Suppose you come across a house or land that interests you but don’t see a for sale sign. You might wonder how to find out who owns a property. Since property ownership records are public, you can access the property data quickly, especially if you have the property’s address. But not all cases are easy; sometimes, it takes some work.
Whether you’re considering the home for your primary residence or to purchase as a real estate investor, knowing how to do a property owner search can be useful.
Reasons To Find Out Who Owns a Property
There are several reasons to find owner information. For example, you walk through a neighborhood you’ve never seen and instantly fall in love with a piece of residential property. Its exterior speaks to you, and you know deep down it’s the perfect investment, but there isn’t a for sale sign in front of it. You have money ready to make an offer and want to know if the property owner would sell for the right price.
You may also want to locate the property owner if you find an abandoned property you know you could fix and flip for a profit. Maybe there is a plot of vacant land you would like to purchase to build a house. The property records could help you determine your next step.
Of course, there’s never a guarantee that when you find out who owns a property, they will want to sell it, but it may be worth the effort.
Ways To Find Out Who Owns a Property
If you find a property you want to purchase, you have multiple options, from having a simple conversation to looking up property details via the land registry.
Here is how to find who owns a property.
Check the local assessor’s office
Most property owners pay property tax to the county. The county tax assessor determines the property’s assessed value and collects the property tax payments. The assessor keeps a record of the property owner of a home, property values, and property tax records, so starting with the assessor’s office at city hall may help you learn who owns a property and the amount of taxes paid.
You may access the property assessment online on the county tax assessor’s website or in person at city hall. You may find a property tax bill or other property data tools to help you search these property and land records. Many of the tax assessor’s office records are free, but if you go there in person, they may charge a small fee to access the documents.
Remember, when you find owner information, the contact details may not be available, so you still have some work ahead. However, having the name of the owner of a property offers more opportunities to find contact information on social media or even the Yellow Pages after using the county assessor.
Check with the county clerk or recorder
The county clerk’s office may also have a record of the property owners. It is an excellent place to check if the local tax assessor doesn’t have a record of the property. This may happen if the property owners don’t pay property taxes or the land isn’t registered.
The county recorder’s office records property deeds when ownership data changes. Checking with the county clerk’s office or county recorder provides relevant information, such as property owners’ names, addresses, contact information, and a chain of property ownership, which may be necessary for you to find out who owns a property.
Use a title company
A title company can perform real estate title searches for a fee. A title search is another way to determine property ownership information, including the chain of ownership and any lien information. For example, when you purchase a previously owned property, the mortgage company hires a title company to perform title searches to ensure the home has no liens. Even if you aren’t buying the house, you can pay a title search company to find current or previous owners.
Title companies charge $75 to $200 for a title search, depending on the job’s complexity. You can contact a local title company or ask your most recent mortgage lender which title search company to use for your title search.
A simple online search may be all you need to determine who owns a property. White Pages.com is a free online service that provides property ownership information using a reverse address search. It’s best not to rely on sites like this for accuracy, but it can be a good start.
Ask a real estate agent
Real estate agents can access more information than the general public. First, they can access the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which lists any active home listings. They may also have more access to title searches or other vital data that you can’t get in public records.
Many real estate agents will offer this service for free to develop relationships within the community.
Use mailing list brokers
Mailing list brokers are an online service that gathers public records in bulk for companies but may also serve individuals. The downside is the price is usually pretty steep for mailing list brokers because they work in bulk and put a lot of work into their research.
Check your local library
The local library is a logical place to check for property records since they are public information, and the library staff excels at research. In addition, you can ask the library staff for reference resources, as they may have many property data tools at their disposal. They may also be able to assist you in digging deeper than searching for a basic public record.
Knock on the door or leave a note
Your solution may be to talk to find a property owner. If you’re willing to start a conversation with property owners out of the blue, consider walking through the area and knocking on the door. If the property is vacant, consider talking to neighbors about the property’s owner. Neighbors may have more property information beyond the owner’s name, helping you determine if it’s worth considering.
After all, while the property may be just what you’re looking for, if traffic is bad or there are neighbor complaints about crime or unruly citizens, you may want to search in a different direction.
No one home? Leave a note with your name, phone number, email, and reason for contacting. Who knows, they may just contact you!
Contact a real estate attorney
If you know a real estate attorney or are okay with contacting one, they may provide direction. Attorneys may not have access to more in-depth information than you, but they often have the right contacts to get you the required information.
Tips for Approaching the Homeowner
After learning the best methods of finding out who owns a property, it’s essential to understand the best way to approach the legal owner of a property. It may not be the best strategy to approach the current owner and say, “Hey, I want to buy your house.” Instead, you should be as prepared as possible with the following:
- Earnest money deposit: Make sure to have earnest money saved to show the property owner you are serious about buying the property. The larger the deposit, the more serious you look. Remember, though, only put money down if you can follow through on the contract.
- Get pre-approved: An official pre-approval letter shows the property owner that you are a serious and capable buyer. Knowing you’ve already gone through underwriting, can afford the payments and interest rate, and are ready to purchase a house can help your case.
- Work with a real estate attorney: It’s best to have a real estate attorney available to help you with the contract details and to ensure the purchase is legal.
Final Thoughts: How To Find Out Who Owns a Property
When looking for property information, you have many options. Exhaust your free options first, as you may find the property record you need online or through a professional, such as a real estate agent offering a free property search. Paid options exist, too, but only use those options if you’ve exhausted all others.
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.