Today I’d like to introduce you to a potential tool in your house hunting toolbox. That tool is called a parcel viewer. They’re a little clunky to work with, but can give you a ton of information about properties you’re interested in. Each county has its own which can seem confusing at first, but don’t worry! They all do the same thing, just with slightly different designs.
Here’s an example of a parcel in Kent County, Delaware:
And here’s one for Sussex County, Delaware:
They are quite useful for getting a jump on who owns the property you’re interested in. For example, a co-worker just heard that a nice house in a nice neighborhood would be on the market for rent soon. So we searched for the property from here...
...to find out who owned it so she could ask them about rental opportunities. It also told us how much the house was last bought for, tax assessments, and sewer bills. We did have to play around with the spelling of the address to find the right house because Google these are not. Specifically, it did not recognize the usual abbreviation for road, rd, but when we left that part off it pulled up the right result. The point is, you may have to tinker a little bit, but the parcel viewers do work.
Let’s go through our own example- 307 S Maryland Ave, Wilmington, DE 19804, Reliable Home Inspection's office! Here’s how I searched for it:
You can’t include the S in S Maryland Ave and you can’t include the Ave part either, but they do appear in the results.
When I click on the S Maryland Ave result I see this:
Here are a few examples of the kind of useful information you can find from this page:
- Tax and sewer bill History
- Permit History and code violation history
- Neighborhood turnover (recent sales)
- Current Owner and deed history
Tax and sewer bill history is pretty straightforward, it's what people in the past have paid. You can find it lower on the page above or click on either "View Tax and Sewer Bills" to see the PDFs of the bills in question. If you've ever wanted to know what we pay in taxes for the lot, here's a publicly available copy of our 2017 tax bill. If you just want the numbers, then click "Tax and Sewer Only" at the top. Or, you can scroll down the main page and find tax and sewer info at the bottom.
Permit history can be handy for a homebuyer. If a previous owner has made a renovation or change to the house but didn't get the right permit, it becomes your responsibility after you buy the home. There are a couple of ways this can be an issue. An appraiser or assessor could examine the property and then you have a violation fee to deal with. It could also mean that someone did the renovation without the skills or knowledge to do the job properly. It could also prevent you from making additional changes to the home.
There are a couple of ways to take advantage of this information. One, you can talk to the seller about changes they've made and compare them to the permit history. Two, you can compare how the house looks in real life to how it looks in "Buildings/Sketches" at the top. The sketches are not the same thing as blueprints though, so just look for big changes such as a pool that's on the property but not in the sketch, or an addition that the sketch dimensions don't account for.
Clicking on "Recent Sales" at the top will show you other nearby properties that were recently sold.
This can tell you a few things. How's the neighborhood doing? Are property values generally rising, staying the same, or plummeting? If there are a ton of recent sales that could be a red flag. Are people fleeing this neighborhood? It could also be a sign of a lot of recent, or ongoing, construction though so don't panic!
There are some more tidbits of information on this page like which local and state political district the home is in and the census tract number. I'll leave you to explore those on your own though because I'm really excited to share the map features with you!
After you click "View Map" at the top you'll be brought here
There are many possible map layers to include. Some of them are easier to use than others. One that I really like is the education layer. With it, you can see which school your kids would go to and how far that school is. Will they have a long bus ride? Here's an easy way to check.
If you zoom out you can see all the other nearby school districts too
Here's another interesting layer, development activity plans. This layer will show you upcoming building projects. Here's a zoomed-out view. The little blue marker that almost looks like the telephone booth from Doctor Who is our address for context.
For property lines in general this is much harder to read, but the white background shows areas where development will happen. Let's take a closer look at the one I've circled in red in the picture above.
It's going to be a car wash! The picture does stay grainy, which is unfortunate, but you can see the layout of the carwash and parking lot. From the info panel you can see who bought the area and if you want to you can click on the info panel for all of this property's parcel details.
Ok, let's look at just one more for all the drop-down menu features.
Here I've selected land use and opened the drop-down menu. In the drop-down menu, I've selected Future Land Use. If I buy a house (knock on wood) I'm going to live there for a long time and I want a glimpse into the future of the community I'm settling down in. This map lets me do that! Cool!
There are a ton more, like protected natural areas, reservoir watersheds, and bus routes! They don't all give a wealth of information, topography didn't add a lot for example, but there is plenty of information overall. If you're interested in an area parcel viewers are a great way to dig deeper. You can tell a lot of information about the home, neighborhood, and city you're considering living in for the next 7 to 30 years. With a little patience, it's a good tool to go with your home inspection report.
Thank you for reading!