How long it takes to research the deeds to your house can depend on a number of factors. The most obvious being the age of your house. The older your house the more deeds there are likely to be.
Here are some of the other things that will impact your deed research:
#1 Number of Owners
You can have a very old house with only a few owners and you can have a young house with three times as many owners. I researched an 1840 house that had only five owners. That is relatively few for a house that age. It only took me a few hours to research all the deeds because there were so few owners. Likewise, I have researched houses that were built in 1900 or later that have had thirty or more owners. Some houses seem to change hands more frequently. The more owners there are the longer the deed research will take.
#2 Reference to a Previous Deed
Most deeds today make reference within the document to the previous sale by listing the former seller and the previous book and page number. Finding this kind of deed reference is ideal for smooth sailing through deed research. Unfortunately, at a certain point in time older deeds stop offering previous deed references. This varies by county and state. Some counties, like Norfolk, Massachusetts are very good about providing the reference even in the 1800s. Other counties, like Middlesex South and Essex Counties in Massachusetts are far less likely to have deed references even for early 1900 deeds.
When deed references are missing, the researcher in New England is forced to use the grantor and grantee index to chain their way back through historical deeds. This is a much slower process, requiring you to first refer to the index books and then to seek out the deed books. This can be further complicated by the names of the owners as you see in our next item.
#3 How Common Are the Owners Names?
If you are forced into chaining a deed through index research, a big component of your search will be how common the owner’s name is. The indexes are sorted alphabetically by surname within each county (within groups of years). If one of the owners of your house is named John Adams and he lived in Norfolk County, Massachusetts then you will likely find hundreds of possibilities. Finding your property amidst all the John Adamses can be a very slow process. Further compounding the problem, some deed books will list the town the property is located in and some won’t. Without the additional help of the name of the town you could spend an hour or two sorting through deeds just to find your property. In this case you must be very careful to read the land descriptions within the deeds to make sure you have the right property.
#4 Speculators and Investors
Around the year 2005 we saw a lot of talk on tv and in books about flipping properties. People were buying properties, fixing them up slightly and then turning around and selling them for a profit. Flippers, or speculators as they have long been known, have been around since the early days of colonial land grants. You can find a speculator in 1900, 1800 or 1700. You’ll know when you bump into one. You’ll search the deed index and find them buying and selling many, many properties. My heart always sinks when I run into a speculator because it can mean a major slow down to my search process if the properties are not clearly identified in the index. Likewise, wealthy investors or land owners have also bought quite a bit of property, though they tend to hold onto it longer than speculators. Either way, if you bump into the speculators or investors hope that they have a unique name or you’ll find yourself spending a few extra hours of research just on those one or two transfers.
As you can see, deed research has many variables that can impact the amount of time that your research will take. The only thing that will help speed up the process is experience. So jump right in and get familiar with how it is done. The more you know the easier it will become.