Every time you buy or sell property, also known as real estate or real property, a document is recorded with the local and state government through the Registry of Deeds. The document is the deed to the property, which includes all of the essential information to establish ownership and determine boundaries. The information is used for tax purposes, planning, and historical records.

When a property owner dies, the state often requires that a probate court oversee the transfer or sale of any property so that taxes and creditors are paid. Likewise when property is sold, a title company must be involved to ensure the new owner gets a clear title – no encumbrances for liens.

Property records are public documents accessible online or by visiting a registry of deeds or city hall.

Types of Properties

Cities and towns generally have planning documents that allow certain property uses – and apply a tax formula – to properties by zones. A commercial zone often has the highest tax and does not allow residences; residential zones are created to minimize through travel and incompatible uses; industrial zones enable heavy traffic like trucks. Vacant properties may be targeted for eminent domain takings in order for the city or state government to maximize tax benefit.

Public property is assumedly accessible by all yet may have restrictions according to acceptable uses. For instance, parks on publicly-owned property may have specific hours of operation and certain activities restricted.

Collective property is owned by a group. The ownership is often established by creating a legal entity and establishing a manager or and/or board that makes decisions regarding the property.

Elements of Property Records

Deed this is the official document of the property. Each parcel of residential land should have a deed record that goes back all the way to the original settler. The deed describes the size and use of the land as well as neighboring parcels.

Title is separate from deed; the term denotes a stake in the property. Deed is the more comprehensive ownership document.

Plot plan this is a more basic map of the property that shows the perimeter measurements, frontage on a road, and neighboring properties. Plot plans are often looked up at the local municipal office using map and plot numbers which divide a town or county into a grid. Some locations use “liber” to describe their system of cataloging property records.

Historical records these include property usage as well as boundaries. It's recommended to review historical uses of the land to ensure no lingering pollution from industrial uses or unknown obstacles (residents at times may bury fuel tanks, septic tanks, and swimming pools that don't get recorded on deeds).

Easements these are permissions granted to other people, utility companies and to municipalities that allow access to or across property for specific purposes. When easements are recorded on deeds they are made permanent so that subsequent owners of the property convey the permission for access to future owners. An easement may include some sort of payment for the use of the land.

Improvements are changes to the property, including buildings, clearing land of debris, installation of semi-permanent features like driveways, plumbing, walls or fences, or adding features like access to municipal sewer, natural gas pipeline, or solar power.

Bounds this is the term for the edges or perimeter of the property. Bounds are measured by surveyors now using GIS, which is a geo-location device for precision.

Grantor/Grantee are the seller and buyer of a specific property.

Convenants are restrictions on the property that the owner agrees to when buying. These often restrict uses so that property values are maintained. For instance, a condominium complex may place a covenant saying that no unregistered vehicles may be parked on the property or that no swimming pools can be constructed or the exterior cannot be painted differently than others within the complex.

Liens are like an I.O.U. that a creditor can place on a deed until a loan is paid. Oftentimes it's the town or state that puts a lien on a property for unpaid taxes in order to require that the amount due gets paid before the property can be sold. Some home improvement liens, also called mechanics liens, can also be placed on a property until the fee is paid.