Finding the home you'd like to purchase is only half the battle when it's unlisted and you don't know who owns it. Nearby residents may not be willing to give you information about their neighbors, and real estate agents -- who can find owner information -- may not want to work for free. Track down a homeowner's name on your own by searching public records or hiring a third party to research the property title. You can do this in person, over the phone or online.
Local Tax Assessor Website
If the property is inconvenient or expensive to travel to, start your search online with the tax assessor in the county or city where the property is located. Many assessor offices maintain websites with searchable databases of public property information, such as ownership. You need the full address of the property you are searching. If the tax assessor does not allow public searches online, visit the office in person to view the records.
Local Recorder of Deeds
The Recorder of Deeds -- sometimes called the Register of Deeds -- is the government office that files and records deeds, transfers and other legal documents pertinent to real property in its jurisdiction. These records are less likely to be online than those of the tax assessor. However, the Recorder of Deeds has the most up-to-date and accurate records of property. An appointment is often required, and recorders typically charge a nominal cost for copies of the records.
Private Online Property Record Search
If neither the local tax assessor office nor the Recorder of Deeds offers a searchable online database and you can't visit in person, perform an online property record search through a real estate website such as PropertyShark. These sites gather data from public sources such as tax assessor offices and Recorders of Deeds and indicate the last posted update. You can search properties by address, owner or parcel ID.
You can also hire a title company to perform a title search on a piece of property. This has the added benefit of identifying other non-owner interests in the property, such as mortgages and liens. All title companies offer title searches, but they cost several hundred dollars because they include insurance and usually a followup update. Many also offer letter reports, which are less expensive but still comprehensive; however, letter reports don't offer insurance or a guarantee of completeness.