How do I find out who owns a home and get notification if they sell?

When I was younger, my grandparents owned a cabin up north. I have so many wonderful memories of the place and would really love to own it someday. Unfortunately, it was sold when they died and did not stay in the family. My dad was in the area about 2 years ago and says that it’s still there and looks kept up, so someone is living there, at least part-time. My mother claims that she doesn’t remember the address, but I’m pretty sure I can dig it up. If I can, how do I find out who currently owns it?

Is there a way for me to be be notified when and if the current owners sell it? I thought about writing them a letter asking to be told if they sell, but I’m not sure that’s the best idea. (What if they sell in 10 years and forget all about my letter, and do I really want to tip my hand that I have emotional investment?)

I’m not in a position to buy currently, because my husband and I don’t even own a primary residence yet. Buying a vacation home is out of the question at the moment, but it’s one of my fondest dreams to own that cabin.

If you know what county the cabin it is, the county courthouse or public records office should have a record of the last sale. You may have to go there yourself and look it up, or pay them a fee to look it up for you.

But if it’s a real small-town area, the county clerk might just know off the top of her head. I’ve gotten a lot of good research done in that way. :slight_smile:

You don’t say what state or even what country “up north” is, but if it is Wisconsin, USA, property ownership records are kept by the county, and it may be online. If you are lucky enough to be referring to Door County, records are available here:

in text form
in graphic form

I don’t have any links handy to other states, counties or countries.

As far as automatic notification, our county does not have such a service available; others might. You could contact either a title company, a realtor or a local attorney.

My advice would be to cultivate a friendship with the current owners of the property; keep contact with them (Christmas cards, etc.) and let them know that you might be interested in purchasing it if it ever became available. Also, find out who their children are and keep contact with them as well – what I have often seen happen is the owners die suddenly and the children have no knowledge of this kind of agreement.

The current owners might be interested in the history you could tell them, so that’s a possible approach.

If appropriate, you could offer to buy an option which could be written so that, for a specified length of time, no one else can purchase the property but you. If they are close to selling already, this might work.

Good luck!

Well, most of the counties around where I live offer online access to their GIS (Geographic Information System). This makes it easy to search on an address, click on the map, see the owner, assessed value of the house and property and a potential variety of other info.

Why don’t you google [your county] GIS and see what they have online. It’s really easy.

What I would do is find out how properties are generally advertised for sale in that area. Are they put in the MLS? Are they advertised in the local paper? etc.

Then check those advertisements on a regular basis, which can probably be done online.

That’s one way I can think of to find out if the house is for sale without tipping your hand.

Another way is to find a local real estate broker and indicate that you are generally interested in purchasing a cabin in that town and to let you know if any should come on the market. The problem is that there is a good chance the broker will flake on you.

Another idea is to have a friend (who is not obviously associated with you) write the owner a letter and say they really like the house, and would the owner be interested in selling? There is always the chance that the owner is sick of the place and is reasonable enough not to ask for a ridiculous price.

You mention that you’re not in a position to purchase anything right now, but this may be helpful when you are. In the town I live in now, one of the realtors is very willing to approach pretty much any home owner on behalf of someone interested in their house. Of course, this is a small town, and they have the time/interest in doing so. My understanding is that he usually tries to find out what price would interest them to move, versus approaching them with a number from the other party, but I would think it would work either way.

IAARealtor, just to put my bias and knowledge up front.

Our agent MLS software (Navica) has a provision that will email anyone we designate when a listing appears that fits predefined criteria, which can be as general as you like or as restrictive as a single address. Your agent could probably set you up so you get this email within one hour of the listing entered into the system. I know I would be glad to do this for a potential customer.

This is not a sure thing, however. It excludes FSBOs and quasi-FSBOs like the various web sites that list properties for a flat fee but don’t provide brokerage services. And it is entirely possible that a private transaction can occur that doesn’t use an agent and never appears, before or after the sale, in the MLS.

I don’t see a serious downside to trying to contact the property owner on a casual, friendly basis. I don’t see that as “tipping your hand,” but protecting yourself against the unknown. Buyers and sellers need not be adversaries. If I had property that I might want to sell in the near or distant future, it would be a comforting thought to have a list of potential buyers in advance. It might avoid the need for agents and paying commissions, for one.

With respect to what Lambo is saying, see if your state allows an agent to act as a buyer’s agent. If so, he/she can approach a potential seller on your behalf and still represent your interests instead of the seller’s.

I second the advice to go to the county courthouse. Check the tax rolls (huge old tomes). If that county has put their info into electronic format it may make finding the current information easier, but the cool thing about looking through the books is tracing the history of a property back through the years. Since you have a personal connection to this place, you might have fun looking at the ownership or value assessment changes it’s undergone over time.

Many of the systems will allow you to do the same online. My wife has tracked our property back to the “original owner” (though there could be some odd grants prior to that).

Granted, there is no musty smell of paper, but if you’re distant from the property’s location, it’s a good method. You can search by your grandparent’s name, and find the lot number/map reference. From there, you can find the current owners. (OP said they weren’t sure of the address)

Thank you so much for the wonderful advice! I’m going to make some time this weekend to sit down and look for GIS and property ownership information online. If I can’t find anything there, I’ll have to put on my Nancy Drew hat and take a trip to the courthouse.

I think I will write to the current owners, as well. Keeping up a correspondence instead of just one letter is a great idea. And maybe I’ll hedge my bets and contact a real estate agent in that area as well.

I’m in Detroit, the cabin is in Rose City, Michigan. I forget that everybody doesn’t use the phrase “up north” the same way!

Ogemaw County GIS. If you have any questions about navigating it, send me an e (it’s in my profile). I run a county parcel query website.