Determining the owner of a piece of property can be an important process for those who work in fields such as real estate, government, business, and law. Both the internet and old fashioned methods like going to a government office do provide some efficient ways to find out more about a piece of property and its owner. Individuals or businesses who need this information can find what they need if they are diligent and willing to use a number of different methods, even if they come across some dead ends or gaps in the available information from one source.
Here is a guide that functions as an overview of just a few of the best ways to find a property owner. For many standard real estate transactions, you will probably end up finding out who owns the property by dealing with the agent or business who represents them. However, there are many situations that require other means and a person needs to dig deeper and exhaust several methods of searching before they will find any useful information.
Because of the convenience of being able to search from anywhere, many inquiries about property owners will begin with the internet. While the term online searches can seem vague, this can consist of real estate websites that list all property for sale and prior transactions, search engines that can find a lot of info just by typing in the address, contact information for local real estate professionals such as agents and brokers, or government records that are tied to the property which may come up in various forms.
Sites such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing have pretty much mapped out the entire world along with the online presence of every individual, business, and government agency. If the property in question is owned by a business, simply typing in the address of their office or other physical workplace should bring up a website with contact information as well as other methods of finding the owner. Tools like Google Maps can also provide information by just clicking on the relevant location. Search engines can be a good starting point because they can save the cost and hassle of some of the more in-depth means of searching for a property owner if their name or corporation has some kind of searchable web presence.
Property Tax Records
A lot of governmental bodies such as states, counties, and townships will have online databases that keep property tax records. Information such as the property address, lot numbers, and former owners can be used to find out the tax history of a piece of land. Many times this may also include that name of the person who has most recently paid the property taxes. It is likely that the most recent person to pay the taxes is still the owner unless there has been a recent foreclosure or eviction. Some locations with more advanced websites can conveniently display this information in a map or other easy to navigate program. If anyone currently owns the property, you can be sure the government is trying to collect property taxes from them.
There are a number of companies such as Lexis Nexis and WestLaw that maintain large databases of information that are commonly used by law enforcement, lawyers, private investigators, and other professionals who need access to very specific types of information. For someone who needs to regularly determine who owns a piece of property, these databases can be worth the investment. Most charge a monthly fee or have some kind of other paid membership options, but they are essential to any business that needs to constantly access ownership records and related pieces of information. There can be a bit of a learning curve for those who have never used similar databases, but they are not too hard to figure out and there is plenty of help available on their sites.
Old Fashioned Methods
When staying in front of the computer and using the internet fails, there are physical tools and records available with roots that go back centuries to find out more about properties. Keep in mind that maintaining records about property ownership is one of the original functions of government, and some of these operations have consistently been keeping property records for several generations.
Local Property Clerk Offices
Each local government subdivision will likely have either a city hall, county clerk, or other administrative body that is responsible for recording all property deeds and transactions that trace changes in ownership. When a piece of real estate goes through the closing process, it is required that the buyer to do their own title search and pay the recording fees to make sure the seller legitimately owns the property and can transfer a clear title to the buyer. This means that this local government office should have property records for everything within the boundaries of the city or county, including the name of the current or most recent owner.
Local and National Archives
Some states, towns, cities, or counties may have separate archives that deal with records for things like taxes, automobile registrations, and real property. These may be located in a physical office, housed in a library branch, or they might have been uploaded to the internet at some point depending on the area where the property sits. These government archives can also be used to obtain information about past property owners depending on how record keeping is divided by their local government. Today, there are state and national archives that can be accessed online, which contain volumes of historical information about properties. These large databases contain information about millions of pieces of land and transactions in print and digital form.
Title Search Companies
These businesses are usually at least somewhat involved in every real estate transaction. They specialize in finding out pieces of information such as if the property was subjected to any liens, repossessions, evictions, or finding records of when ownership has changed hands. Their services are commonly used during real estate closings and property disputes. By paying a title search company, they can usually find the owner along with any other person, bank, or business that has claimed an interest through a mortgage, or other means. At the beginning of your search, you should be able to contact a local title search business and ask if they will have access to any specific information you need to know about the owner before you pay for their services. They are essentially specialists in finding out everything about the history of a piece of property, and they can find out who the owner is in exchange for payment.
This is a bit more specific to older properties or buildings that may have some kind of historical value. If a piece of property has been around for a long time and changed hands many times of the years, a historical society may have information about previous owners as well as whatever family or business currently owns and maintains it. Utilizing the local historical society may turn your ownership search into a larger research project, so this may be most beneficial if you need to know more about the property than just the name of the owner or if all of the more convenient methods have failed. However, if the building has some kind of obvious historical purpose, the society that keeps all of this information may be the best place to start to find the current owner.
Although it may take some time and effort, finding the owner of a property is now more convenient than ever because there is so much information on the internet and sitting in record halls. There are also many different methods are available to gain access to this wealth of information.
Before searching it can be helpful to decide exactly what your purpose is when trying to find an owner. This can help in both avoiding unnecessary time and expense, along with choosing the best option to make sense of where to start and what kind of information to look for.