Stalking Property Tax Records

The following is an article from Libby, the long-time (and much appreciated) staff writer for Modern Tightwad. She has an addiction…

Stalking Property Tax Records

Have you ever stalked property tax records online?

My name is Libby, and I have a problem.

I stalk property records.

Yes, it’s true. If we’ve ever met in real life – and even if we haven’t – and I know your name, address, or both, I’m going to look up your home’s tax records online.

It’s a little invasive, isn’t it?

My dirty little addiction began innocently enough, when my husband and I were shopping for our first home nearly six years ago.

We were moving to a new area from out of state, so our Realtor suggested we get to know the area remotely by browsing property records. He sent us the link to our county’s tax records website, and encouraged us to look up the home values of the properties we liked, as well as the tax values of their neighbors.

To find your county’s tax records website, just search online with these terms: “your county” AND “property tax records”.

Using this tool, we were able to ensure that we didn’t overpay for our house, despite what was decidedly a “seller’s market” at the time.

I should have logged off then. But I didn’t. And what happened next… well, judge for yourself…

Sweet Little Lies

After my husband and I purchased our new home and had settled in, I continued using the property records tool. I looked up the tax card for my new boss’s home (what!?!?! He was living in a $600,000 house! Damn!); I looked up the home value for my new coworkers’ homes (huh?!?! How could an entry-level colleague afford a home valued at $350,000? Had my new boss low-balled my salary?); I even looked up the property records every time I met a new friend around town.

That’s when I learned a secret that would rock my world: one of my dearest friends, who claimed she owned her house, didn’t own it at all! I’m ashamed to say it, but this little white lie completely changed the tenor of our relationship. What had been a promising friendship quickly dissolved as I began wondering what other secrets she was keeping from me.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my property stalking ways had become a major problem.

When My Friends Realized I Was Certifiably Insane

Despite my “friendship breakup,” I didn’t learn my lesson. Even though the personal information I’d gleaned from the tax records had ultimately led to the downfall of a friendship, I continued to stalk my friends, colleagues, and local celebrities via their property information. After all, I justified, I was merely looking up public information.

It’s not like I’d broken any laws or really invaded anyone’s privacy; anyone could see what I was seeing and I figured they probably were prying into my property history just like I was looking into theirs. Right?

Not quite.

One day when I was out with another good friend (I’m sure that, by this point, you’re wondering how on earth I had any friends left… please, be kind; this is a reformer’s tale), we were talking about her new house when I let it slip that I knew exactly how much she and her husband had paid. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “So what kind of rate did you get on your jumbo loan?”

Her: “Huh? What do you mean a jumbo loan?”

Me: “Well, you paid $475,000 for your house, so I figured you had to take out a jumbo mortgage to pay for it.”

Her: “How on earth do you know what we paid for the house? We haven’t told anyone that!”

To say she was miffed was an understatement. She was completely put off by my insider information. She demanded to know how I’d learned it. When I confessed that I was a property stalker, she laughed – that sort of evil snort you never want to hear – and said condescendingly, “Only you, Libby.” Then she paused, obviously mulling over something. “So,” she began timidly, “How much did Annie and Dave pay for their house?”

The Worst Sin

There’s a saying that the worst sin is to lead another soul on the path to eternal damnation. And while I wouldn’t call stalking my friends’ property records the path to hell, I wasn’t about to lead my friend down the same road. I begged off, telling her that she’d have to do her own dirty work if she wanted to find out how much our friends’ homes were worth.

After all, I’d always used my stalking ways for good – or so I told myself – not for idle chit-chat. I was merely trying to figure out if I was keeping up with the Joneses (I wasn’t), not spreading gossip around my social circle.

A Reformer’s Tale

Remember when I said this was a story about reforming? I’m getting to that point.

After losing one friend – and nearly destroying another’s soul – with my stalking ways, I finally realized I had to make a change. I took the drastic steps of blocking my county’s property records website on my laptop, preventing me from looking at home values in my spare time. I tried to erase the numbers I’d previously seen. It wasn’t easy.

It was nearly impossible to visit my friend’s new $475,000 house without thinking she’d been totally ripped off by the seller. I emailed the friend I’d lost long ago and apologized for letting information I didn’t have the right to know get in the way of our relationship.

Now, however, my husband and I are in the market for a new house, and we want to know what our neighbors have been selling their homes for, as well as the going rate for homes in our target neighborhoods.

I’m tempted to log back in to the site and check out the home values, but I’m not sure I can control the addiction. I guess I’d better leave the job of weighing comparables to my Realtor instead.

