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Property Data: What It Is and How To Use It

Overhead view of an estate.

Property Data refers to a wide variety of information points concerning an individual parcel of real estate. Property data includes generalized address identifiers (e.g., street name, city, state), building materials (e.g., wall materials, pool materials), ownership details, (previous and/or existing), and geographic information (e.g., geocodes, parcel boundaries).

That's just the surface level, but this data runs deeper. Categories such as land use (e.g., frat house, farm), home features (e.g., safe room, wine cellar), security alarm status, and even a description of the view surrounding the property may be available depending on the property data source.

For example, Smarty's US Property Data provides users with several points of property data online, including residential property data, commercial property data, and over 360+ real property characteristics and attributes by address.

You can see what mysteries are unlocked regarding millions of US addresses by using Smarty's US Property Data and US GeoReference Data, available through our Address Enrichment API.

Try it out now, or you can dive into learning more about property data by reading below.

US Property Data US GeoReference Data

Here's the data we'll cover in this article:

What Is Property Data?

Let's put property data into a relatable scenario for many: online dating. Think of property data as the information associated with a specific profile on a dating website. When you go online to meet the one who'll hopefully be the love of your life, you're given their name. That name comes with additional data to help you get to know them better. What they look like, what they're searching for, their interests and hobbies, etc. The available data points will vary depending on the dating site, but it provides a way to get to know them at a glance.

Property data is similar. When looking at an address or lat-long coordinates for a particular piece of land, a property data search will return similar items for you to consider. What does the land look like? What's it used for? What year was the home constructed? Does it have asbestos in the walls? The intricacies of its inner workings and outer structures can be better understood through a property data lookup.

Maybe your business needs to know which roofing materials were used on all the homes in an area, which houses in a neighborhood have pools, or the tax jurisdiction of 10,000 different addresses each month. Millions of business-use cases exist, and easily accessible property data can help inform business decisions, reduce wasted time, and boost revenue.

What Types of Property Attributes Can I Expect to Find?

Are there specific property characteristics that will always be listed in a property data lookup? Actually, yes! The typical property data report will contain at least 1 subcategory of these 6 main categories (if not all):

  • Boundaries: This can be related to school district, census, neighborhood, parcel boundaries, etc.

  • Overhead property boundaries.
  • Property Attributes: These are more focused on the land or structure itself, with categories including addresses and geocodes, interior or exterior features of structures, house square footage or lot sizes, zoning uses, building permits, etc.

  • Ownership/s: Past owners, who currently owns it, who's renting it, and how to contact those ownerships can be found as subcategories here.

  • Valuations: This is where one could find home equity, tax valuations, and AVM, among many other things.

  • Mortgages/Transactions/Foreclosures: This section is specific to home sales, mortgage history, default notices, auction dates, etc.

  • Hazards/Climate: Is there a risk of an earthquake? Did a flood recently occur? Are residents living in their pools because it's always so hot? These are questions that can be answered by analyzing property data online.

It's important to note that these are commonly used subcategories in a property data enrichment search. This list shouldn't be considered exhaustive, as property data is highly expansive in nature. Property data providers collect as many useful data points from as many relevant data sources as possible, but what's available for each address varies widely by jurisdiction.

Depending on the available data points, US property databases are aggregated from hundreds to 10,000+ sources. That number continues to rise as more analysis, risk, and spatial data become available.

Where Does Property Data Come From?

Seems like a lot of work to gather the info, right? It's not like there are sneaky spies out in the world venturing into our basements to report whether or not we have a wet bar down there (yes, that's a property data point we provide). So how is this information gathered, and who's doing the data entry once it's collected? We're glad you asked. It comes from places like:

  • Public Records:

    • County Tax Assessors: They provide many structural and location data points.

    • County Recorder Data Sets: These give more of a financial data overview.

    • Census Bureau Offices: These offices provide more demographics and socioeconomic information, such as American Community Survey (ACS) survey data, etc.

    • State Revenue and Treasury Offices: These may contribute broader datasets, like statewide statistics and trends,

  • Real Estate Market Data: School district boundaries, income levels, sales prices, and historical information on an area or property.

  • For sale sign outside of a house.
  • Aerial Imagery Provided by Satellite: High-resolution images can show the outside of a home or property, providing information on structural conditions or information with regard to land use.

  • Geographic Info Systems: These helpful tools input spatial data regarding geographical features like a waterfall or road and provide property boundaries so that crazy neighbor Lou won't have an excuse to keep planting rutabagas in your lawn.

  • Proprietary Data: Third-party companies aggregate comprehensive data overviews through data analysis to create new data points. For example, a company might combine the latitude and longitude with commercial property data to identify the exact elevation of any high-rise apartment or suite on any floor.

  • Hazard Information: Where a fault line, flood zone, or other potential hazard zones exist nearby.

When Is Property Data Updated?

When property data is added or updated in a property database, it varies widely by city, county, and state. It also varies widely based on the reason for the update. Property data for an address is commonly updated due to home renovations, additions, and other property changes requiring a permit.

