How Old is My House?

ResidentialCalendarDecember 10, 2018

When looking into home and energy improvement projects, how old your home is weighs into what steps you need to take. You’re probably thinking, “How old is my house? I actually don’t know.”

Not sure where to start? Here are some easy, fun, and practical ways you can find out when your house was built. 

How Old Is My House?

For those generally curious about bygone days, one thing you can do is a little historical research into architectural styles and eras. How old does your house look? What architectural school or movement seems to match up with your home?

Era-specific framing or materials that were outrageously popular or readily available during a certain period can be indicators of certain historic ranges. 

Particular design elements and craftsmanship can signal eras and give you a rough idea of when your house was built. Accents and features such as window, door, and roof styles can tell of a certain age or a craftsman. 

However, this “eyeballing it” method isn’t entirely reliable. Some very old structures have been updated and cover up original features. Or, some updates may even be done with a certain material or in a certain way to mimic an older style. So, it’s important to do a little more in-depth research to find the true age of your house. 

Looking Up the Age of Your House 

A great place to look is your state preservation officer’s website. You’ll be able to locate county archives, state preservation trusts, and local city or town historical societies who might be able to help you even further. 

Historical societies will have resources including property maps, historic archives of old newspapers, and genealogy information. With genealogy information, you can uncover clues of who lived in your home before you and learn about their lives. 

All this digging and exploring to find details about your old house and the neighborhood it was originally built in is fun. But it’s still more of a “scenic route” to finding out the age of your home. If you’re not interested in spending too much time and energy finding the dates you need, cut to the chase with one of the following methods.

The Quickest Way to Find a Home’s Age

When you’re looking for hard facts and figures, the first thing to do is go to your local tax assessor’s website. Tax assessors estimate property values.1 They maintain records of property which you can find easily and often for free on their website. 

If your tax assessor doesn’t have all of their records digitized yet, you might have to go into the office and look through the physical documents they’ll provide you with. The property information is neatly filed and coded, so you can find what you’re looking for quickly with a little help. 

Here is where can you find a tax assessor and the steps to take on their website: 

  1. First, what county is the house located in? Go to the county’s official website and look for “assessor’s office.” 
  2. Once you’re on the assessor’s website, look for “property information” or “assessment information.”
  3. Now search for your property using a parcel number, street address, or the first and last name of whoever owns the house. A parcel number is the number tax assessors assign to each parcel of land. You can find it on your valuation notice, tax bill, or deed.
  4. Using a parcel number or street address will be the easiest way to find your house and the information you need. Using the owner’s name will mean sifting through more files until you find it. Especially if it’s a common name. 
  5. Once you find it, the information will tell you who has owned the property your house is on and the value of that property over the years. It will also tell you the year your house was originally built, its acreage, zoning, square footage, and how many rooms were originally in the house. 
  6. The “effective year” tells you permitted construction, major remodeling, or additions that were made to the house. 

With this, you’ll have a full history of your home’s original build year, and any major changes your house has undergone.

More Options to Find Real Estate Information

Some other things you could try are

  • Contacting the county clerk for a list of transactions for your property lot. Ask for these three files: Registrar of Deeds, the tract index, and the grantor-grantee index. 
  • This will give you documentation of the names of previous owners and the dates they took ownership. It will also tell you if there were any legal issues involving your house over the years. 
  • Ask the local building inspector for building permit applications for you home. This is another way to find information on any major remodels or other work that requires permitting. 
  • Hit your local libraries. These treasure troves of information have books on local history, maps with original layouts of the cities and how they expanded, and old census records and newspapers. With these, you can find out a lot more than just the age of your home. You’ll get a little glimpse into what it was like to live there in the beginning.
  • Here’s one you probably never would have thought of: fire insurance maps. These maps were used as far back as the late 1800s by insurance companies. Agents surveyed the construction materials and structure of buildings and homes. With these maps, you can find out which original materials and framing made up your home when it was first built. 

Knowing how old your house is can help you understand its condition, the age of the materials used, and if they need to be replaced. For example, not knowing the age of your house can leave you unsure as to when to install new insulation, when to redo the floors, etc.

It can also help you assess your property’s market value. Plus, it’s a fun investigative adventure to uncover when your house was built and get to know its story. Good luck on your hunt!

 

Endnotes

1. https://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/orpts/assessjo.htm

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