history of a house such as additions to the property. Most people don’t realize they can get this kind of information but it is actually part of the public property records.
Stopping by and speaking with the county clerk might also help you glean additional property history search info.
Checking The Properties Title
When you search a home’s history, you shouldn’t miss out on the title. A lot of important information about the property can be found in the title documentation. Experts refer to this as the chain of title.
The chain of title is a legal document that will show the sequence of historical transfers of title to a property. It documents past owners including who owns it now all the way back to the original owner.
Searching for a properties title, however, should be left to the experts. If you are working with a real estate attorney they will do the title search for you as part of representing the lender.
In some states, the title search will be performed by a title company. In either case, the title search is a vital part of a housing history search.
The title search will reveal information about mortgages, municipal assessments such as city sewer, property taxes, any levies, and numerous other things that could disturb a real estate transaction.
Title Searches Also Reveal Liens
The title search will also show if there are any outstanding liens on the property. Liens on the title could be from the builder or contractor of the home and could lead to a legal battle to have them cleared.
There might also be tax liens on the property. To avoid expensive legal bills when hiring a real estate attorney, you’ll want to ensure there aren’t any liens on the title. Liens can stop a home sale from taking place.
Lastly, this house history search could uncover encroachment issues on the part of the neighbor.
Problems with violations of neighboring lot lines are not uncommon at all. It is one of the reasons title insurance is always highly recommended.
Searching The Property Records of a House
A property history search of the publicly available records can help you find out about the following in the home’s history:
- Property tax records and history
- Changes in the size of the home
- Records of previous sales
- A list of previous owners
You might be able to access this information online if your county provides this service. You can check if your records are online and access them for free by going to the Public Records online directory.
Examples of the types of records that can be accessed include property deeds, mortgages, assessment data, tax details, parcel number, and parcel maps.
Finding the details for the property you are looking to buy on this site is very simple. Click on the state and then select the right county. This will show you what is available, and link you to the information that the county has uploaded online.
Go To The County Court House
Some folks will be really aggressive in their property history search and head to the local county courthouse. They will speak with the county recorder and ask to look at any quitclaim deeds for the specific property.
The register of deeds will detail property ownership, along with personal information such as the sale price of the property.
Viewing Geographic Information Systems Data
Another type of online property history search is through GIS.
You might find that your county provides Geographic Information Systems (GIS) on its website. It is an online database that might allow you to find the house you’re interested in on an interactive map, and you can click it for more details.
The site will tell you a number of things including:
- The year constructed
- Class of property
- Current owner
- Lot size
- Basement construction
- Architectural type
There could also be drawings available of the lot, which will show you the original design of the property and highlight additions. It should show things like whether the home has decking with a roof, for example.
Reverse Address Searches For a House
There are a few services online that allow you to check who lives in a home currently, their phone numbers, as well as previous residents. Searches like these can also offer information about home values, sales transactions, and neighborhood safety.
These searchers can better help you assess whether the neighborhood is the sort of place you want to live in. They’ll also inform you about foreclosures as well as mortgage and loan statistics in the neighborhood.
These services aren’t free, however, with a service like Been Verified costing from about $17 per month.
A Real Estate investor will sometimes use sites like these to find people to contact for off-market properties to buy. Finding investment opportunities are more scarce with limited housing inventory.
Is Your Home Historic?
If you are looking into a historic home, you should be able to find it in the National Register of Historic Places. This is operated by the National Park Service and is a record of historically significant properties across the country.
On their website, they offer several ways to see if the property is listed with them.
There are more than 95,000 properties registered, and they offer a few different ways for you to find the home you are interested in:
- Search by state
- Name search
- Reference number search
- Geographic Information Systems map
You can complete these searches by downloading their spreadsheet or searching the table on their website.
If you don’t find the property you are looking for through these searches, it could still be the case that the home is historic. Not all of the files in the National Register have been posted online, and you can request a copy from them if this is the case.
