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How Can I Find Out Who Owns Property for Free?

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Quick Answer

An individual can find out who owns a property for free by searching government records, which are generally available physically and electronically at the county clerk's office.

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How Can I Find Out Who Owns Property for Free?
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Full Answer

Property records are one of many types of historical records that the government keeps on file. Government records are created at the federal, state and county levels. They serve as a way to document events, people and places. Property records fall under the category of land records, which also includes deeds and mortgages.

Finding Property Records at the County Clerk's Office

People have several options for obtaining records at all levels. A good place to start is at the county or local level, where people can often access historical records physically in the county clerk's building. In addition to keeping property owner information, county records databases will have other historically important records on file, such as taxes, marriages, bonds, wills, estates and more. The benefit of visiting the county clerk's office is that any original documents will likely be stored in the building. Although individuals cannot remove the original documents, they can make copies of them.

Many county clerks also have an online system where people can search for records, either in the building or at their own homes. The advantage of searching online is that individuals can find out if the document they need is at the county clerk's office before going in. If it's not, they can find out what other agencies might have the document, such as a state office. Individuals can also make a request to the county office in writing to ask for a copy of the document, but they should note that offices may charge a fee for that service.

Searching State and Federal Agencies for Government Records

Some state agencies also keep track of property ownership and other historically significant events in the state. Individuals can often access records at the state level through an online portal. Since there are many state agencies that keep records on file, however, people should do some research beforehand to find out what agency has the information they are looking for. They can also find the names and contact information of the officials who are in charge of that information to determine where to direct their requests. The process for obtaining government records is similar at the federal level. Before requesting records from a state or federal agency, people should do a web search to find out if the information they're looking for is already available. Sometimes others will have requested the same data in the past and posted it online.

When planning a request for government records, especially at the state and federal levels, people should think about how much information they want, and when they need it. Presenting an agency official with the precise information needed makes it easier for him or her to retrieve the correct data. It can take some time for the document request process to completed. Government agencies usually have a period of 10-20 days after receiving a request to gather the information. However, many take a much longer time to return the information to the requester. In some cases, it can take weeks or months for the process to be completed. If the information requested is time-sensitive, people should give a date for when they need the information.

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