How to Find out Information About Your Home
As you weigh a decision to purchase a home, you learn plenty about it: How many bedrooms, how many baths, how many square feet, if it’s one story or two, if there’s en en-suite master bathroom, if the kitchen has been updated—the list goes on and on.
But these basic stats don’t tell the full story, particularly if you’re considering a historic home that’s had multiple owners over the decades or potentially even centuries.
Whether you’d like to do some more digging about a potential home—maybe you’re wondering how old the house is or when it was built—or you’ve already moved in and are interested in learning more about your home’s history, here are a few practical tools and tips to get you started.
Talk to Your Realtor
Whether you’re in the process of purchasing a home or have already moved in, your Realtor should be able to help you find out more information about a property and/or facilitate connections with professionals, such as a title company (see below), who can help instead.
Do a Title Search
Buyers regularly opt for title searches these days to ensure that the person selling the home is indeed the owner. But a more in-depth title search, which sifts through tax records, can reveal more about the property, such as who’s owned it from the very beginning.
The easiest route is to hire someone to do a title search—as mentioned, your Realtor can likely suggest a professional, reputable title company. However, it’ll cost you: A professional title search typically costs about $75 to $100, according to Financial Web.
If you prefer to save money, you could conduct your own title search for free by visiting the courthouse in your county or city. Some local governments may have these tools online, but if they don’t, you’ll have to go to the courthouse in person.
Go to the Library
Like the courthouse, your local library may contain a wealth of information to help you find out more about your house. Many libraries include historic photograph collections that could reveal vintage photos of your home and/or neighborhood. Get a library card and chat with a librarian to see if they offer appointments and assistance sifting through archives.
Research Census Records and Other Public Records
Can you tell you’ll be spending a lot of time at your local courthouse and library? These places also offer access to public records like census records, which will tell you the head of household and occupants at your property going more than 100 years back, if applicable (the U.S. Census Bureau conducted its first census in 1902).
Other public records you may want to search include property deeds, any lawsuits involving the house, and even juicy personal history of past occupants, such as if a previous owner got a divorce or filed for bankruptcy—both are a matter of public record!
Seek Out a Local Historical Society or Historic Preservation Foundation
Many communities have active historical societies or preservation foundations who might be able to tell you more about a property.
In my own town, for example, my local preservation foundation provides a complete, expert historic review of a home, including original blueprints, the original owner, the original architect, and the date of construction.
This option, at least where I live, is fairly pricey at $300, but it also includes a commemorative plaque to honor the history of a property and let others know you live somewhere pretty special. In addition to price, time is another consideration: professional research from a small historical or preservation society may take a few months to complete.
Consider Online Services
Depending on the information you’re looking for, premium online services may be able to help. For instance, there are many services to help you find out if someone died in your house if you’ve got about 12 bucks to spare. There are also online services that can conduct title searches, property record searches, and other services; fees vary.
Review an Interactive, Historical Map
The website What Was There is a free tool that pairs present-day Google Maps with photos of the past to get a sense of what your town or city may have looked like in years past, whether recent or many decades back.
When I used this tool for my own property, I didn’t get any hits. But, I could zoom out and look at places in my neighborhood and other nearby neighborhoods to see what they looked like in the early 1900s. Basically, it saved me time at the library and offered some cool insights as to what my town looked like way back when. The website also includes a built-in zoom tool—almost like a magnifying glass—for viewing each image in tremendous detail.
Do it the Old Fashioned Way
Bring a flashlight and take a look through the attic: You never know what types of things previous owners left behind and what it might reveal about the home or who lived there. This option is a little frightening, in my humble opinion, but it’s certainly among the easiest and most economical.
Or, you can just ask your neighbors. We live an increasing portion of our lives online, but what about seeking out some in-real-life conversations? Neighbors, particularly those who have lived in the area for many years, could be a great resource for finding out about what paint color your house used to be 20 years ago or what the previous owners were like.
This route could also nurture a potential friendship. I’ve learned through my own experience as a homeowner that getting to know your neighbors is a total boon—they’ll keep an eye on the house for you when you’re out of town, or come through in a pinch when you need a cup of sugar.