How to use a government online portal to review your property records4 min read
A: Good question. So much of our financial lives is available online. You can look up your bank accounts (or download your bank’s app), trade stocks or get your credit history and score. But managing your personal financial hygiene isn’t always straightforward, and being able to access details of your financial life is different from understanding what it all means.
For example, you can access your credit history from a variety of places: AnnualCreditReport.com or directly from each of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), or even through a company such as Credit Karma.
Deciphering that information can be challenging, however. Simply seeing a piece of negative information, such as a bill that you paid late, is different from understanding what that says about your creditworthiness to current and prospective creditors via your credit score.
In short, it’s relatively easy to check your credit and difficult to understand how your credit history might affect your financial life.
Checking the status of your title — and understanding what you’re looking at — is even more difficult. Online property record websites are difficult to discern at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to look over documents and make sure your title is in good shape.
While you still can go down to the courthouse or local government office to get title information, online property record websites usually show almost all the information a real estate professional needs to know about the title to a home from the time the website charts the property records for the home until present day.
We hope you’re lucky enough to live in an area where the local office that handles the filing and recording of real estate documents has a free online portal where you can view the documents that affect the title to your home.
If you do, and you have access to the online website, you probably will need your property identification number or other identification number that the municipality uses for your property to look up your property’s records. You enter that number into the site, and the site should pop up a list of documents that affect that property number.
The list should include deeds conveying ownership from a seller to a buyer, government ordinances that may be specific to your home, recorded mortgages, recorded releases of mortgages, other liens and other releases of liens, recorded utility easements, recorded covenants, recorded plats of subdivision and so on.
You should look at the list from today’s date and go backward in time. Some property records have hundreds of items listed, including any liens that were filed and released (liens by contractors or the IRS, for example). You’ll also see the deed from your sellers, and from their sellers, all the way back to the first recorded deed (depending on where you live and how complete the online property records are).
You’re looking for any document that was recorded recently, or since you purchased the home. Sometimes, when you’ve lived in one place for many years, you’ll see a notification for every mortgage you ever took out on the home. But you should also see the release for every mortgage you paid off over the years.
For each mortgage you took out and paid off, you should see a recorded mortgage and a corresponding release of the mortgage.
So, the key is then to see if there is anything else listed on the title record since you purchased the home. If there isn’t anything, you’re set. But if you see something that shows you selling the home when you have not or a mortgage or lien that you can’t identify, that may be a problem. We caution you that lenders sometimes assign their mortgage interest to other lenders, so that isn’t necessarily a problem for you.
We’re glad you asked this question, because, given what goes on in the world of identity theft and digital personal financial fraud these days, it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye on what you own and the accounts you have from time to time.
If your local recorder of deeds office doesn’t have property records online and you still want to view the documents, call the office that handles the record-keeping of local real estate filings to find out if you need to make an appointment or can just walk in. You should also ask what requirements they have for viewing documents (you may need to bring in proof of ownership, such as a tax bill, and valid identification).