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