After months of searching and driving countless roads in the city and countryside, you found the house of your dreams. Together with your real estate agent, you begin to draw up the paperwork, and everyone is looking forward to celebrating the day you close on your new home. Buying a home is a considerable commitment, after all, you’re probably planning to live there for years to come, but how much do you know about the home? Before you sign on the dotted line, it’s probably not a bad idea to find out a bit of the history of your soon-to-be new home. You might want to know exactly how old the home is, who were the previous owners, were there any events you need to know about that took place in the home or on the property, and even if there are any liens on the home and land you are purchasing. No one wants to get tied up in court after buying their home because of unfinished legal business.Read on to discover how you can find out anything you want to know about the history of your future home, if there are problems that might arise, and what you can do about them if they do.
Where to Start Digging for Important Details
Google Street View
Google isn’t just for looking up word definitions or finding the rating on a favorite restaurant. Google Street View can show you a timeline of pictures that date back to 2007. You only have to enter the home’s address, click on street view and then the timeline. It’s not ancient history, but it will give you an idea of how the home may or may not have changed over the past decade if there are pictures available.
Look at Past Photos
Take a trip to the past with WhatWasThere. This website allows you to take a street tour to see what it used to look like. This online service combines historical photos to present images on Google Maps. If you’re near a location where a historic photo was taken, you can enlarge the photo and use your camera with the one screen fader to switch between past and present. There is also an info screen that will give more details about the photograph.You can install the iPhone app to make your phone become a portable portal into the past. Use the iPhone’s camera to experience the history that surrounds you. The iPhone app is free and has enhancement updates coming soon.
Ask the Neighbors
A wealth of information could come from neighbors that live around the property you are looking at. Neighbors that have lived in the area or right next door for years may know more than you can find elsewhere. This is a quick way to get started on finding out about the history of your home.
Did Someone Die in the Home?
DiedInHouse is a web-based service where you can search and find out if someone passed away in the home you are about to purchase. Information is gathered from any valid address, and a report is generated on whether someone has ever passed away in the home. Sometimes realtors are required by law to reveal this information to potential clients, but not many states require it. If it’s something you want to know, you’ll need to ask to be sure.For a fee, DiedInHouse will generate a report that tells you if a death has occurred in the home and when it happened. As a bonus, you can also find out if there was any meth activity or fire incidents in the home.
Finding The Listing (Even If It Wasn’t Listed Before)
Real Estate Agents and Brokers
Often brokers and realtors will have a seller’s list, and some of these sellers may be interested in selling if they see market conditions are favorable. Also, hungry agents may cold call homeowners in the area and entice them to sell. Celebrities sometimes want to keep their identities secret when selling and have their homes in an off-market listing. Pocket listings are off-market listings that never make it to a Multiple Listing System (MLS). The real estate agent will show these to buyers through the seller or their private network.Selling a home this way benefits the seller because usually, the buyer will purchase the home in its current condition without any landscaping or things such as a roof repair. Skipping the monotonous showing of the home and open houses will stop an unwanted parade of those interested in looking but not necessarily buying.A benefit to the buyer of a home off-market is there is much less competition. Fewer people aware of the home up for sale will give the buyer an edge and a likelihood of the offer on the home being accepted.
Off-market property deals can sometimes be found through contractors because they usually work with property owners. The physical building is only one aspect for some contractors as some possess some skills to gather data. If an owner is getting ready to sell, they may tell the contractor about what is being fixed on the home. If you happen to know the contractor, they may share what they have found out with you.
Property Management Companies
A property management company is owned by a real estate investor, and they take care of houses and multifamily properties. Sometimes these real estate investors are willing to sell a home. The property management company already knows the condition of the property, the financial performance of the home, and the tenant, so you will know if the property is a good match for what you need.
Real Estate Wholesalers
Real estate wholesalers spend the entirety of their day finding undervalued properties, estimating repairs, putting the home under contract, and assigning that contract to a real estate investor. A significant advantage to buying a wholesale property is even after money has been spent on repairing and updating a house, it should still be below fair market value.
Fascinating Ways to Find Out About the History of the Home
Research the Home’s Title
If you want to dig deeper into the history of your home, a title search should tell you quite a bit about remodeling and the home’s age. If permits were never filed for remodel projects, this information might not be as accurate as you want. The title may show the materials used in the construction or remodel of the home and if the roof has a short lifespan because of asphalt shingles.
Local Studies Library or Archive
Try taking a trip to your local studies library, sometimes a part of your local, more extensive library or museum. They usually have collections of prints, maps, and old photographs that homeowners have donated over the years. It’s possible the employees there might be able to point you to the newspaper cuttings or land records related to the street your home is on.
