What Investors Should Know About the Role Local Government Plays in Real Estate

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If you’re anything like me, the idea of going to the local Sheriff’s Office reminds you of sheepishly paying for parking tickets in coins when you were 16, and hoping that your parents didn’t find out, ground you, and take away your Sega Genesis.

No? Just me? Never mind.

Long story short, we’re adults who invest in real estate now, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. However, before you waltz on down to the County Clerk just to say “hey,” let’s talk about some stuff.

The Government, Real Estate & You!

Like it or not, the government plays a huge role in the real estate business.

“Real property” (i.e. land & buildings) generally falls within the confines of a municipality, which means it is subject to the jurisdiction of a local government body.

Due to this, the government has a part in anything from taxes and mortgages to zoning, and even sometimes selling property. On top of that, some of the real estate duties may be controlled by the city, whereas others may be controlled by the county.

Needless to say, it gets a bit confusing.

Generally speaking, no two municipalities are organized exactly the same. So, in order to figure out how your particular municipality is structured, be sure to check out their official government website.

In the meantime, you’ll find a quick breakdown of the different local government entities that you should be familiar with as a new real estate investor.

Related: The Top 7 Laws Every Landlord Needs to Study

A Non-Extensive List

City Council

The City Council is a democratically elected team of legislators who typically represent different areas of their city. They decide which services the city will provide and how said services will be paid for, among other duties. When they meet each week or two, they publish an “agenda” or meeting “minutes.” Citizens are allowed and encouraged to witness these meetings, or you can simply download the agenda online. The City Council agenda can be very valuable to real estate investors in order to get a beat on what is happening within their city.

Clerk

This position can exist at the city, town, and county level. The Clerk is the official keeper of records and is typically seen as the local historian. Of great importance to real estate investors is that the Clerk is often the “Registrar of Deeds.” This means that they hold all of the information regarding deeds, mortgages, liens, eviction records, and other documents pertaining to real property interests. This information is public knowledge and can be found either in person or on the local Clerk website.

Assessor

The Assessor is tasked with the duty of valuing every piece of real property within the confines of his or her purview. This process occurs every few years in order to make sure that the municipality has a rough (emphasis on rough) idea of how much your property is worth. This is done, of course, for the purpose of levying a tax against the property. However, it is possible for a savvy real estate investor to make a case that their property is being overvalued and therefore overtaxed.

Precinct

One of my favorite things to do when I am curious about a new neighborhood is to visit the police precinct that oversees it. Who better to know which streets to avoid than the people who answer the calls every night? In my experience, the ladies and gentlemen who work there are more than happy to help an aspiring real estate investor who wants to make the city a better place.

Sheriff

Many counties across the nation will auction off foreclosed properties on the “courthouse steps.” This is typically because a property owner failed to pay either the mortgage or the property tax. Although they aren’t always on steps, per se, many take place somewhere in-or-around your local courthouse. If you have questions, call up your county Sheriff and they’ll likely provide you information or even a brochure on the process.

Planning/Parks & Rec/Public Works

When a city plans on using government funds to make big changes, the planning office is typically where the process starts. So, if you’re interested in being a proactive real estate investor, be sure to find out what kind of projects they have in the works. Other great resources are the offices that deal with parks and recreation, as well as infrastructure. Wouldn’t it be nice to know ahead of time where the city plans on building a new park or highway?

Development Services

Although not always called by the same moniker, this is where one goes to get residential and commercial building permits. If you’ve hired a contractor, make sure that they are going to be dealing with the process. If you plan on doing the work yourself, go ahead and talk with the folks at development services to ensure you’re being all legal and stuff.

Related: How to Find the BEST Hidden Deals Using Your Local District Website

So What Now?

A few weeks ago, I had a day off and decided to write down a list (very similar to the one above) of government offices I wanted to visit. I spent a few hours talking with people, getting business cards, looking at gigantic multi-colored wall maps, and learning about the intricacies of their daily operation.

When I told people that I was a new real estate investor and was looking to buy and renovate run-down properties, they were more than happy to help! Honestly, they were probably excited to not deal with another 16-year-old kid paying a parking ticket in coins.

So give it a shot yourself! What’s the worst that can happen?

Did I miss any big ones from the list? What other government offices should newbies be familiar with?

Let’s talk in the comments section below!

About Author

Tyler Flagg

Tyler is a pilot by day and aspiring entrepreneur by night. He started investing in April of 2014 and acquired three properties in the first 8 months. His goal is to become financially independent through real estate in order to free up time for travel and starting businesses.

1 Comment

  1. Russell Brazil

    In Maryland, we only need look at some of the local jurisdictions to see how local government affects property values. Baltimore city has a real estate tax rate of 2.25%, which is more than double the rest of the state of Maryland. Of course we see property there valued at far less than it should be due to the tax burden.

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