Real Estate HowTo: Searching Tax Records

Here is the first part in our HowTo series:

HowTo: Searching Tax Records

The purpose of the HowTo series is to educate home buyers. While I’d love to hang around the blog helping everyone hunt down information, I realize that I can probably help everyone much more by showing you HowTo find the info you need.

The first part in the series is HowTo track down public tax information. The public tax databases contain a wealth of important information that will help you become educated homebuyers. Until recently, searching the tax records involved a trip down to the county records office, and probably the better part of an afternoon. Not anymore, with just a few clicks I’m going to turn you into Sherlock Homes (what a terrible pun).

First, here are the links I use:

Morris County Tax Board

Monmouth County Tax Board

www.taxrecords.com

Bergen County Tax Board (taxrecords.com database)

Why so many links? Open them up, take a look, not every site has the most up-to-date database, and some sites (like Monmouth) allow you to search more than one county.

So lets begin:

1) First we need to find the address of a home we are interested in. For this we’ll go over to ForSaleByOwner.com, you can use the link over to the right of the page if you would like to support the site (I’m still waiting to make my first penny off those by the way).

2) At the top of the page there is a section called “Buying a home”, lets type in Madison for the city, and use NJ for the state, click go.

3) Choose listing #20527608 ($599,000). Not every home has past sales records, if the home was owned for a very long period of time, it’s possible that you will not find past sales records. Also, if the home is new, you may not find sales records. I picked Madison at random and chose this listing at random (but verified that it indeed had sales data).

4) Grab the address, the address is important, it’s the key we’ll be using to search the databases (for those that would rather not go to forsalebyowner.com, the address is “36 Albright”.

5) Click the link for the Monmouth Tax Board, you’ll see a page with a somewhat complicated form, don’t be scared, it’s easy.

6) Select “Morris – 2005″ as your County, Select “Madison Borough” as your District, and Select “Advanced Search” as your Search Format.

7) Scroll down the page until you see the field marked “Street Addr”, type in “36 Albright”, the street suffix is not necessary (and I find it throws off the search on some tools, so don’t bother). Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the “Search” button.

8) You should be rewarded with a single entry returned. Click the “More Information” button on the left side of the record.

9) This is it, you’ve done it. We see the owners, we can verify what they paid for the home and when they purchased it, the assessed value and what the taxes are.

10) Click your back button twice to return back to the search screen. This time, we’ll only use “Albright” as the Street Address. Why? Because we’d like to see the other properties in the neighborhood.

11) Now we’ll go through the Morris County Tax Board site. Why? You might like it better, it might be updated more recently, the Monmouth Site might be down, It doesn’t matter, just go.

12) At the top of the page you should see “SR1A’s”, hover your mouse over the button and you’ll see “Search SR1A’s” pop up, click it.

13) Click “Search SR1A’s By Property Location” under “Select Search Critera”. A box should pop up with a handful of fields.

14) Under District select “Madison”, enter “36″ for House Number and “Albright” for Street Address. You can leave SR1A Year blank. Click “Search”.

15) Bingo, you’ll see a similar record as we did in the first search. You may need to scroll the browser window to the right to reveal the “Detail” button. Click it when you find it. You’ll see much of the same info as you did before. You can go back and click the “Tax” button if you’d like some more information on the property or tax.

16) I’ll let you go through the Bergen and taxrecords.com sites on your own. Most of these follow the same pattern, so once you’ve mastered the search, you’ll be comfortable on most any tax search database.

You’ve now become tax record experts, and are probably wondering why I wanted you all to become tax record experts. It’s simple really, because we need to know what the current owner purchased the home for, and when they purchased it. Home values typically appreciate at about the rate of inflation. So we can use the inflation numbers to calculate the inflation adjusted price of the home in today’s dollars. This will give you a good starting point for which to base your offer. “But wait,” you ask, “what about the asking price?” Asking price? We here at NNJBubble believe no such thing, you can ask what you’d like, it doesn’t mean we’re going to pay it. We only pay what we believe the asset to be worth, no more. We don’t care what the neighbor got for his place, we don’t care how well the market did in the past year, we simply don’t care.

Refuse to buy into the mania and refuse to pay the asking price. If the seller rejects your offer, walk away, do not buy, do not bend, and do not let this process become emotional.

Caveat Emptor,
Grim

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Real Estate HowTo: Searching Tax Records

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey your giving away the tricks of the trade! Actually, I believe everyone should have free access to this info. Kudos! I would have posted it here myself but Ijust found your blog and all the associated bubble blogs. Good job!

  2. gary says:

    Grim,

    I love the way you sum it up in the last few paragraphs. It reminds my of those scenes in the Godfather II where Michael dictates who’s doing the buying and selling and at what price.

    That’s what we need to do, take on a Michael Corleone attitiude with these sellers. We can all “be like Mike.” lol!

    Gary

  3. Anonymous says:

    Grim,

    Stop it. You are starting to worry the manipulative real estate industry.

