How to Look for Public Mortgage Records

Knowing how large a mortgage an owner took out on a home can give you a tactical advantage during the bidding process. Unfortunately, a real estate listing rarely will tell you that. Multiple listing services, such as Zillow, Trulia and Redfin, pull some information from public property records, but normally don't show existing mortgage details. If you want more information, obtain a copy of the mortgage record from the county office where the property is located.

Public Records

After a home sale, the security instrument -- either a mortgage or a deed of trust -- is filed and maintained by the county recorder, register or clerk. Along with identifying the borrower, the lender and the original loan amount, public property records detail property ownership history, maps of the property, a record of sales listings and historical tax assessment information. Records also notes the assessed property value, the property square footage and the number of rooms the dwelling provides.

Request the Documents

Since mortgage records are public documents, you're free to inspect the records or request a copy. To obtain the mortgage record, contact the county recorder office with the full street address of the property. You can look at public records in person at a district office during normal business hours. You also can order copies by mail by phone. Some counties maintain an online index of property records and allow you to place orders through the county website.

Although the information you get through county public records is thorough, it may not always be up to date. RealEstateABC estimates that public records are always outdated by at least 6 to 8 weeks.

Pay the Fees

It's free to inspect mortgage records but you'll be charged to obtain a copy. Fees for copies of property records vary by county, but expect to pay between $5 and $15 for a full set. For example, Placer County, California charges $2 for the first page of non-certified copies and $1 for each additional page. Los Angeles County offers certified copies for $6 for the first page and $3 for extra pages.