There are a few reasons you might want to learn the history of your rental property. Some are practical: having a property in a historic district or historic designation can increase property value. And if your home is a historic property, you may be eligible for incentives like the historic rehabilitation tax credit (HTC).
Finally, you could discover something cool about your property, which could intrigue potential buyers or at least make for good conversation. Here are your options for digging into your possible abode’s history.
How to Find the History of an Investment Property
Start your search using property research services like US Reality Records. US Reality Records looks through more sources than websites like Zillow or Trulia, making US Reality Records much more useful. A basic search is $1.25, but it’s worth it because it saves you a lot of time.
All you do is enter your address, and the service looks through databases to find state, county, municipal, and assessor records. It will only have information specific to historical significance if your property is already designated as historical, but it’s a great place to start.
Also, check the Public Records Online Directory to discover all the different online public records run by your county.
You can also conduct a formal title search, which will give you every legal property owner from the initial record until the present. If the property is already yours, you should have a record of the original title search that was conducted before the closing. If you have title insurance, the title company will be accountable for any discrepancies in the title history, so the research results you have should have been conducted rigorously. Otherwise, property ownership information for your investment property may be found online or at your appraiser’s office.
The title should let you know if your hardwood floor is original, and might even say what the siding and roof were made out of. One thing to watch out for, though, is that some remodel projects could have been performed without the proper permit being submitted, so the title might not be 100% accurate.
How to Find the History of an Investment Property’s Occupants
You may need a copy of your physical deed to demonstrate your property’s unique history or to register it with a historical society. You’re better off getting this information in person because online records, particularly for older transactions, can be incomplete. This will get you information on the owner or owners of the property, but not on any other occupants.
Check Census Records
Since knowing who else lived in your property can be important for establishing historical significance, you’ll want to continue your search. Checking the census can give you useful information about other occupants.
- When they lived there.
- Their age
- Immigration status
- Marriage status
- And more
Census records can be found online or at your local library. Librarians are likely to know how to conduct these types of searches, so they should be able to help you find what you’re looking for. There is a limit, however, to how much the census can tell you because data from the mid-1900s onward aren’t accessible due to privacy concerns. So, you can only get information as far back as the oldest living inhabitant but no further.
Local Libraries, Historical Societies, and Histories
Once you have the owners’ names and the names of other occupants, you can start to dig into their history and looking for deceased occupants. You can talk to previous owners, people in your neighborhood, or social media groups (Facebook, Reddit, etc). Of course, checking with a local historical society or local historian should be among your first steps. Central libraries, like a county library, often have special collections all about your town or county, so be sure to look there as well. Newspaper archives can be fruitful too.
Local history books may also be another fruitful option. Companies like Arcadis Publishing, for example, runs The History Press, which produces local and regional history books.
Finally, make sure to give your home a thorough inspection. You never know what might be hidden in an attic or basement, tucked away out of sight or even inside a wall. You could even get a metal detector to look for a time capsule on your property!
How to Find the Historical Significance of Past Occupants of an Investment Property
First, check the National Register of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. If your property is there, then most if not all of the work will already be done! Sometimes states, cities, towns, etc., will keep their own historic records too.
You may be able to get federal land records from the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records:
- Land Patents: The original transfer of title from the federal government to an individual.
- Plat Maps: The drawings of the boundaries and acreage.
- Field Notes: The verbal accounting from the initial land survey.
Usually, these initial transfers were of large bundles of land that were only later dissected into smaller properties. So, you’ll only be able to see the original large bundles. Sometimes, older or metropolitan areas will have historical maps, although you’re less likely to find such a map for a rural or smaller area. When looking at these older documents, remember that street names, house numbers, and more may change over time. The parcel number, though, will be the same as it was in the initial records.
You should also see if you can get land entry records, which document how the land was transferred from the government to its owner. You won’t be able to view land entry records online, but you can be provided with their contents if they exist.
- Land use issues
- Place of birth
- Military service
- Economic status
Don’t forget to check building permits because they will have a lot of information.
- Original owner
- Date of construction
- Potentially, architectural drawings
If you can track down the insurance records for a property, you can find even more information.
- The property’s use
- Potentially, the floor plan
Fire insurance is a good place to start because, in the past, there weren’t always public fire departments, which meant many people had to pay for a private fire department policy.
How to Find Miscellaneous Information About Your Property
If you want to see old photos of your property, WhatWasThere.com may be of service. The website overlays historic photographs over Google maps.
If you’re willing to pay, you can find out if anyone ever died of natural or unnatural causes using DiedInHouse.com.
Bottom Line on Finding the History of a Rental Property
It can take quite the investigation to get to the bottom of your investment property’s history. But it can pay off by providing you with a new avenue to advertise your property, affording you the attention of history buffs, or by giving some financial funding to keep your asset in tip-top or even historically accurate shape.