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Finding Out Who Owns a Property You Want to Purchase

By Bill Gassett | November 4, 2021

Tips For Finding Who Owns a Specific Property

Are you in the process of looking for a home in a tight real estate market? You are not alone, as the inventory of homes around the country has been low for quite a while.

When you're in the process of purchasing a new house, you might encounter some properties that you like that are not listed for sale. What do you do in a circumstance such as this?

Those buyers who are actively looking for off-market properties will need to find out who owns the house so they can inquire whether there is any interest in selling. Knowing how to find the property owner can be challenging when you've never done it before.

Maximum Real Estate Exposure has some excellent tips for finding the owner of a house worth checking out. We will also be providing some essential advice here as well.

Let's take a look at what you need to know.

Find Who Owns a Home
How to find out who owns a particular home.

Due Diligence and Safety Are Vital

Finding who the owner of a house is and clarifying whether this property is clear of all financial burdens are an important part of the due diligence process before the actual purchase of the property.

Even if it is about a vacant property or a house whose owner lost ownership, these situations need clarification; otherwise, the sale cannot occur. So, finding the owner is one thing but making sure the title is clear and there are no other issues is another.

You need to ensure what you're going to buy will cause major headaches moving forward.

For example, you'll need to do a title search to ensure a clean title and a home inspection to verify there are no significant issues.

How Easy Is to Find the Owner

The ownership over property is legally public information, so everybody has rightful access to it. All this information is stored in public records, and you are entitled to search for it and find it for free.

Luckily, these days, almost all the proprietary data can be researched online. You also have the option to search the ownership data directly at the registry of deeds.

If you don’t know where to start yet, here are some of the main sources that can help you with this research.

The County Assessor

You can access these records either directly, at the local office, or some counties offer you the possibility to search online. You can search by typing the name of the county you are interested in, followed by the word “assessor.”

The paper records system and the search system vary from one county to the other, so you will not enter one common database with similar options.

Some counties have organized their data to allow you to search the ownership by typing the address. However, this is not always the case. It is safer to find out first the AIN of a specific property, meaning the assessor identification number, and search for its respective owner.

The AIN number can be easily researched on the internet, but usually on a different web page.

Since the county assessor’s online database is not synchronized, it sometimes can become confusing. Some counties provide online help for search, but others don’t do it.

In this situation, it is better to try finding the property owner from other sources.

 The County Recorder

Recorder offices in every county should keep the data about each property. Legally each owner must register their title at the local recorder office when it purchases a new property. So these offices can give you all the information you need.

However, the recorders register all data about everybody living in the area, including birth dates, deaths, marriage licenses, etc. Thus, they are abundant in information and records, so it can be complicated and take a lot of time to get the information you need.

In this case, there are fees that you have to pay for each search, and if you want a printed document, they charge extra.

The County Tax Collector

Another method of finding property owners is heading to the local tax collector's office.

Usually, owners or their families and representatives pay the property taxes every year. You can go to the tax authorities to ask for data about the owner of a house or find out if the taxes are up to date.

You can search the owner of a location online or by going directly to their offices. In both cases, you must know the AIN, the APN, the assessor’s property number, the STRABL (section, township, range, area, block, lot), the STRAP (section, township, range, area, parcel number).

The Real Estate Agent

Real Estate agents are another excellent source of finding out the owner of a house. Real Estate agents have a database they can look at to look up ownership of specific properties easily.

Local real estate agents also may have other pertinent information on a house, including its history. Some agents may even know the owners on a personal level.

Never discount an agent's ability to help you find information on a home you would like to purchase.

The Neighbors Can Help

This is the handiest source. Before asking anybody or going to the authorities, you can simply ask the neighbors if they know anything about the respective property. They might not know the direct details, but they can further guide you towards somebody that knows.

This is just like a private investigation that unexpectedly might reveal a whole lot of information about the property, the owners, the history of old times, every story surrounding the family and the house.

Sometimes you may even discover there are rumblings about the home being haunted.

Do You Need to Hire the Specialists for a Deep Investigation?

Keep in mind that not all properties have a clear history. The ownership might be confusing, or it can be the result of unofficial transactions, or mixed ownership, unclarified inheritance, corporate ownership, or it may be connected to unpaid due debts, taxes, liens.

In situations like these where many people are involved, searching for the owner by yourself is tricky.

In this case, you can hire a title company to do deep searches. Their fees are around $200.

If this is not enough to reveal the details about the real estate owner, you can go to the next level of investigation and hire a private investigator to search. In this case, you better make sure that the property is worth it because their fees are high, and it will keep adding as the investigation goes on.

If you don’t want to go directly to the public records, you can use information broker websites like those mentioned in Maximum Real Estate Exposure's resource found at the top of this article. They provide complete information at a national level about all types of properties.

Final Thoughts

Researching the owner of a property can be challenging at times. In other cases, you'll find what you need immediately. Once you find the owner doing proper due diligence will be critical. Never underestimate this phase when buying a home.

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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