There are many reasons you might want to do some research into the loan documents and other public records for a certain property.
- You’re thinking of buying a house and want to know how much the seller owes when crafting your offer.
- You’re looking at a home for rent and want to know if the landlord is at risk of foreclosure.
- You’re considering buying a bank-owned home and are curious how much the bank was owed when they took possession.
What follows below is a simple step-by-step guide to help you do this kind of research on your own.
First, you’ll need to find out the legal owner of the property in question. The best way to do this is to head over to your county’s parcel viewer website. I have conveniently linked the parcel viewers for King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston, Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties on the Real Estate Resources page. Simply enter the house number and street number of the property and you’ll be able to get the county’s property report.
On the property report page you’ll see either “taxpayer name” or a record of the most recent sale which will tell you the name of the current owner, usually in the form of last name first. This page will also usually tell you how much the property was most recently sold for, although with all the equity extraction that has gone on in the last five years, that number is not as useful as it might seem.
Armed with the legal owner’s name, you’ll now need to head over to the county records search website, which is also conveniently linked for you on the Real Estate Resources page.
To search for loan documents, put in the owner’s name, a date range beginning with the most recent sale of the property and ending on today’s date, and search for document type “Deed of Trust.” The deeds of trust will state which property they are for (pay attention to this, because the owner may have more than one property) and the loan amount. For King County, you won’t be able to view Deeds of Trust online, but will instead need to write down the document number and go to the records office to request them in person.
If the home is bank-owned or already in foreclosure, you can search for the document type “Notice of Trustee Sale” or just “Trustee Sale,” which will show you how much was owed on the property at the time of the notice. These are viewable online for King.
By doing a little bit of digging through the county records, you should be able to paint an accurate picture of the property owner’s loan picture. The only trouble you might run into is if a property was purchased prior to the late ’70s (as far back as most online county records go). In that case if you really want to find out the loan information you’ll probably have to go to the county records office and shuffle through papers. Of course, the main reason for doing a search like this is to find out if the property owner in question treated their home like an ATM, and if there aren’t any records since the ’70s, you’ve got your answer anyway.