For example, you probably know that when your best friend's parents first built their glorious mansion, the details of the build were submitted by the contractors who built it. What about when they added a guest house a few years later for epic sleepovers? Well, that information is updated on county records when they acquire a permit for the addition. The structure attributes may be updated whenever municipalities feel like it or need to do so. Similarly, when the home is sold, the mortgage information will be updated, but again, it can take some time for the update to propagate through all systems.

Who Uses Property Data?

Many industries use property data to enhance their business practices. Here are a few of the major ones:

  1. Real Estate: Property managers, investment companies, brokerages, and even sellers' and buyers' agents will use highly advanced property data information, usually MLS-registered commercial and residential real estate. Real estate property data can be pretty in-depth and intense.

To put this into perspective, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) estimates that “over 3 million active real estate licenses [exist] in the US.” This number just represents the agent side of real estate and doesn't touch on the investment or property management companies that also use property data accessed through MLS platforms.

  1. Insurance Agencies: If you thought 3 million real estate agents was a big number, you're sure to get a kick out of this next stat regarding insurance agencies. IBIS World reports that there are currently “413,100 Insurance Brokers & Agencies businesses in the US as of 2023” That's a whole bunch of agencies that'll also be full of a whole bunch of insurance agents, too. The main property data public records that insurance agencies and brokerages access are sourced from C.L.U.E. (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange), a report with a seven-year history of personal-auto and personal-property claims history (Pope). It's a major part of their appraisal process.

Insurance companies mitigate risk and improve their loss ratio by having a comprehensive property dataset to determine how much insurance is adequate. Understanding the weather hazards associated with the area, amongst many other factors, will help to ensure that the property is insured adequately.

  1. Banks and Mortgage Companies: The banks and mortgage companies in the US are also big-time users of this big-time data. Valuable insights on market conditions help these guys make informed decisions about whether or not to lend in specific areas and, if so, by how much and at what percent. They, along with insurance agencies and brokerages, use these detailed property data and property attributes to mitigate the risk they take when lending.

Bank teller counting cash.
  1. Telecommunications: Targeted marketing campaigns, network planning, and infrastructure development are improved with property attributes. Cell phone companies and internet service providers need to meet the needs of potential customers within their service areas. Property data provides insights into the commercial/residential/industrial makeup, demographics, income levels, and building materials. Attributes like these inform usage patterns, structure placement, and equipment purchasing decisions.

Who Should Be Using Property Data?

Because the idea of using property data seems to affect only those who work specifically with houses and businesses on a direct scale, other companies might not make the connection on how they could also benefit from analyzing real property characteristics. That's where Smarty comes in! Here's a taste of how your business could also benefit from using a property data report:

  1. Finding your target market opportunities: Valuable insights into the customers who surround your business will help grow your bottom line. Let's say that you need to know where to send your pool installation guys to knock on doors. It'd be helpful to identify which properties already have pools, which property owners could potentially afford pools, and which properties even have space to put a pool before wasting your sales teams' time and energy. Property data is great at giving targeted opportunities.

  1. Developing more meaningful marketing campaigns: Finding areas where your customers are underserved could be the best way to boost your profits and impact your community. Understanding hazards or climate issues surrounding a property or area can provide business growth opportunities. Perhaps, there's a place to offer to build storm shelters, bunkers, or install fresh water storage units. Whatever the case, the residential property database's information can point you toward those who don't already possess such features.

  1. Understanding the property needs: Single-family residences are often turned into multifamily complexes to earn additional income. Knowing which residences fit this category before sending out a crew with informational pamphlets on your political campaign needs will prove crucial in ensuring you have enough materials to hand out. Instead of one pamphlet, you may need 10. Thanks for the heads up, property data!

  1. Avoiding the disinterested: Let's be honest; having the door slammed in your face isn't the best feeling in the world. Did you know that property overviews list sections to combat this uncomfortable encounter? Obtaining and analyzing relevant property data can show whether the residence is owner-occupied or a rental. Now, you can send your people to the properties that have the power to pull the trigger or make decisions regarding the property.

How To Access Property Data

The process of accessing residential property data and commercial property by address used to be only accessible directly from county and state sites. However, today there are more ways to obtain online property data from private and third-party companies. Some of these sources require you to pay for the information, and some require special licensing to obtain the data, so it's important to know what you can access before you begin your property data adventures. Here's what to know before you start.

Public Versus Private

As a general rule, if it can be taxed, it's public knowledge. Additionally, the financials involved with taxes will be publicly available. Things such as property taxes, liens on a property, and survey records of the property (the description of a property in legalese), are all public knowledge.

Employee holding private documents.

Private information is a fairly long list. It's all concerning the property's tenant or owner (current or previous). It's unethical and illegal for the following information to be shared by a realtor or agent:

  • The race, ethnicity, or nationality of the current or former residents (including languages they speak)

  • Disability status of residents

  • Religion or religious preference

  • Sex or sexual orientation

  • Criminal history or drug use unless it's a state in which the seller is required to inform potential buyers of whether the property was used in the production of drugs (don't do drugs, kids)

Public informational searches through county, city, state, census, and tax records are often free, but you get what you pay for. When it comes to search engines or online lookups, even when they're free, you'll pay a high price for the hours you'll spend, and possibly your sanity. Time is money.

