As a potential homebuyer, you want to gather as much information as possible about a property before extending an offer and negotiating a price. Knowledge is truly power, enabling you to make a wise decision.

Online ResourcesThe website of your favorite real estate agent may be an excellent place to start when vetting properties. But there are many other online sources of information that can guide your search for the right property at the right price. Using these tools, you may be able to discover the following about specific houses:

  • Property Tax Value
  • Sales Histories (dates and dollar amounts of sales)
  • Owner Names
  • Amounts Borrowed by Owners to Purchase Properties
  • Quality of Neighborhood Schools
  • Recent Sales of Nearby Properties

Consider these excellent online sources of information on houses in your area:

County Public Records for Assessed Values, Sale Dates, and More

To delve into the details of homes in your area, search public records in your county’s website. Typically, there are two main sections to explore: 1) Tax Administration; and 2) Register of Deeds.

Property TaxesFind detailed information on properties by following links and launching tools from the main tax section. Start by looking at property tax bills, which indicate assessed values. Explore deeper using online mapping tools and other resources that yield owner names, mailing addresses (which may differ from property addresses for rental properties), latest property transfer or sale dates, sales prices, community information, and property details such as the house’s square footage and its surrounding acreage.

Legal documents regarding property liens and mortgage loan amounts are often available through the Register of Deeds webpages. Such information may be useful in identifying properties to pursue and negotiating with homeowners.

Home-Buying and Related Websites

To get an understanding of market direction, gather and review information on recent home sales. You may be able to tap your county’s public records for this data. Many counties provide easy-to-use search engines to identify recent property sales and sales prices by neighborhood; others offer complex mapping systems that require significant technical acumen to operate.

Real Estate WebsiteSo, you may consider turning to sales-oriented websites that aggregate property listings plus provide data on recent sales. For example, Realtor.com offers a database of listings that include homes for sale, homes in foreclosure, and recently sold homes. This site also contains a mapping capability that allows you to see home-buying and selling activity by neighborhood.

Homes.com also contains information on recently sold homes, accessible from its “home values” tab. Use the mapping tool to pinpoint neighborhoods and then view estimated home values and the prices of homes that have sold recently.

Government and Private Websites on School Quality

There are a variety of sources, both governmental and privately run, which offer insights into school systems and individual schools. This information may be useful in pinpointing neighborhoods with high-quality schools for your family’s needs and identifying areas that have broader market appeal because of educational opportunities.

SchoolsVisit your state’s Department of Public Instruction or State Board of Education website to gather details on school districts and individual schools. In my state, for example, I can visit www.ncpublicschools.org; click on the NC Schools Report Card page; and find information on a school’s end-of-course test scores, teacher quality, and more.

Privately run sites collect and aggregate useful information. For example, SchoolDigger.com has a searchable database of schools ranked by factors such as end-of-grade test scores. Greatschools.org provides information on test scores as well as community reviews, which provide insights into the school’s personality as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

In my home-buying experience, real estate agents and home sellers may not give you all you need to make an informed decision. Tap these online resources to fill in information gaps and act quickly when you are ready to make an offer.

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