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Tips For Researching a Home's History

By Bill Gassett | October 12, 2021

Purchasing a new house is a complicated process, which requires time and a lot of care. To make it a safe and carefree process, there are several elements to consider before signing the actual contract.

Although the immediate attention of any buyer goes towards the financial aspects, like loans and credit history, it is instrumental to thoroughly understand how to verify the history of the house you intend to buy. This action is essential for the quality of your future investment and for removing any unpleasant surprises connected to a specific real estate.

Thus this is not at all a superficial step during the process. It indicates your real commitment towards the space that might become your residence.

Real Estate agents refer to this as the due diligence period in real estate. It is something that no home buyer should ever skip out on. Doing so can lead to significant problems that could have been avoided with just a bit of effort.

We offer you here all the valuable data to search your future home’s history in an easy and pleasant process.

What Good Can Come From Knowing The History of a House

Any house has a history, either contemporary or extended over decades or even centuries. You can learn a lot about the former owners, events connected to this property, its architectural style, improvements, additions, etc.

The property history search is not beneficial only to outline its unique charms. However, it can uncover details about its intrinsic value or historical connections that might increase its selling price or render you eligible to receive historic incentives to make preservation works.

You might also discover something about the house that wouldn't be considered a positive. For example, maybe there was a murder committed in the home? Would this cause you to second guess your purchase decision? What if the house was suspected to be haunted? Do you believe that paranormal activity is possible?

In some states, real estate agents are not required to disclose such things. Researching property history can be paramount if they matter to you.

Research history of a house

Where Does The Property History Search Start?

Luckily these days, we live in a world of fast access to the internet. Thus, you could start with a quick look online to see if there is any data about the real estate you are interested in, specifically, or at least about the neighborhood or the district. However, this doesn’t provide many results for the great majority of houses.

The good news is that many other tools prove very useful for any interested buyer.

The US Realty Records

US Realty Records is a service for property history search online. You only enter the respective address, and it will search numerous databases. This service can provide you with information on any previous assessments, state, town, previous sales.

However, it will not reveal any historical information about the house. Not unless is already declared an official landmark monument. This is a good and consistent base to start your search with.

With only $1.25 per search, you are exempted from personally questioning each database, one at a time.

You can also ask your Realtor directly. They can help you with the previous owners' identity and some historical facts if any. They can also notify you about specific possible rules and special laws applicable in that area. These types of regulations are usually connected to the exterior outlook of a home.

The National Registry for Historic Places

This source is handy for older houses. Even if the respective property is not officially registered as a historical landmark; you can still find good information about many older homes at the National Registry for Historic Places, a department managed by the National Park Service.

Here you will find a list with lots of houses that can be labeled as historic due to their old construction date, or to their unique architectural style, or the significant events that took place there.

Old Census Records

When it comes to finding out about previous owners' identities, you can personally research the old census records if the Realtor won’t provide any data. There are big chances to find here the names of successive owners and their families.

You might discover much data about all the family members that once had a residence at your desired location. You will be amazed by just how many details they can provide, like birth dates and origin, immigration details, their professions, marriage status, job status, and many events in their lives.

Remember that not all census along time, especially the older ones, included such a detailed information gathering. Between 1790 and 1840, the information had been recorded only about the head of the family.

Local Libraries, Newspaper Archives, Historical Foundations

If you are lucky enough, you will find in this type of location a great database. Not only written commercial documents, but also a photography archive, maps, old newspaper articles. They can prove to be a delightful source of relevant data and incredible local stories.

Personal Exploration on Location

You might start your quest inside the house or the yard. Of course, this can happen only after you have already purchased the property. Quite often the attics, or the basements of a house host old vestiges of its former inhabitants.

Transform into an explorer and see what traces you find in your new house. After encountering some old objects, or parts of old furniture, belongings, you can continue your explorations online or at the local historians to gather more information about their origins, purpose, etc.

A title search is often a standard step in the home purchase process. This type of search gives you relevant data on the former owner and especially precious details about previous tax records concerning the chosen house.

Land Survey

If you are getting a home loan, the mortgage company will complete a land survey. However, if you are paying cash, it will make sense to research all of the property lines to ensure no encroachments by any of the neighbors.

Land disputes happen pretty frequently in real estate sales. Avoiding them can save some serious money.

Any Books on the Area

You can find good information in the documentary or historical books about the area of your future house. You can also go to the fantasy ones, as long as you double-check everything and separate facts from fiction. Some fictional novels start from actual local points or get inspired by existent elements in the area.

Further Research

Though the above sources are the most common ones, you shouldn’t stop here. Any idea is good, as long as it provides results. You might also try talking to the descendants of the former owners or occupants or searching the traditional community organizations, county archives, local medical files, etc.

If you need to know more about the land itself and the house’s surroundings, you can check with the Bureau of Land Management, where all the federal land records are found. They can provide land patents (the original title from a government towards an individual, the precise boundary maps and measurements, field notes from surveys on the land.

Ask The Real Estate Agent Pointed Questions

When buying a home and doing your due diligence, the first place you should start is with your real estate agent. It would be helpful to put together a checklist of all the questions you would like answered.

Your buyer's agent can also help you fill in the blanks of any research you have done on your own.

What it Takes to Find Out the History of a Property

It’s not so much about money, but about time. If you want to go deep into your new home’s history, you need a lot of time to search in all these places, and sometimes even to travel. However, history and old stories are catchy and sell well. They bring a more intimate connection with a property which often makes the difference between buying the property or not.

Research data from 2019 show that 21% of real estate purchases are determined by the extra charm that history brings about a house. Yet, there is more than the emotional factor. There is also the potential increase of the property’s market value at stake. Even if you invest some time to dig up all that history, it will pay off from a commercial point of view.

Hopefully, you now have a much better grasp of how to research the history of a property.

Bill Gassett is an authority in the real estate industry with 38 years of experience. Bill is well respected for his informative articles for buyers, sellers, and fellow real estate agents to make sound decisions. His work has been featured on RIS Media, the National Association of Realtors, Inman News, Newsbreak, Credit Sesame, Realty Biz News, and his own authoritative resource, Maximum Real Estate Exposure. He has been on of the top RE/MAX agents in New England over the last two decades.
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