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Property Records

What are Property Records?

Property records are official documents generated by private citizens and filed with local government agencies. These documents provide information about a piece of land or any property constructed on the land. In most cases, a property record refers to the property deed, which is publicly available at the county recorder of deeds office or a designated record custodian in the municipality where the property is located. Interested parties can find property records at their local custodian’s office in person, online, or even by sending a mail request. In any way, all requesters must provide the necessary information to facilitate a search and pay copying fees.

Are Property Records Public?

Yes. Unless the record has been sealed, property records are available to the public per states’ public record laws. These include deeds, liens, plats, and mortgage reports. Interested persons can find the aforementioned property records at their local county recorder’s office, the county courthouse, or city hall, depending on the designated custodian. And as technology has improved record management practices, many county recorders’ offices now make property records available online for the public to access.

Property records are available for public viewing through government agencies or third-party aggregate websites. Accessing property records through third-party sites is typically straightforward, and the records are not geographically limited. However, because the sites are not government-affiliated and run independently, the information contained in the records may vary. Searching parties should include the following information to obtain complete property records:

  • The property’s exact location.
  • The property owner’s details.

What Information is Included in Property Records?

The content included in a property record differs by availability and jurisdiction. Property records typically refer to the following documents:

  • Deeds and Quitclaim Deeds
  • Mortgage Reports
  • Plats and Liens

Property deeds are property records that detail property exchanges between the owner and the buyer. In most cases, the person whose name appears on the deed as a property owner is its true owner. Persons who obtain property deeds can expect to see information such as the seller’s name, buyer’s name, and the legal description of the property, including physical address, easements, and property lines.

Deeds come in different forms, with the most popular being general warranty deeds, grant deeds, quitclaim deeds, and special warranty deeds. General warranties deeds permit owners to sell a property to a buyer, showing that the current owner legally received it from the previous owner. On the other hand, a grant deed proves that the current property owner has not sold the land to a different person and is handing it over to the buyer with no legal challenges. Quitclaim deeds confer property ownership from the original owner to the buyer. However, it gives no assurances about interests on the property, and a buyer that accepts a quitclaim deed must be wary of future legal problems.

Mortgage reports are important documents that provide financial details about a property. They show all the mortgage lenders and borrowers that have interacted with a piece of property. Persons who look through mortgage reports can expect to see how much a person bought a property, the date of sale, the mortgage company that financed the purchase, and any outstanding liens on the property.

Plats are official maps that show a property’s boundaries in relation to other pieces of property. Plats are very important to landowners, realtors, and lawyers, as they give a property’s exact location, size, and direct attachments. For example, a plat can show any extensions to a property, such as a lake or a river. Liens are official documents that show any claims on a property, owing to unpaid child support, civil court judgments, and bankruptcy. When a property has a lien on it, that lien must be paid off for the property to be sold. If the lien is not paid off before the landowner sells the property, the lienholder must first receive payment from the sale proceeds before the landowner can receive the remaining funds.

Where to Search Public Property Records

Property records are in the public domain, which means that government establishments, such as the county recorder, are tasked with maintaining them. Individuals interested in obtaining public property records may visit their local county recorder’s office, the local tax assessor’s office, or the county clerk’s office. In some instances, the county recorder or tax assessor’s offices may make property records available on the internet, and interested persons may find them on the appropriate website.

How to Do a Property Records Search

Individuals can search for property records in person or online. However, anyone interested in conducting a property records search must know:

  • The property’s exact location: In the United States, property documents are under county offices’ control. Thus, an interested researcher must know the specific county where the property is located.
  • The property owner’s details: Most county offices store property records using the owner’s name. Interested requesters must know the property owner’s name to conduct a fruitful search.

Typically, the County Recorder of Deeds holds on to official deeds. However, researchers may find deeds in the county clerk’s office in some instances.

Once the researcher knows which office holds the records, they may visit in person to search property records. Some government offices maintain publicly-accessible computers that researchers can look through. Other offices maintain physical records that researchers must search through to find property records. Researchers may search for property records themselves or pay for a staff member to search. However, they may also have to pay to obtain copies of the records. Property records are usually certified and contain numerous details, including mortgage reports and outstanding liens, legal encumbrances, and a property description, including location and dimensions.

For online searches, interested persons may visit the website of the local county office that stores property records. Typically, the offices allow the public to search for property records, providing homeownership information, market value, and more online.

How to Find the Owner of a Property Using Public Records

Interested persons can find information about the owner of a property provided they have the necessary information to facilitate a search. Relevant information includes the town’s name, the street where the property is located, and the house number. Armed with this information, the individual can go to the county recorder’s office, the tax assessor’s office, or the state department. The county recorder’s office will have information on a property’s owner. Interested persons may also visit the county recorder’s office with this information.

Another way to find the property owner is to look through publicly-accessible computers or title books at the recorder’s office. These resources are handy if the researcher seeks to find out if there are any legal disputes regarding the property’s ownership. It is possible to perform this search online since most county recorder offices have a public property records website.

Besides going to the recorder’s office, interested persons may also visit the tax assessor’s office to search for property ownership records. Because property owners must pay taxes on their property, the tax assessor’s office will have information on all homeowners. Interested persons may visit the tax assessor’s office with accurate information about a property. The tax assessor’s office should provide up-to-date details on the property’s owner - even if the property is exempt from taxation.

The state department is yet another way to find information on property owners, especially information on the owner of a business-related property. Each state’s department of state typically has a website that lists corporations and their addresses. Interested persons may look through those listings for the corporation and the corresponding addresses. Another business name search will reveal the names of the business owner.

What are Property Records Used For?

Property records are documents that give full public awareness regarding who owns what property in a community. Without these official records, numerous property disputes would arise over ownership, easements, and boundary lines. Besides proving ownership, property records have other uses, including:

  • Establishing land value: Property records typically show the most recent selling price of a property. Buyers and sellers can use this information to assess a property’s current market value.
  • Finding hidden information about a property: Individuals looking to buy property need to have as much information before committing their funds. Property records provide detailed information about a property, including its current condition, any land-use restrictions like easements or equitable servitudes, or undisclosed liens.
  • Resolving boundary disputes: When multiple properties share boundaries, disagreements may ensue regarding where one property’s boundaries end and where the other’s begin. With accurate records, the owners can verify each property’s exact boundaries and resolve any disputes.

How to Find Property Tax Records

Interested persons can find tax records for property in person or online. Property tax, or millage rate, is a tax based on the value of a specific property. The local government imposes tax rates in each jurisdiction in the United States, including counties and municipalities.

To find property tax records in person, individuals must collect all relevant information on a property, such as the address and owner’s name, and take it to the county tax assessor’s office. Requesters may have to fill a form or write out a written request. The staff will give the researcher a copy of the tax records, which might be in a ledger or on microfiche. The researcher can review the records to learn about the property’s ownership history and the taxes assessed and paid for over a period.

To search for property tax records online, the researcher must visit the county tax assessor’s website. If the assessor has an online database, the researcher can input the property address or the owner’s name in the search bar. Once the database returns the appropriate results, the researcher can look through the results for property taxes assessed and paid over a period.

What to Do When You Can’t Find Property Records

There are different types of property records. Suppose a researcher cannot find a specific property record, such as a deed. In that case, they may examine other property documents such as plats or mortgage reports to resolve any confusion about the property owner. Alternatively, a researcher may engage the services of a real estate lawyer to look through court records for information regarding the property.