Have you ever checked out your County’s property tax records site? Would you confess to looking up someone else’s home value?

Image by Jesse757



Last Edited: May 8, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

Comments

  1. ahathaway says:

    Not to make light of this situation but this line was pretty funny to me:
    “There’s a saying that the worst sin is to lead another soul on the path to eternal damnation.”
    Trulia and Zillow will pretty much give you the same information and those are well known sites.  We all do a little stalking from time to time although your situation may have been a bit extreme.  You can never trust someone that does not tell the truth so I would not feel bad about the loss of friendship of your friend that lied to you.  They brought it upon themselves.

  2. @URFinanceSimple Dominique, thx 4 sharing my tweets.but if done like this w the @ptmoney upfront, only our mutual followers can see, right?

    • URFinanceSimple says:

      @ptmoney everyone should be able to see it

      • DebtChronicles says:

        @urfinancesimple @urfinancesimple if first item in tweet is an id, only common friends will see it in a stream. Need to preface with a ‘.’

        • URFinanceSimple says:

          @DebtChronicles thanks Travis! I’ll have to fix how I tweet other people’s stuff

        • DebtChronicles says:

          @urfinancesimple I was confused why I saw a “.” in front of sometweets…someone explained it to me – made sense. Glad to be of help! :)

      • DebtChronicles says:

        @urfinancesimple @ptmoney you can go explicitly to that id’s tweets and see it, but will NOT show up everyone’s stream.

  3. I’ve done it but that’s because I am an accountant and had to do it to find clients’ tax bills to deduct them from their tax returns. I’m glad you’ve reformed your ways if it was ruining your friendships.

  4. First off i love that you use livefyre! But I have absolutely looked at home purchase prices and tax assessments. I prefer zillow which aggregates it all. We are closing on a house in two days and it was super useful! It’s amazing how shocked people are when they find out how much info is public. There’s a lot out there.

  5. That is pretty new, stalking for somebody else’s property tax records. But if you are to do it for your own good, such as researching how much a client’s property values, then, I think, it is not that bad at all. If you are planning to buy a house, yet, you have no idea how much it will cost you, why not take advantage of the many online mortgage calculators such as <a href=”http://www.mortgagebrokers4u.co.nz/using-the-sorted-mortgage-calculator”>Sorted Mortgage Calculator</a> ? They really do help, I assure you.

  6. Parvinder says:

    No, I never seen in the mess of others. I’m accountant and I use the database to see only the information related to my clients for tax deduction.

  7. I’ve done some property value stalking to the homes in our neighborhood when beginning to think about selling. It truly is shocking at times what some people pay for their houses, both on the low end and high end.  The low end, it can be depressing to see just how little some people have paid for our same house in the neighborhood, with the real estate market tanking.  On the other end, some folks paid even more than we did back at the very height of the market..   
     
    I have checked out home values for others I know, more out of curiousity than anything else – to see what property values are in other areas, not so that I can know some ‘secret info’ on people I know.  I think most of our close friends we already kind of knew what they had paid for their houses/etc anyway, so it wasn’t really an issue.

    • @moneymatters I agree – seeing what people pay (high or low) can make you rethink your own housing decisions. A house down the street from else sold for $20k above tax value earlier this year, yet I couldn’t sell my house for $15k under tax value!

  8. I’m guilty of public record stalking. Used our public property tax record website, and recorded document database to research all the homes and neighborhoods when we were buying a house a few years ago. Very valuable tool! Unfortunately, it can become a habit. I started looking up more and more info. Saw that we overpaid on our first house we bought back in 2005. That sucked.
     
    We also had some new neighbors move in early this year, so curiosity got the best of me. I was thinking, hmm, I wonder how much that house sold for. I better go check! So I did, and was pleased to see how high it sold for. Then I looked up the owners to see who they were. Looked like a married couple, but their names were different. Interesting, so one thing led to another and I found out all about them, where they went to college, where they work, when they got engaged, etc. Linkedin/fracebook/google leads to some quick answers!
     
    I’ve never used this information in a public situation so it’s mostly for research and idle curiosity. I still poke around in the records these days, but that’s only because I’m constantly on the lookout for a new investment property opportunity. So if I drive buy a new building for sale I’ll come home and look it up and dig up all the history on it to see if it’s a good deal or if there’s some sort of hidden nightmare.

    • @Jeremy Vohwinkle LOL, you went even farther than I did – although I HAVE gotten on Facebook to look up a profile of a new neighbor after seeing their name on my county’s property tax records site!