Comparing free real estate research

The free real property databases are extending their geographical coverage and the types of features that delight investigators. Zillow has a fly-on-the-cyber-wall feature that will be appreciated by lawyers and investigators: number of total and recent month page views for a particular property. Find it at the bottom of the “Home Facts” detail page. The last sales date and sales price is available on both Zillow and Cyberhomes, but I found the data more often on Zillow. This site will also show a list of all houses on a specified street, with a link to the home details.

Cyberhomes has a more modern look, but if you’re not especially interested in comparables, Zillow probably offers more for an investigator. Cyberhomes does have an easy to find neighborhood snapshot of census-derived demographic data. The comps and photos, available at both sites, give a quick sense of the neighborhood economic profile.

Free registration at PropertyShark will get you 6 free lookups a day that return property owner name and last sales price. Unfortunately, the county Assessors’ Web sites often don’t provide the owner name, even though it’s a public record. PropertyShark may not have this for all addresses, so you might want to use the free owner lookup at CourthouseDirect.

View your selected slice of real estate on a map at Live, Google, Yahoo, MapQuest or TerraServer at PropertyShark. There’s also a link to the Department of Justice, National Sex Offender Public Web Site.

A few reminders: Not all regions or addresses are included in any of the free sites, which is true for fee-based databases, as well. Some Web sites are missing large geographical areas or addresses on a street. Also, if you’re searching property records as part of an investigation, utilize multiple sources – free and fee-based – and dig into the Assessor and Recorder supplied records. Check their online and onsite records. There are differences.

I wrote about PropertyShark and did another posting, also in 2006, which generated a number of valuable additions in the comments.

How have you used real property sites in investigations?

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