You’re walking around your neighborhood, and that house you’ve long admired seems empty. Or you’re on a road trip, and a home you drive past catches your eye. Of course, not every house you might want to own is on the market. So, what to do? Knowing how to find who owns a property can help determine your options.
Where to start your property ownership search
A property ownership search is the process of determining who is the legal owner of a property or piece of land. Fortunately for prospective homeowners, there are many ways to go about your search.
Houses generate paper trails (and, typically nowadays, electronic ones too). That means the public record is usually a great place to start. In most cases, towns, cities and counties will keep detailed records about property ownership.
When trying to find a property owner, your local tax assessor’s office is often a good port of call. Most homeowners pay property taxes and tax assessor’s offices typically provide free, detailed information on who pays property taxes in their area. You might not even need to pay a visit or pick up the phone, as the assessor’s office may have this information available online.
If you can’t get the information you need from the assessor’s office, the county clerk is another point of contact. Clerks are the keepers of the public record, and this typically includes information about property deeds. Consult your state’s website for the location of your county clerk.
Your local library could be another helpful resource in your property ownership search. Even when the public record for your area is not freely available online, you may be able to access the databases you need at a library near you.
How else to see who owns a house
Accessing public records is a good line of inquiry. However, getting your hands on these records can sometimes prove a challenge. Perhaps your local clerk’s office is on the other side of the county, or you're carrying out your inquiries from another state. In such cases, the curious home researcher needs options.
You may want to consider enlisting the support of a title company. Title companies typically enter the frame when you’re closing on a home loan. They investigate the property’s history, including its current ownership and any the property may have on it. Even if you’re not applying for a home loan at this stage, some companies will still perform a title search for a fee.
Another potential way to find out the owner of a property is to ask a real estate agent, perhaps one you already know. Real estate agents typically have access to a range of property databases, including multiple listing services. These are private services used by real estate professionals to help buy and sell houses.
Do you have a family member or friend who works in real estate? It could be worth asking if they might be willing to lend a hand. Real estate attorneys are another possible source of information.
If all else fails, you might consider a more personal touch. One of the most straightforward ways of finding the owner of a property is to leave a letter at their door.
Finally, there are various online services that may help with your property ownership search, often for a fee. Note, however, that the information on commercial websites isn’t guaranteed to be accurate, so it may be best to try official sources first.
Contacting the owner of the property
If you succeed in tracking down the owner, it helps to be prepared. What are you hoping to learn from the conversation? Are you ultimately asking whether the owner might consider selling their house? Or are you seeking more general information about the property at this stage?
Try to make your questions clear but non-intrusive. Even if the owner declines to answer, it’s important not to come off as rude. This is especially true if you hope to eventually persuade the owner of a property to sell. Even if your dream home isn’t available for sale right now, the owner might consider selling it in the future, in which case your detective work may just give you a head start in the home buying journey.
A property ownership search needn’t be a chore. Much of the information you need is publicly available, if you know where to look. Finding out the owner of a property might just bring you one step closer to making your plans for home ownership real.