July 29, 2010

Wisconsin InfoLink: Digging through property records

Wisconsin InfoLink is an almanac of Wisconsin facts and resources compiled by Ron Larson. Each week on the WisconsinWatch blog, Larson introduces us to one of these gems.

If you are writing a story or investigative piece, or are simply curious about who owns what in your community, property records and transactions are good places to look for information on individuals and companies. The problem is where to begin to find such records. Let Wisconsin InfoLink be your guide for resources in this state.

There are two Wisconsin InfoLink topic areas that will offer help in locating property records. The first category is, logically, Land and Property Records. The second category is Public Records. Let’s begin with the first one.

This category contains four direct links to property records at county or city governments: Dane County (Access Dane), Brown County, La Crosse County and the city of Milwaukee.

If you need property information for other counties or communities, a good starting place is the Real estate records by county listing under the Land and Property Records category. In most cases, the county links will take you to the register of deeds page for that particular county. The information available varies from county to county.

Now let’s take a look at Access Dane. Once at the Access Dane site, choose the Public Access portal, and dig in. Topics include parcel information, where you can search by parcel name, owner name or address; real estate records, which include an index of real estate documents recorded since 1978; and foreclosure and property sales from the sheriff’s office.

When you search Access Dane for parcel information, you’ll see the owner (unless he or she has opted not to allow it to show), the value of the property, taxes owed and property tax payment history. It’s quite a handy tool for obtaining basic information on a specific property, individual or company.

Under the Public Records category, select the Wisconsin Free Public Records link. There’s a lot on this page, so for now I’m just going to mention one link: Real Estate Transfers. (scroll down just a tad, it’s the third link under the Wisconsin-Statewide Public Records Links heading.) This site, maintained by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, offers recent real estate transactions that are searchable by municipality, address or county. An advanced search option is available, too.

That database provides the name of the seller, the name of the buyer, the value of the property, the parcel and physical descriptions, the transfer and financing details and if there is a relationship between the seller and buyer. It’s a good source to check out.