There is another option to locate historic properties, known as the State Historic Preservation Office. It is often the case that states run their own lists of historic homes, and sometimes these haven’t been passed on to the main National Register of Historic Places. This could be the situation if the state considers the property important locally and in need of preservation.
If you are still confident that the home is historic even if it isn’t featured in the national register, you can check with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to find more information about your state’s historic preservation office.
Go to The Local Library For Historical Home Information
Believe it or not, the public library is one of the best ways to check the history of properties when they have historic significance. The history of your house is usually on display when it is considered meaningful. There may also be local history books or old newspapers that show additional information.
It will be the best place to check when you have time. Historic maps could show information you didn’t know about. You might also consider checking with the local historical society as well.
Looking Up Details of a House in Previous Census Records
If you’d like to find out more about the previous occupants of the home you’re interested in, you can check the census records. These types of documents can let you confirm things you already believed, along with uncovering new information.
Census data can offer you intriguing and revealing information about previous residents and can include things like:
- Birth years
- Marital status and the relationship between residents
- Where they were born
The further you go back in these records, the less detail they tend to offer, however. And you might find some gaps in the records completely, the further back you go.
Uncovering Ownership With Land Entry Records
If you want to go even deeper when you search property history, finding out information about previous owners can certainly be interesting. The land entry record for the property will show information about who has purchased the property and when.
They will reveal the title transfer history for the property and should show when the lot was transferred from the government into private ownership. These documents are known as land entry case files.
As with the census records, the further you go back in history, the less information you are likely to find. But even then, you should be able to find information not found elsewhere.
Information in the land entry records could include details about the owner, including:
- Name and title
- Place of birth
- Land use issues
The records might also include things like the owner’s citizenship and military service status, as well as more surprising things like their level of literacy and economic standing.
Checking these records isn’t as easy as some of the other options, as they can’t be searched online directly.
You can request access and order copies of land entry files through the national archives, though the exact method of getting these files will depend on the circumstances of the information you are looking for.
Researching Official Federal Land Records
If you still want to go even deeper into the history of the property, you can go to the Bureau of Land Management. Their general land office records give you access to federal land conveyance records that have been issued since 1788.
They offer images of more than 5 million federal land title records, along with land status records, control document index records, transaction listings, survey plats, and field notes.
If you find a land survey for the property, you should get a drawing of the boundaries as well as an official record of the size of the lot. Field notes are the surveyor’s description of the area, which includes details of the instruments and the process used to assess the land.
You might also uncover land patents that show when the land was first transferred from the government to a citizen. These land patents are divided up between cash entries, homestead, and military warrant patents.
These patents can allow you to link a specific person or their descendants to the purchase of land on an exact date.
Land status records are historical documents detailing federal and private land ownership, rights, and usage. They will normally include master title plats, which are a combination of all the federal surveys conducted for the township.
Control document index records cover anything that could have affected how the land was used. This could have been anything that limited or restricted usage, like public laws or proclamations.
Information on a property such as this can be crucial when buying land and getting a loan for land.
A Look Into The Properties Past History
The website What Was There matches historic photos with imaging data provided by Google maps. This could allow you to see what the house and the street looked like in years gone by.
The website relies on people uploading photographs, so most areas will be lacking. But you might get lucky and find an old photograph or two of the home you are interested in. It is worth a shot.
How to Find Out if Someone Died in The Home?
If you’re worried about the property being haunted, or just concerned that previous activity in the home could affect how easy it will be for you to sell later on, you can use DiedInHouse.com.
Perhaps you’ve heard a rumor about the property or know that the area has a horrific past. A service like Died in House can help you find out for sure if that affects the house you are looking to purchase.
They will create a report on any home that is a valid Unites States address so that you can remove some fears you might have about the property.
Since, in most states, death is not considered to be a material fact that requires disclosure when the home is sold, you can use this service to find information that would be very difficult to uncover otherwise.
Without using a service like this, you will be reliant on information from the seller, their agent, neighbors, or any details you can find by searching online. Doing so, could take a lot of time and still not result in revealing information about any deaths in the home.
