Sometimes the things we most want to buy don't seem to be for sale. This can be especially true for real estate, whether it's your dream house, a piece of land you would like to build on, or a rundown home you'd like to fix and use as a rental, none of which may be listed for sale. However, just because a property isn't listed for sale doesn't mean the owner isn't willing to sell it. But first you need to locate the owner, which begins with a search of property ownership records.
Start With Public Records
Records related to the buying, selling, transfer and taxation of real property are public information, much of which is filed in a public record's office in your local municipality. That means, with a little searching, you can usually uncover the owner of an unlisted piece of property.
Search Tax Records
The largest obstacle in searching property ownership records is that the filing of those records can vary greatly among jurisdictions. The first agency to check is the county tax assessor. The tax assessor has records of where and to whom property tax bills are sent. In many cases, but not all, the recipient of the tax bill is the owner.
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Visit the Recorder's Office
If you need to take the search further, the county registrar, also know as register or recorder of deeds, may have information that relates to the sale or transfer of the property. In some municipalities, both tax and deed records may be available online, in others you may have to search records within the agency's office. The available records are free for viewing, but there may be a charge for printing copies or more in-depth searching by a clerk, which may require additional wait time. Crosschecking tax records and deeds, when possible, is the most reliable way of finding the owner of a property. Also, call your local courthouse or city hall to find the locations of such offices before making the trip.
If you're looking for records on an out-of-state property -- or you'd rather do a preliminary search without assistance from a county office worker -- there are a number of websites that provide access to ownership records. PropertyShark, for example, has state-by-state listings and offers users a few cursory searches at no charge. For multiple or more detailed searches, though, you'll need to pay a fee. Several online search companies provide similar services, including Melissa Data, First American Data Tree and Publicrecords.onlinesearches.com. However, as the information on these sites is pulled from public records, it may not be as up to date as the physical records themselves.