You are out driving and you see this gorgeous house, but it is not for sale… yet! So, you may ask yourself, how do I find out who owns a property?
Whether it is to find the owner so you can make an offer to purchase, or if there is a problem with the property and you need to approach them, or maybe you just want to know more of the history and the previous owners, there are ways to find this information out.
Here are 5 ways to get started and find out who owns that property!
Write a note – You can do this two ways. You can simply knock on the door if it looks like someone is home and tell them you are not a Real Estate agent, and you are not a salesman, only someone who loved the property and was interested in purchasing. Tell them how great it looks and then leave them your contact information and let them think about it. Remember, you have just taken them by surprise so give them your phone numbers and let them digest this information.
Or write a note stating your intentions, and that you are not in sales, you are personally interested in this property and place this note in their mailbox. We sold a house about 20 years ago to someone who simply wanted to live across the street from the grandparents! They approached us while we were sitting on the front porch, told us their intentions and why, and then wrote down a figure and then left us to think about it!
Approach the Neighbors – This is another good place to start. If the house or property you are interested in doesn’t appear to be inhabited, then you can start by asking the neighbor if they have any information on it.
If the house is in disrepair, they may be quite willing to give you some information in the hopes that someone will buy it and fix it.
If it is vacant land, then ask the closest neighbor. You may be surprised to find out it belongs to them, and if not they may direct you to which neighbor does own it. Many farmers will buy up different acreages to use, so it may be a farm around the corner actually owns it, so be very polite and not pushy and simply ask around.
You can learn a lot from the neighborhood, especially long time residents. On a personal note, this is how we found out about a farm we were interested in. It turns out the farm was part of an estate of an elderly man and the kids were all fighting over who had to deal with it. So, through a neighbor we were able to find out that the deceased owner’s children lived in another city and didn’t even realize the farm was in disrepair.
The neighbor knew the name of the elderly man’s lawyer and we started there to find out more information.
We approached the neighbor while he was out doing his gardening and we struck up a conversation which then led to this information. Once he realized that we were not simply stalking the neighborhood in our car he was friendlier!
Local Town Hall – If there is no one living on the property, and there doesn’t seem to be any neighbors close by, or you simply can’t find out anything about it through the neighborhood, or they were just not approachable (remember not everyone likes to strike up conversations with total strangers!) then the next step would be your local city hall or town hall.
It is best to be armed with as much information as possible. Take down the house number or emergency rural number, and the street name or closest crossroads of main roads, and if you can, take a picture.
Find out the closest town and find the city or town hall. You will have to do this on a week day. If you go inside in person and armed with your information the town clerk will be able to look up the property on their map, and either find out through the tax rolls or the address who own this property. They may ask you why you want to know so be ready with your request.
If it is a small town, sometimes just showing the picture you have taken will find out answers. One house we were interested in (we always seem to find these derelict houses that are not for sale!) was in disrepair and we took the information to the local town hall and they knew the house as they had been sending notices to clean up the property to the owner in another city.
He was simply an investor hanging on to this place in the hopes it would be worth something, but never bothered to come out and look at it. So, we didn’t get very far with this one but at least we were able to find out who owned the property and with a little sleuthing got his phone number.
Online – Most city and town halls now have a website and you can find out more information about a property on there. In the USA you can get onto a site called NETR.com that lists all the city and town halls and tax rolls. In Ontario, you can simply go to the city hall website and find out more, or at least be able to call someone who can show you how to find out who owns a property.
Library – If you want to find out previous owners, you can head to the library and check the census for that area. These are a wealth of information, and will tell you who lived in that house and when, even renters will be listed.
If you purchased an older house, you will have access to the previous owners through the town hall but if you want to know who has lived there then heading to the library will get you the census documents for the last 100 years or so. This can be very interesting.
Hopefully the above tips send you in the right direction and you can then find out who owns a property yourself.