Property deeds and property tax records are public documents. This means that anyone can find all sorts of juicy information about property titles and liens – if you know where to look. Unlike some other areas, Cook County makes it easy for you to do your own sleuthing. Both the county recorder and the tax assessor's office keep all their records online, so you can search the database from the comfort of your home.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Type the street address into the Cook County Assessor's website to find the property's unique Property Index Number. You can then use the PIN to search the county's register of deeds.
How to Find a Cook County Legal Description and PIN
While it's a good idea to know the address of the property you're searching, the property records will identify properties in the county by their legal description. In a city, the legal description is usually just the subdivision, block and lot; for rural properties, a more common legal description is a measurement in metes and bounds. The only place to find this information is on the property deed. This is helpful if you own the property, not so helpful if you don't. Another useful identifier is the Property Index Number or PIN. A PIN is a 10-digit number (14 digits for condominiums) that the tax assessor uses to identify each tax parcel in Cook County. You can search for a PIN using an address at the Cook County Assessor's website. From the home screen, click "Don't know your pin?," then click on the property address search tab and follow the instructions on screen.
Cook County Recorder of Deeds Search
The Cook County Recorder of Deeds maintains a database of property records online. Click the "search public records" link to discover the name of the owner, names of previous owners, legal description, mortgages, liens filed against the property, date the current owner bought the property and more. The default setting is to search using the property's PIN. Alternatively, click the "search criteria" tab in the top left corner and search the database using the name of the owner or previous owner, legal description or a date range when you think the deed was recorded.
Downloading and Paying for Documents
Once in the register, you'll see an entire listing of recorded Cook County deeds for the property. Select the ones you want and click "Add to Document Container" to download and print those documents. In 2018, the price is $2.50 per download, or you can order a standard copy by mail for $10.00 for the first two pages plus $1.00 each additional page and a $2.25 postage fee. If you need a certified copy of a document, the price is $20.00 for the first two pages plus $2.00 for each additional page. A certified copy has a certification attached that the document is a true copy of the original. It's as good as the original document if you've lost or misplaced the original deed.
Cook County Tax Assessor Search
The Cook County Tax Assessor keeps a database of properties in the county in which you can find the property's tax status. Search by PIN or property address. The search will yield a page with information such as a photograph of the property, square footage, land value, the amount of property taxes and whether the taxes are paid. You can also find out if the homeowner has ever appealed the tax assessed value of the property and the outcome of that appeal.
Why Search the Property Records?
Researching a property is very useful if you're planning to buy it. You can find out how long the seller has owned the home, whether it's in foreclosure, whether property taxes are delinquent and other facts that might influence your decision to buy. One word of caution if researching online: the system is not that intuitive and little things may fall through the cracks. Plat maps, easement maps, condominium declarations and such may not be listed online. A safer option is to visit the office of the Cook County recorder, head for the vaults and start researching against the property's legal description. Each document you find will reference other documents, deeds, plats and maps. You can follow the web to build a more comprehensive picture.
- real estate contract image by Keith Frith from Fotolia.com