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California Property Records

What are California Property Records?

California property records are public documents that citizens generate and store with government offices. Record custodians at various government agencies maintain these documents and make them available to public requesters who wish to inspect and obtain a copy. California residents look to property records for details regarding lands in the state and all structures constructed on them. Property records include various documents like survey maps, property deeds, tax records, and mortgage reports. However, property records most commonly refer to property deeds.

In California, property records are requested for various purposes. Property buyers and sellers, lawyers, realtors, and relatives of property owners are among those that request property records. These individuals, as well as residents, can obtain property records by visiting their local county recorders, county clerks, or tax assessors’ offices.

Are California Property Records Public?

California’s government agencies abide by the California Public Records Act (CPRA). According to the CPRA, members of the public can request public records in the custody of a government agency provided the document does not contain sensitive information or sequestered from public access pursuant to a court order or statutory restriction. Thus, California residents can go to their local county clerk’s office or their tax assessor to obtain property records. Many government offices also provide online record databases, aiding ease of access to public records.

Property records are available for public viewing through government agencies or third-party aggregate websites. Accessing property records through third-party sites is typically straightforward, and the records are not geographically limited. However, because the sites are not government-affiliated and run independently, the information contained in the records may vary. Searching parties should include the following information to obtain complete property records:

  • The property’s exact location.
  • The property owner’s details.

What Information is Included in California Property Records?

California citizens and residents typically visit government agencies to request property records. While property deeds are the most commonly requested type of property records, there are many others available, including:

  • Property Deeds
  • Mortgage Records
  • Tax Records
  • Parcel Maps

In California, most people requesting property records ask for California property deeds. These are official documents that ratify or indicate a transfer of property between two persons. Property deeds also signify title, which means that any California property deed that bears a particular person’s name belongs to them.

California mortgage records are public documents that show a property owner’s relationship with their mortgage lender. Persons who obtain mortgage records can expect to see the following information:

  • The borrowers’ full names
  • The address where the property is situated
  • A legal description of the property
  • The property’s listed value at the time of purchase
  • The amount borrowed to purchase the property
  • The loan’s current repayment status
  • Any assignments or endorsements on loan

California parcel maps provide geospatial data about specific California properties. Various property maps exist, including parcel maps, plat maps, subdivision maps, and assessment maps.

There are various types of California property deeds, such as:

General Warranty Deeds

General warranty deeds state that a property’s seller is fully authorized to sell it, having cleared it of any debts or legal challenges. These are the most secure available and give buyers the highest level of protection in the property market.

Special Warranty Deeds

Special warranty deeds are most commonly sought by buyers and sellers of commercial properties. Typically, the person selling the property will not know its past usage and cannot assure the buyer that it is encumbrance-free. Instead, such deeds will state the seller “releases or conveys” interest in the property to the buyer.

Quitclaim Deeds

These types of deeds are most commonly used to exchange property among family members where both the grantor and grantee know the property’s past. However, while they can transfer property from grantor to grantee, quitclaim deeds cannot guarantee freedom from legal encumbrances after purchasing a property.

Bargain and Sale Deeds

These deeds are used in exceptional situations like foreclosure or tax-related sales. Bargain and sale deeds do not protect buyers from any property-related legal issues. Instead, these deeds state that the seller holds the property title and can transfer it to the buyer.

Where to Search California Public Property Records

California citizens and residents can obtain property records from the government agencies that maintain them. Typically, California property records are under the local county recorder’s purview. However, the public can find property records at the county clerk’s office in some instances. Also, property tax records are typically available at the local tax assessor’s office.

For instance, citizens and residents of Santa Clara County can obtain property records from the Office of the County-Clerk Recorder. Alternatively, residents can get property tax records from the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office.

How to Do a California Property Records Search

According to the CPRA, residents have a statutory right to request and obtain property records. However, for requesters to obtain California property records, they must have the following information:

  • The property’s actual location, including the county, the street name, and house number.
  • The property owner’s details, including their full names.

Individuals that need to do a California property records search can, first of all, visit their local county recorder’s office. Some counties call it the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office, while others call it the Registrar of Deeds office.

For instance, San Diego County residents can obtain copies of property records from the San Diego County Assessor’s office. Interested persons may visit the offices anytime between Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Researchers can find various property-related documents, including deeds, survey maps, tax collector information, and historical sales listings. The office also provides an online index for interested persons to search through on the internet. The County Assessor’s office is located at the following address:

County Administration Center
1600 Pacific Highway, Suite 260
San Diego, CA 92101

How to Find the Owner of a California Property Using Public Records

Individuals looking to buy real property commonly need to know how to find the owner of a California property. According to the CPRA, interested persons can obtain property records and the details they contain - including the owners’ information. In addition, individuals interested in finding out who owns a California property can check their local tax assessor’s office or the county recorder’s office.

  • Requestor's Name
  • Requestor's Address
  • Requestor's Phone #
  • Name on document / Title of document / Map type
  • Document recording date
  • Document number / Instrument Number / Book # and Page #
  • APN # (Assessor Parcel Number) if applicable

Typically, the county recorder will charge a printing fee. If searchers are unsuccessful, the next step is contacting the county assessor’s office, as all property owners must pay taxes on their property. Many county assessor’s offices also allow the public to search for records online.

What are Property Records Used for in California?

California property records provide the public with full details regarding all properties within the state. The public can use California property records for various objectives, including:

  • To make informed purchasing decisions: Potential homeowners must conduct thorough research on a piece of property before deciding to buy it. California property records provide buyers with a reliable source of information. Buyers can look through a property record and discover how many times it has changed owners, any modifications the owners may have made on the property, and legal encumbrances on the property.
  • To keep public servants accountable: Corruption among public officials is a common problem in every society, and many corrupt officials store their funds by purchasing properties. Public members in California can monitor such corrupt activities by examining property records for ownership information and bringing them to the public eye.
  • To verify market value: Property buyers and sellers are always looking to trade property at a profitable rate. Both parties can confirm a property’s previous sale values based on the property records and agree on a reasonable current market value.

How to Find California Property Tax Records

The state of California levies a property tax that all homeowners must pay. Residents may get California property tax records by visiting their local county tax office.

What to Do When You Cannot Find California Property Records

California residents interested in obtaining property records may visit their local county recorder’s office. Interested persons that are not able to obtain records for the desired property may try alternative options like querying the tax assessor’s office for property tax records.

Suppose a researcher cannot find California property records through the recommended channels. In that case, they may use the information and resources available on third-party online record search companies. These companies collate public records and make them available to interested persons. Alternatively, researchers may contact property intelligence companies. These are companies that have large databases containing non-listed California properties.