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A Guide to Using New York City's Online Property Records

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to tips@curbed.com. Today's topic: how to use public records!

All property sales in New York City are a matter of public record, which means anyone can look up the buyers, sellers, and mortgage information for a particular property?if you know where to look. Where to look is a rather daunting place called the Automated City Register Information System, or ACRIS for short. Becoming a true ACRIS master can take a lifetime?and much of the data in ACRIS is available more accessibly on the building pages of StreetEasy, anyway?but here's a short introduction.

If you're using ACRIS to find the past sale prices and mortgage info for a specific property, you're in luck: this is the simplest way to use the system. Merely click "Find Addresses and Parcels" and plug in an address. The system will fill in the borough, block, and lot, and voila! Information. Note: non-townhouses will generally require a unit number, and especially for combination units, it might take a few tries to figure out the unit number that will make an ACRIS search work.

If you're hoping to browse ACRIS, rather than doing a directed search, start by clicking "search property records." Then it's time to choose your own adventure. Looking for a specific buyer? Click "party name" and fill in the relevant fields. Looking for a specific type of document? Head for "document type."

Under "document type," you'll find?surprise!?yet more menus. A few possibilities for how to proceed:

· To find deeds (the best way to locate condo sales), select "deeds and other conveyances" as the document class and "deed" as the document type, choose a date range and borough, and search.
· To look up co-op sales, choose "other documents" as the class and "Both RPTT and RETT" as the document type.
· Vacate orders and condo declarations are found under "deeds and other conveyances. Zoning lot descriptions, landmark designations, and lots of other goodies are located under "other documents." We recommend playing around.

So you've done a search and found a document that looks intriguing. But how do you read it? We recommend the "DET" tab, which provides the easiest-to-read document layout. It looks something like this:

"Doc. amount" refers to the closing price of a property, party 1 is the seller, and party 2 is the buyer. The "parcels" section identifies the unit that's changing hands in the deal. Happy sleuthing!
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