Want to be more active in real estate processes but unsure of how much work it takes?
You’re not alone. Even something as simple as figuring out who owns a property can seem like a daunting process. Maybe you want to put an offer on your dream home when it’s not listed or need to get the owners to clean up their much-neglected property. Whatever the case, it’s not always as easy as knocking on someone’s door.
So how to find out who owns a property, and why does that matter?
Why should I care who owns a property?
Finding out who owns a property is crucial whether you’re an investor or someone who wants to purchase a home as their primary residence. You need to know who owns a property so you know you are contacting the right person.
Wendy Mays, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Chula Vista, California said that a purchase isn’t valid if all legal owners aren’t part of the sale. Plus, you want to feel confident you understand the history of the property before you make an offer.
“Sellers are required to make certain disclosures and if you’re not working with the appropriate party, then you might not know the whole truth,” she said. “The owner can also give you a better idea about the neighborhood and share information you may not be able to find out online.”
Dustin Heiner, a long-time real estate investor and founder of MasterPassiveIncome.com, agreed and added that this is crucial if a property is unlisted.
“If you want to invest in a property that’s not on the MLS [multiple listing service] you can’t exactly go to a realtor to dig up details,” he said. “You need to know the owner if you’re going to contact them about an offer or arrange a purchase agreement.”
Heiner noted you need to be vigilant when conducting transactions without the help of a title company. You want to make sure you’re purchasing from the actual owner.
“A title company will catch the fraud in action,” he said. “If you are buying a property on your own, possibly paying cash, or doing seller financing, then you must make sure that you are buying the property from the actual owner or else you’re going to be out a lot of money.”
Aside from the reasons mentioned above, it could be that there’s an eyesore in your neighborhood you want to have fixed up or so you can alert the local government. There’s also nothing wrong with being curious and trying to find out who your new neighbors are.
How to find out who owns a property
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to find out who owns a house. While many are free, some of these services come with a fee, as noted.
Here are some sources on how to look up who owns a property:
A realtor. If you have access to a realtor (or make friends with one), he or she can typically find this information within minutes. Realtors will have access to title companies who have details like the names of property owners all in one place.
County tax assessor. This is one of the best free ways to find out the actual owner of a property. Your local tax assessor may have online resources that shows the owner’s information such as the guarantee on the deed, plus other information such as tax liens and property appraisals. If you’re unsure where to look, visit NETR Online to check your local assessor’s website. Once you’re there, enter details such as your street name and number to find out.
Registry of Deeds. The registry stores official and legal documents related to real estate based on state. Think of them as the office of public records for the county or state. Depending on location, you can either find them online or at your local courthouse. While searching for information is free, you might need to pay a small fee to get copies of the information you need—it’s typically a few dollars. Find out the exact price by contacting your local courthouse.
Property search websites. For a fee, these websites can help you find property information and can be faster and more convenient than the above mentioned options. Some websites can even offer data such as verified records, flood or appraisal reports. Property search sites may provide these details, plus the property owner’s contact information.
So I know who owns this property—now what?
Assuming you’re interested in inquiring about purchasing a property, there are a few different ways to move forward with the information you have. However, it might not be a good idea to call them out of the blue or knock on their door without some sort of signal, or else you could find that the owner won’t be responsive.
If you’re not sure how to proceed with negotiations, you may seek the help of a realtor to help you. The owner might take you more seriously if they’re being contacted by a real estate professional instead of some random person off the street.
That’s not to say you can’t reach out on your own, however.
“You can send a handwritten letter expressing your interest in buying the property,” said Heiner. “You can talk about the personal reasons you want to buy it and include contact information so the owner comes to you.”
If you’re contacting multiple properties at once, it could pay to use mailing services to send postcards. Heiner suggests coming up with catchy phrases to attract the owner’s attention. Another option is to look someone up on social media and send them a direct message, though this could be seen as an aggressive tactic.
It pays to be curious
Finding out who owns a property doesn’t have to take an inordinate amount of time—but it requires you to use tools that are effective. These include going to your local county records or tax assessor office, all the way to paid sites.
When you finally establish contact with the seller, it’s up to you to decide how to negotiate and close the deal.
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