How to Find out When Your House Was Built

Knowledge is power—and knowing when your house was constructed can reveal a lot about it.

Whether you're buying or selling a house, having all the information about a home's history—starting with the year it was built—is key to understanding how the building was constructed and what its future maintenance requirements are. For many homes, finding out the exact year of construction is simple, but for older homes, the process of finding out when your home was built can feel more like a treasure hunt.

yellow and red Victorian style house
Jay Wilde

"Chances are, you're buying your home after only seeing it a handful of times: an open house, a private tour or two, and then you're committing to one of the largest financial decisions of your life after limited time together," says Andrew Pasquella, a realtor with Sotheby's International Realty in Malibu, California. "Like committing to any relationship, you probably want some backstory to help get to know each other."

Follow these steps from real estate experts to figure out when your home was built and what you might need to consider for its future.

Start with a Simple Search

If your home was built in the last 100 years or so, you may be able to find the exact build date through conventional methods, beginning with some digging on listing sites such as Zillow.

"The information Zillow provides is public information collected from county or city records," says Alex Capozzolo, co-founder of Brotherly Love Real Estate. "Zillow also receives information from the municipal office responsible for recording real estate transactions in an area. This information is accurate, as it is consistently updated based on county records."

If Zillow or similar sites don't give you the information you're looking for, you can begin your own hunt with a search of your local government's records.

"Homeowners could visit the county recorder's office if they don't possess the chain of documents," Capozzolo says. "The recorder's office has all the deeds and documents on file as public records."

Most of these records are digital and readily available without making a public records request or even picking up the phone. If your local records aren't yet online, try visiting the office to ask.

Of course, if you have a real estate agent, you can also start with them.

"Most realtors should have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which also pulls a stack of information about your home," Pasquella says. "You can also work with your Realtor to find a title company. A title company can pull a chain of title report that will give you the historical records of ownership transfers, including who built [the house] and who owned it first and when."

Do More Research on Older Homes

If the above-mentioned methods don't tell you when your home was built, you're probably dealing with a much older structure. In that case, there are still some clever ways to determine an approximate, if not exact, build date for the property.

You can start by combing through the house itself for clues.

"Other methods include checking the manufacturing date stamped on the toilet, basement pipes, or support beams that may have been marked with the construction date," Capozollo says.

If you strike out there, Capozollo suggests getting in touch with a local historical society. Your local library might also be able to assist if you don't have a historical society.

"Historical societies generally maintain maps, regional data, and other records about the properties in their neighborhood," he says.

Still no luck? The architecture of the home could suggest a general era.

What the Age of Your Home Means

Knowing the date of your home is helpful both as a seller and a buyer.

As a seller, it will alert you to potential issues that will come up in inspections during the selling process. By anticipating these pitfalls, you can remedy any issues before a potential buyer sets foot in the property.

"Transparency about the features of the house is a must," Capozzolo says.

Similarly, as a buyer, knowing the build date on a home you're interested in will help you to formulate the right questions to ask about the property, including how and with what kinds of materials the home was likely built with.

"Common issues with older homes could run the gamut from foundation issues and plumbing issues to roof and hazardous material issues," Pasquella says. "Once you know the year it was built, you can zero in on materials that might have been used at that date, like asbestos or lead pipes, for example, and ensure that it has been remedied in some way during the course of its existence."

Just because a home is old doesn't mean everything is original. It's simply an indication of what might need work down the line and what could be outdated.

"Older homes will generally have new heating and cooling systems installed, roofs replaced, and upgraded plumbing systems," Capozzolo said. "However, the foundation and structural framing will be the same. In terms of future maintenance, owners might be looking at upgrading the kitchens and bathrooms to a more modern setup."

Knowing a house's year of construction can also indicate how many families likely lived the home before you, if property sales information isn't readily available. Unlike a new build, an older home will likely have had several owners throughout its lifetime.

Whatever the number, don't simply rule out a home based on its age.

"Oftentimes, you can get a better deal on an older home, and they may have used more solid building materials, as many older homes were built to last longer than today's homes," Pasquella says. "And if it's a mystery you want, then let's not forget about the hidden fortunes that may be hiding in the walls."

Knowledge is power, and when it comes to your home's history, that year of construction can often tell you a lot of the story.

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