The Home Buyer’s Edge - Public Property Data

If you have used any popular home search tool to browse for homes, you have likely noticed the property’s sale history section. At a surface level, this section simply details the date(s) the property has changed hands and for what price. While these two data points are valuable by themselves, when combined with additional public data a buyer has the potential to unlock even more meaningful insights, uncover red flags and enjoy the confidence of a more informed buying decision! In fact, there are many helpful ways to use the publicly available property data to your advantage as a buyer - especially when combining multiple data points to arrive at some helpful conclusions when looking into a home.

The Data Advantage - Using Property Records

The sale history that is exposed on most home search websites is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a property’s publicly available records. In fact, it’s quite surprising how much information is recorded when a property is sold or undergoes a major change such as a renovation, addition or upgrade. In almost all cases (when done correctly), a large amount of information is required to be recorded with the county or city - which is where savvy buyers can find their potential advantages or even use it to help choose a neighborhood.

As mentioned earlier, the sale data is important but doesn’t come close to telling the full story. Taking the sales history data one step further and, for example, by looking at who has bought and subsequently sold the property over time - and perhaps going even one step further to the permit or building history - you can start to uncover some incredibly valuable insights that may inform (or transform) your buying decision. It can also give you hints as to where to focus your diligence efforts, which can be the difference between a sound purchase and a dud! 

To demonstrate the power of combining only a few data points, consider the table below which contains the sale and permit information for a single property:

Based on the above property data, we know: 

  • The property has been sold twice in the last year or so.
  • The sale in June of 2019 was likely a fix and flip project, judging by the buyer type (“Company”) and quick listing 8 months later (with a big markup!)
  • There is a decent permit history, although many of the recorded and finaled permits are from 20+ years ago.

What does this mean for a buyer?

  • Quality of construction, warranty documentation and inspection diligence should be emphasized. Due to the lack of permit history from the current (fix and flip) owner, it’s unclear what is justifying the 38% price increase over 8 months. In cases like this don’t be afraid to ask for receipts, invoices or other documentation from the seller during your diligence period if you find it is missing from the public records.
  • The lack of finaled permits during the fix and flip period is a major red flag. This may mean that the construction completed is sub-par or not up to code. Similar to above, all work should be clearly documented and any changes or upgrades to the home should be available on the public record with the county or city.
  • The roof, plumbing and electrical permits from 1999 (although correctly recorded) are 20+ years old! If those systems have not been replaced since then, expect to replace them very soon as they tend to not last much longer than 20 or 25 years and can be very expensive.

How to apply this strategy to your next home purchase?

Generally speaking, there are reasonable conclusions that can be drawn when taking a closer look at a property’s public record. The trick is knowing where to look and how to piece together the information, so as to give yourself an advantage as a buyer. 

At ZeroDown, we are on a mission to arm home buyers with all the information they’ll need to find their dream home and to buy it with certainty. We are a group of real estate experts and technology gurus who have developed many tools, like Sherlock Homes, our data driven home diligence companion to help buyers navigate the buying process and effortlessly complete the public record analysis like the one in the example above (and others) - for free!

With Sherlock you can instantly gain access to 4,000+ data points, including:

  • Sale history
  • Permit records and analysis
  • Demographic information
  • Comparables
  • School ratings
  • Much more!

Download Sherlock for free here!

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