    They do not want buyers to know this info.

    do not leverage your life away.

    BUYERS STRIKE!

  4. Mike R. says:

    Perhaps I am missing something, but doesn’t your method only apply to homes listed on ForSaleByOwner.com? They have so few listings in NNJ that some towns don’t show up at all…

  5. grim says:

    The only reason I used ‘for sale by owner’ was to get an address of a home for sale.

    How you get whatever address you are interested in, is up to you. Whether you drive by a place, have access to the MLS data, get email updates of new listings, work with an agent, etc.

    For kicks, try and look up your own home, homes of neighbors, the home of your real estate agent, etc.

    And yes, we’re giving away the store here. Very few people know that this data is available.

    There is a concept in economics called “perfect competition”. It describes a hypothetical market where each market participant has equal power within the market. There is one prerequisite to perfect competition that I believe doesn’t exist in the real estate market, that is, the concept of “perfect and complete information”. That is, where all buyers and have sellers to any and all information that drives that market.

    The Real Estate industry has worked hard to keep information private, within their realm, thus depriving consumers of the information they need. This gives the real estate industry and sellers an advantage over buyers.

    I am trying my hardest to eliminate that advantage by providing readers as much information as I can.

    Caveat Emptor!
    grim

  6. Mike R. says:

    Dear James,

    please do not misunderstand, I very much appreciate your wonderful blog. As a matter of fact, it is the first link I open every morning. Thank you.

    Perhaps I should have phrased it as a question: do you know of any “hidden” ways to discover an address of an MLS listing?

  7. grim says:

    Mike,

    This was only the first part in a series! I wasn’t going to give everything away in one shot. I’m planning on addressing your question in an upcoming part. Now, I’m not going to get your hopes up, nothing will beat direct access to the MLS systems, but what I’ll show you is a good substitute if you don’t want to deal with an agent.

    I need you guys to keep coming back, day after day, week after week!

    The only real thing I get out of this blog is the satisfaction of seeing how many people read it every day. Seeing traffic increase day after day is really my biggest motivation; it shows me that the readers are interested. A blog without traffic is a blog that dies a quiet death.

    Thanks again everyone!
    grim

  8. grim says:

    So lets try to put this to some good use now..

    Again, I’ll use FSBO as it’s just a convenient way of finding an address of a for sale property..

    Upper Montclair FSBO

    So we take a look at that listing, it’s on Macopin in Montclair, and they are asking $849,900.

    Use your new found tax records to pull back the sales price and date.. In case you can’t wait.

    The Frasers purchased this home on 7/30/99 for $450,000.

    So what is it worth today? Well, if we just take an off-the-cuff estimate of 5% appreciation a year (far better than historical home appreciation), the (generously) inflation adjusted value of the home today is about $603,000. By my calculation the home is approximately 30% overvalued.

    Long time readers will recall me talking about a magic number, of 30%. Here is yet another example of that number popping up.

    Caveat Emptor,
    Grim

  9. Richie says:

    Mike:

    Very easy; one trick I always use is to look at the assessed value (get the total assessed value by adding land & improvements). The nj.taxrecords.com site allows you to search by total assessed value; you can then narrow your search down and hopefully come across the right entry.

    This trick works for me!

    I personally hate having to call realtors just for an address.

    -Richie

  10. grim says:

    Well Richie let the cat out of the bag, so maybe I’ll post up the next HowTo today!

    grim

  11. Grim- THANK YOU. This is truly valuable information. Unlike other blogs that just provide a forum for people to whine, you are posting information that can really help peoples lives. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

  12. Hiroiz says:

    Grim,

    I have been tracking your site for a month now. I really appreciate what you are doing and hope it will make some difference in this insane market. I am in the market now for a single family but am not considering Bergen county due to its prices and layout. Coming to the point, how I find historic prices by just going to 1 site and punching in the address is by going to http://www.domania.com

    There you can get data for any house on any street in this country. Moreover there is an option to select all houses sold in neighbourhood which not only includes houses sold on same street but all the cross streets which I believe is not as easy to do with county tax records site.

    I had used this site when I was looking for a condo in Mid 2004 and use to take printout of the data of prices of which the condos were sold when I went to see the property with the realtor including a copy for the realtor as well and always offered 10% more than the average price of condo sold in that building in last 1 year. Needless to say I didn’t buy it than and I don’t regret it now but I still don’t expect the prices to correct more than 10-15% in North NJ in coming 2-3 years but I hope it crashes more. Your effort here will certainly help the cause so keep it going.

    Hiroiz.

  13. NJGal says:

    You can use the site called propertyshark.com if you are looking for similar information in NY. It’s not perfect, and I believe you need to pay for a subscription, because I think you only get about 5 free searches a month. But there are times when it can be helpful. It also offers info on NJ, and yes, was helpful in showing me what a scam Maplewood is.