Why? Because if you need data across several counties, states, and government offices you'll need to find and access the data manually. This can be challenging since some government offices may require you to request the property data via phone, email, or personal visit. Others won't have batch export options and will require you to look up properties individually and copy/paste relevant information. Finally, you'll still need to convert all the files from the various entities into the same file format before you can begin merging, deduplicating, and standardizing the data sources. This process would have to take place before you'd see the full benefits of comprehensive property data. And most painfully you'll need to repeat the entire process every time that you want to refresh your data.

Special Licensing and Pay To Play

Of course, access to the MLS records comes with the need for a real estate license, brokerage license, or insurance license. The MLS provides the images, but for the most part, you're reading this article because you're interested in the data behind the pictures.

Thankfully, several third-party programs exist. They allow you to download property overviews in bulk, view them through online software interfaces or APIs, or read through property document images and other reports online. All of these come with a pretty fee, but some are worth their snuff.

Property Data Bulk File Downloads: For example, when you purchase a downloaded file, the information contained in that file is vast. So vast in fact, that many of the data points are likely to be irrelevant information or extraneous for your use purposes. Searching for the right data can become cumbersome. Additionally, that information will never be updated. It's a one-and-done pay-to-play option. It's not our first choice.

Search Engines & Government Sites: When it comes to search engines or online lookups through city, county, state, and federal sites, they could be free, but, "time is money." The process is slow, cumbersome, and messy, and usually ends up being the most expensive option once you add up the hours invested. It may be the best option if you only need data from a handful of sources, but for most businesses, it's probably not ideal.

Property Data APIs: The best option is a third party like Smarty that provides you with a property data API. These can be seamlessly integrated into existing programs and workflows. The information is available on demand, and the updates are standard and frequent. The information is regularly updated, and your data sets can be squeaky clean, and therefore, highly reliable.

Smarty's US Property Data

Smarty's US Property data tool is unlike any other tool for one reason: SmartyKey technology combines with the power of Smarty's address validation.

With a subscription to the US Rooftop Geocoding license, the validation process cleans up the address and standardizes it to the USPS address format. Each time an address match is found within our database, we return it with its SmartyKey.

SmartyKey is a persistent unique identifier (PUID) that's linked to each US address and doesn't change, even when the address does. That means that when the street name changes to honor your local college team, a ZIP Code boundary changes, or a city annexes a nearby unincorporated area, the SmartyKey for each address stays the same. Your data will stay constant and make record matching and deduplication a breeze.

SmartyKey updates occur monthly, too, so you can be confident in having the most up-to-date address information available when you request it. Furthermore, you won't be charged for additional lookups of the same address (that's unless we have new or more details to provide).

Validating the address at the point of entry prevents bad data from entering your system, prevents typos from causing failure to find an address, and keeps everything tidy.

Finally, SmartyKey property data access is aggregated to your needs and requests. Do you have a list of prior customers you want to check in on? Upload those addresses through our bulk upload option, and only those addresses. You don't have to pay for a file you only intend to use a tiny portion of. Do you have multiple counties in various states that require a property data search? No problem there either. We'll do the sorting, standardizing, and searching for you, and we'll do it lickity split.

Conclusion - Sum Me Up, Scotty!

Guy shining flashlight into the sky.

We get it. This article, although incredibly helpful and funny to read, is long. Let's summarize the important parts for those feeling crunched for time.

What is property data?

Info collected about the details of a particular property or parcel, including data about the land, structure, tax and ownership records, insurance risks, etc.

Where does it come from?

Property data is contributed to by the county census, employed state assessors, home valuation, location recorder data, geocoding processes, updated building records from permits, and other sources.

Who uses it?

Many businesses and industries including real estate agencies and brokers, insurance agents and agencies, mortgage lenders and banking officials, and telecommunications industry professionals.

Who should use it?

Nearly every organization can benefit from using property data to enhance their data intelligence, sales, marketing, and more.

How is it accessed?

Several databases exist, but the main ways to access property data points are search tools, APIs, and bulk file downloads. APIs tend to be the most cost-effective since you're only paying for the property data you need, and they can be integrated directly into existing systems and workflows.

Why is Smarty so awesome when it comes to property data?

Well, the short answer is that we're insanely fast when it comes to accessing property data. You can read about our ludicrous speeds here. Additionally, we validate before we populate. That's to say, all the address lookups are validated at the point of entry so that the information returned is more accurate property data.

Our SmartyKey makes us stand out because even if the street address changes or there's more than one correct version of the address, the SmartyKey code remains the same. Duplicates are a thing of the past, and the address is linked to the correct property data with the SmartyKey. Our uptime and reliability stats aren't too shabby, either. We also update our data regularly.

Wanna take Smarty's US GeoReference API and US Property Data demo for a spin? Click here to test it out for yourself. Additionally, you can access US census block and tract information by address through our US GeoReference Data. Finally, you can contact an address expert today to get a quote or answer any follow-up questions that you may have.

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