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Published April 21 2012

Ask Your Government: How to access real estate records online, in person

Dear Teri,

I have heard that real estate transactions are public record. At least that is the term they have used in a local neighborhood newsletter when they list sales information (sales price, date and address) on properties that have recently sold in the neighborhood.

Are real estate transactions public record? If so, how would the public go about looking at these records? How much information is available? Can the general public go somewhere to research sales history on a specific piece of property?

The reason I ask is my house has recently been pegged for a huge reassessment, and I am interested in being able to look up properties nearby to see what their actual sales history is. I know there is a way to look at assessment information online, but I can’t find anything for actual sales.

If this information IS public record, can it be accessed online? Is it available statewide, on a county-by-county basis or is each city responsible for this information? If it is not available online, is this something that one could go to a specific government office to look at?

Paul Dregseth

Fargo

Thanks for writing! I started with Jack McDonald, a media attorney very familiar with open record laws. He referred me to Burleigh County Recorder Debbie Kroshus as a good source for this topic.

Since you live in Cass County, I also contacted Cass County Recorder Jewel Spies. She provided a follow-up response to give additional information for your specific county. But first, here is the response from Kroshus:

“Yes, all real estate land records are public record. Anyone can come into their local county recorder’s (we used to be called register of deeds) office and look up records. What is available are any deeds, mortgages, satisfactions, liens and other documents pertaining to any land in the county.

“This does also include any city properties within the county. Burleigh County does not have the availability to access these documents through a local website. Other counties in the state may have that capability, but we do not. Most of the counties in North Dakota belong to an organization called NDRIN (North Dakota Recorders Information Network), and we do upload our images to this system. All of Burleigh County land records are on NDRIN.

“However, in order to have access to these records, you would need to join as a member. The fee is $25 per month, and you would have access to all the participating counties’ land records. To research membership, you could go to www.ndrin.com and get all the necessary information there.

“Although, by law (N.D.C.C. 11-18-02.2), all deeds must have a statement of consideration to be recorded, the buyers do not have to disclose what they paid for a property. They have the option to file the information with the State Board of Equalization so they would not have the purchase price disclosed in public record.

“Also, if they are using a quit claim deed to transfer title on a property (family members, foreclosures, government agencies, etc.) they need not disclose the purchase price, as they can be exempted from doing so. The other option is to disclose the purchase price in the statement of consideration.

“The best way to search history on property would be to go to the county recorder’s office to do research. We all have land records dating back to the beginning of time.

“In Burleigh County, all of our documents are on our computer system but anything before 1996 must first be found in the record books to get the document number. Then you can find the document on the computer.”

Here is the follow-up from Spies:

“Debbie’s answer is absolutely right on. The only difference for Cass County is we do have our subdivision plats on public record through the Cass County Intranet. You can also access your real estate tax records through the county website, as well as maps and information about the cities within Cass County.

“We also have a GIS application where you see an aerial view of the property. This can be accessed through the city of Fargo website or the Cass County website. As far as actual recorded documents, we suggest you come into the office, and we will show you how to search. We will happily make copies of any records for a fee.

“We do not yet have all of our documents digitized. Due to the size of Cass and the amount of records, we are doing this in increments.

“Sales research: You can come into the courthouse, and we have a sales report we run, and you can see comparable sales for your area. Just stop at the ‘Tax Equalization’ counter and ask for the sales report and explain what you are looking for, and they will assist you.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

Email politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.