  14. grim says:

    I’ve never used the domania site because I’ve just got around to going through the registration process. Others have told me that it was useful as well.

    I’ll play around with it and let everyone know!

    Grim

  15. Anonymous says:

    grim
    thanks for the info…have spent the last hour on a spreadsheet to calculate the “overappreciation” vs original purchase price on about 15 townhouses..Using an extremely generous 7% growth rate…the lowest I found was 9% overpriced..highest was 45% overpriced (or that guy just got a great deal when he bought..he’s asking for a 29% annual growth over 6 years!) Most were between 12 and 20% overpriced..and most have already been marked down

  16. WarPig_71 says:

    Grim rules!

  17. Anonymous says:

    just found some info on a house I am thinking about on the market for $370K. In 1996 it sold for $128K! Crazy. Anyone want to help me with the math…how overpriced is this asking price?

  18. grim says:

    7% is extremely high..

    I’m working on a javascript calculator where you can plug in the purchase price and date and the calculator will adjust for inflation along with a positive and negative adjustment (i.e. Inflation + 1%).

    grim

  19. Anonymous says:

    I went with 7% because i always had heard housing should go up 2x the rate of inflation…(is that a good rule of thumb?)..i never believed those govt stats of zero inflation so figured 3.5% is probably close?

  20. Anonymous says:

    another interesting point is as i continued and analyzed the for sale by owner townhouses these were dramatically more overpriced than the regular listings from realtors….(average about 30% overpriced vs 15%)..at least it looks like realtors are talking “some” sense in to sellers.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I love your blog. I’m about to purchase my first house and I’m so happy to see your information. I have some homework to do now.
    by the way how can I calculate the inflation number? do you have a formula that I could use.
    thank you

  22. needtobuy says:

    Hi
    I came across your site a few days ago and seems to be very helpful. I have been using the various sites to assess the price that a home/apt was bought but two other things that interested me and would appreciate if you could share some light on them

    1. Why do you think now is the worst time to buy a home? what are some of the down side. I was thinking that since the market is on the way down (and ofcourse no one can judge where and when the lowest point is), it would be a good way to “command” the price or as you say lowball.?

    2. You also mentioned somewhere that twice the inflation rate (max) should be price that one should pay for a house that was bought x years ago and not anything more. Well i am looking in Hoboken and there if i were to go by that there is no place to find one. My calculation has been.
    A. Find out the Price that the apt was bought for in whatever year
    B. Add the tax every year + whatever maintenance he has paid+ his 10% down (at say 5% growth every year). Add all this to inflation rate twice of the list price of the house – and that should give the price of the apt.
    It could potentially be a bit up or down depending on how hot the market (in terms of location – proximity to NYC etc).

    thoughts?

  23. jayb says:

    So we take a look at that listing, it’s on Macopin in Montclair, and they are asking $849,900.

    Use your new found tax records to pull back the sales price and date.. In case you can’t wait.

    The Frasers purchased this home on 7/30/99 for $450,000.

    So what is it worth today? Well, if we just take an off-the-cuff estimate of 5% appreciation a year (far better than historical home appreciation), the (generously) inflation adjusted value of the home today is about $603,000. By my calculation the home is approximately 30% overvalued.

    Long time readers will recall me talking about a magic number, of 30%. Here is yet another example
    of that number popping up.

    Caveat Emptor,
    Grim

    I think you neglect something here Grim. True, the value of that house is roughly $603K in today’s dollars, but you don’t factor in a profit for the seller’s. No one wants to sell an appreciating asset at a loss, which is what would happen if they sold at $603 after agent commissions and such.

    It certainly seems like they’d be walking away with about $150K in gross profit (maybe even 100% capital gains tax free), but that is somewhat of an illusion.

    You’re selling a product that makes you money every year, on interest write-offs and amortization (equity building without doing a thing), and the appreciation of the real estate itself.

    What assets do you know of where you’re guaranteed a hedge against inflation (maybe a really good hedge depending on your market) in the long term? Why shouldn’t sellers charge for this value. Here is one definition of value from a google search: The power of a thing to command other goods in exchange; the present worth of future rights to income and benefits arising from ownership.

    Now, 30% seems a bit too much to me but maybe that market dictated that price (or the agent or owners are crazy). Of course, in an ideal world people are motivated by nothing but goodness and sellers would only markup up their homes to cover expenses and commissions and a small profit for themselves. But a basic premise of economics says that people are motivated by rational self-interest. That’s the problem. Sellers want max dollar and most agents naturally do too.

    Having said all that, this is an interesting blog. First time I’ve ever been on one. I’m an agent myself from Garfield working in Jersey City. I’m definitely not one of those “slick” agents nor any other descriptives I’ve seen on here. Whatever advice and info I can provide are always free. My email is jbarardo@yahoo.com. I’d love to get my own real estate blog going to help people out just like this one. Grim, maybe you can point me in the right direction.

  24. Pingback: Anonymous