How to Conduct a House History Search
Every house has a story. Some stretch back a few years. Others stretch back centuries. In either case, a house history search is an opportunity to learn valuable information about your house and its place in the community. If you’ve never conducted one before, here’s where to start.
Your Real Estate Agent
As the first person to talk to when conducting a house history search, your real estate agent can help you uncover a lot of interesting facts about your new house. The Multiple Listing Service, for instance, is reserved almost exclusively for realtors and contains hundreds of pieces of information about homes on the market, including renovations, construction materials, and previous sales prices.
Though it won’t divulge private data about previous owners, it’ll tell you a lot about how your home was built. However, because it's a digital database, most records only extend back to the 1990s. If you want to go further, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.
Local governments keep records on all the properties under their jurisdiction: deeds, titles, permits, etc. These allow you to track your home's value and ownership, as well as the improvements or additions made to it. In some cases, you can even trace it back to its original owners hundreds of years ago. Encumbrances, lawsuits, liens, and boundary disputes are also a matter of public record, giving you an even deeper look into the history of your home.
Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for administering all federal lands in the United States. They contain over 5 million title records dating as far back as 1788, including:
- Land Patents. A land patent is used whenever someone purchases government land. Finding the original patent will tell you when your property was first transferred into private hands, either through direct sale, the Homestead Act, or military warrant.
- Survey Plat. Often created when land is being divided up into parcels, a survey plat is a detailed map that lays out a property's boundaries, landmarks, fence lines, corner monuments, and notable features.
- Field Notes. Along with the plat, surveyors also include descriptions of how the plat was created, their initial observations, and the sketches they made while working on it.
Originally created for people interested in contacting local residents (e.g. salesmen), city directories provide a complete list of people, businesses, and institutions in the local area. City directories have been used for centuries and provide an incredible snapshot of your neighborhood. They show not only the physical layout of the community, but can tell you a lot about the people who lived there, even what they did for a living. The Library of Congress has the largest collection of city directories in the country, but you can also find them online and through your local public library.
While old city maps provide a valuable overview, Sanborn Maps dig into the details. Created by insurance companies to help assess liabilities in urban areas, Sanborn Maps include an outline of each building, the location of its doors and windows, nearby streets, railroads, water pipes, gas mains, property lines, and surrounding natural features (e.g. rivers). Examining Sanborn Maps will tell you what materials were used in the flooring, roofing, and framing of your home and how they may have changed during subsequent renovations.
If you live in an old house, going back through previous census data is a great way to learn more about the people who lived in it. However, because the Census Bureau keeps its records confidential for 72 years, you won’t be able to access any information about your home’s most recent owners.
Neighborhood historical societies contain a lot of interesting details about their communities and the people who lived in them. They may even have old photos and maps of your home. If your local historical society isn’t active any more, contact the Library of Congress. They have over 100,000 local histories and over 50,000 genealogies for you to browse through.
Created by real estate agent Rob Condrey after he helped a client determine whether the house he was buying was haunted. Rob designed DiedInHouse.com in order to help buyers conduct a house history search and uncover pertinent details left out of the seller’s report. For a small fee, DiedInHouse.com will tell you about any deaths, crimes, and fires that occurred in your home, as well as your home’s sales history and tax value.
Moving into Your New Home
With modern technology, you can conduct a house history search from anywhere in America. So whether you’re moving across the state or across the country, you can learn on the ground information about your new house before ever setting foot in it. Allied operates in the same way. Our agents provide on-the-ground support to people moving long distances, ensuring the entire experience is smooth and stress free as possible. Contact us today for a free quote!