House History Hunting Part 1: Good deeds go unpunished

by on March 26th, 2014

Recently, my partner and I—both well into our 30s—took a step to officially becoming adults that there is no going back from: We bought a house. *Gulp*

Potter house in Godric's Hollow by Rob Young

“Potter house in Godric’s Hollow”–photo courtesy of Rob Young on Flickr.

Our realtor told us she loves working with first-time buyers because we haven’t become disengaged with the ho-hum needs of house-buying. Our excitement is fresh. It’s green with exciting ideas for making this property ours. For choosing paint colors, for garden imaginings, for the best living room floor plans incorporating a hearth. A hearth! I can swear to you in my last 13 years of Iowa City apartment dwelling, I have never had a hearth.

Our realtor did not expect my excitement to bleed over into local history. Yes she knew I was a librarian, but did not know the extent of my local history research skillz. Before putting in our bid, I used ICPL resources to confirm the entire ownership history of this house, and discovered clues that increased my confidence in the sturdiness of this structure. When you become betrothed to a bank for $200K, you want certain assurances that the house won’t break up with you first.

So what tools did I use to paint the history of this house?

Starting with the Iowa City Assessor website, I clicked on the Parcel Search tab and entered the house number and street name. You’ll have better luck if you do not include the words “street” or “avenue.” That will give you the names of the deed holders and a recent history of the sale information.

For super-planners like me, it will also give you a property report with dimensions of the overall structure, which was critical in reconciling the dimensions and photos from the seller’s realtor when planning the bedroom layout. (Why does she list the master bedroom as 16’ x 12’ when the house is 26’ wide? Oh, because that would make the master bath 10’, and 10’ + 16’ = 26’.)

House structure

House structure

The Iowa City Assessor website is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to property research. Find out how to dig deeper in tomorrow’s post.

Posts in this series:

House History Hunting Part 1: Good deeds go unpunished (currently reading)

House History Hunting Part 2: Raising the dead

House History Hunting Part 3: A local index like no other

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About Melody Dworak

Melody Dworak
Melody buys books for the second half of the nonfiction Dewey numbers on the 2nd floor. She has recently been bitten by the fiction bug, but loves those historical reference questions regardless. Visit the digital collections she manages at and