Identify the Era
With the help of an architecture book, most homeowners can figure out the core style by looking at a home’s silhouette and how it’s laid out. Checking the windows, doors, and other features will also give clues as to what era the home was built. A home with a Mansford roof could be from the late 19th-century, where a hip roof might indicate a Queen Anne home built a decade later.Keep in mind that visible features reveal a lot. There may be more there than meets the eye. Some contractors have found old walls, stair steps, or some other relic while renovating a home. If you aren’t into dismantling the home, look through the neighborhood to see what other similar homes are there.
Look at the Hardware
Looking at hinges and bolts may not tell the complete story since they were available from Europe while early local hardware was relatively crude. However, if a hinge design matches the date of the door, and the hinge doesn’t appear to have ever been changed, it may confirm the estimate. If the hardware was mass-produced from the Victorian era, old catalogs might be a great resource. When you consider all the clues, finding a possible construction date of a house falls into a ten or 20-year window, and that’s about as good as most people can do.
Property records are public information and can reveal a lot of what you are looking for. You can find the tax history, sales history, how many previous owners there were, and changes to the square footage of the home. You should check to see if the city has a public records directory portal. This will allow you to do your search for free.Many counties offer a Geographic Information System (GIS) on their local government website. This will have an interactive map where you can view the property and see the parcel details. You will be able to learn more about:
- Mailing address
- Year built
- Owner’s name
- Architectural style
- Property class
- Basement type
It’s possible you may find a sketch vector of the home. You can find out what parts of the home might be original and what parts are add-ons. You may also be able to find out whether the home has an enclosed, raised porch or a wood deck. There are also paid services that will allow you to conduct reverse address lookup and discover more about past and current owners, plus the sales history and home value.
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places will show you if your potential home is a historic home. This is a program of the National Park Service where historically significant homes are recorded. Here you will find a research page for searching properties. Also available is a downloadable spreadsheet that has the most current and complete set of information they have on all properties. You can use the GIS map there as well.A state may list a property on the state register but not send it to the National Register of Historic Places. Your home may still be considered worthy of preservation, so you may have to look in two places if you want to be sure if your home is considered historic.
The Bureau of Land Management General Land Office
The Bureau of Land Management General Land Office (BLM GLO) provides online access to federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States. These are states that were created out of the public domains. On the BLM GLO website, you will find images of more than five million Federal land title records issued since 1820. There are also images related to field notes and survey plats as far back as 1810.The GLO Records include Master Title Plats (MTP), which is a mapping of current land status for any specified township. Other plats can be included in this group, such as oil and gas, and the leasable mineral plats add a graphic depiction of the current mineral lease status to the basic MTP depiction of land status.
With census records, you can confirm information you’ve already collected. You can probably learn new information, and census records will provide a genealogy-rich collection of information for any former residents that lived in the home. Here you can find out the names of the residents, their marital status, where they were born, and when they were born. Bear in mind, older census records may show less detail than what you are expecting. Anything before 1890, and you are out of luck. The Commerce Department Building was destroyed, along with all census info, during a fire in January 1921.
Online Real Estate Search
One quick way to find out about your potential new home is to use resources like Zillow or Redfin. You can do a property search on these real estate search sites and find basic information about the home you intend to purchase. You will, however, have to sign up for an account on the site to be able to search addresses, so if you are willing to share your email address, this is a great place to start.
How Do I Find the History of My House for Free?
Newspapers can be a great free resource for finding information about developed areas. Chronicling America is a collection of digital newspapers mainly from the 1860s through the early 1900s. You can use the advanced search feature to zero in on a certain paper, time period, place, or other criteria. The US Newspaper Directory can help you find print copies or microfilm of other newspapers not yet online.
How Do I Find Previous Owners of My House?
A trip to your county courthouse is all you need to find the information you’re looking for. Property records are kept from the time the land was first surveyed and a history of homeowners. With the new Google Earth 5, you can turn back the clock and see imagery from around the world. By clicking on the clock icon in the upper-middle or the “View->Historical Imagery,” you can use the time slider and see what imagery is available.
How Can I Find Old Pictures of My Street?
Start by looking to Facebook and/or Google for relevant local history groups in your area. Some are very active and helpful with sharing memories, photos, and ideas on doing further research if you need more. However ordinary your street is, you might find it pictured on an old postcard, the Victorian and Edwardian text message of their day, can be found in the county office where the property is located.
How Do I Find Historical Pictures of My House?
If you know the former owner of your home, this is the best place for finding pictures. If the owners have lived there for many years, chances are they are going to have very early pictures of the home. The home may have been a family home that dates back 50, 100, or even more years with pictures passed down through the family. If this isn’t possible, neighbors may have pictures of your home or know others who may have pictures.The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is where America’s built environment is stored, comprising surveys of more than 581,000 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 43,000 historic structures and sites from the Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century.
Let Us Do The Research For You
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