The site charges just under $12 for research on one property, but the report contains more information than you might initially expect. As well as telling you about a death in the home, they also give you details about:
- The cause of death, if known
- Information on the deceased
- Fires in the property
- Any reported meth activity
- Registered sex offenders living in the property previously or currently nearby
- Local cemeteries
- Property history information
Discovering Paranormal Activity Searching The History of a House
This should help ensure that the property you are looking to buy doesn’t have a dark past you may only find out about when you’ve been living in the property for a while. Helping you avoid buying a property that turns out to be a macabre tourist attraction, for example.
The report should or help put your mind at ease over negative energy in the home or ghostly activity if that’s something that worries you.
While this service is often used by paranormal investigators, house appraisers, and real estate agents researching a home before they list it, buyers can also profit from using this service.
You could also use the information in a report like this to gain a better deal on a home. After all, it could impact the property value. Finding some negative information about a property could put you in a position to negotiate a better deal with the seller.
Whether you want to live in the home, or if you are purchasing as an investor, there is an opportunity for a discount. If you don’t mind the idea of buying a property with what some people would see as a negative history, you could get a bargain.
Check a Properties Historical Insurance Records
Did you know you can check a property’s historical insurance records as part of your housing history search? You can check a loss history report on any insurance losses with a home.
Claims history information is sent to a database known as the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (C.L.U.E). The reports show a record of the type of loss on the home, when the loss occurred, and the amount of the clam. The information provided goes back five years.
Doing an insurance search could reveal if there was a previous fire or flooding in the home. Insurance companies use this information to underwrite their policies.
You can make a free search for this information. One report is allowed per year.
How to Look For Property Owners With Financial Distress
Did you know you can search online to see if a homeowner is experiencing financial distress. A company called Realty Trac provides a database of foreclosures, bank-owned properties, auctions, and short sales.
They have partnered with Zillow who will display on their website property owners who have missed mortgage payments. I’ve written in the past how these Zillow listings can be deceiving because they are not for sale.
On their website, they will purposely make it look like these homeowners who have missed payments are actively selling their homes. They are not!
The vast majority of the time these homes will never be listed for sale as the owner will get caught up on their mortgage. Realty Trac, however, can be useful to see distressed properties.
Don’t Overlook More Old Fashioned Property Research Methods
While running searches on the internet is an easy way to quickly undercover information on a home you want to purchase, don’t forget about books. There could have been books published listing the property or details about the street or area it’s located.
If you really want to do a deep dive into the background of a home, you can search for books online using the ZIP code or other location information such as street names and house numbers.
Some websites offer a way to search for references to property like arcadiapublishing.com/zip-search. Even if you are just a history buff, you’ll be able to get some interesting historical information about the town you’re interested in.
Ask an Experienced Real Estate Agent
When you are interested in the history of properties you are looking to buy, don’t forget about local Realtors. A real estate agent that has been operating in the area for a long time, will have a wealth of knowledge about the area and possibly the property you want to own.
They might offer you some clues about the property so that you can narrow down your research, and they could be a good place to start. For example, I have lived in Hopkinton Massachusetts my entire life.
Some people may not know it is the start of the world-famous Boston Marathon. Others may not know Hopkinton has been rated as one of the safest places to live in America or have some of the best schools in the state.
Final Thoughts on Uncovering a Property’s History
It used to be the case that if you wanted to do in-depth research into the history of properties, you’d have to travel to county facilities to search through archives. But these days, for the most part, things are much easier.
A few simple and fairly quick searches online can reveal a lot of property history without the need to step outside your front door or pick up a phone to call someone. But there are also some more traditional ways to find out what has happened in the past to a property you are interested in buying.
If you want to learn the complete history of a property, many options just require a little time and effort on your part to uncover the information.
Hopefully, you have found this guide on how to find the history of a property online and off to be useful.
About the author: The above Real Estate information on how to find the history of a house online and offline was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 34+ Years.
Are you thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate Sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Natick, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton, and Uxbridge MA.