Harris County, TX is the most populated county in the state of Texas, and the third most populated county in the United States, with roughly 4.6 million current residents – and nearly 300,000 commercial properties.
Due to its size, there are a number of different ways to run a property search for Harris County real estate. One way to do so is to take advantage of public property records.
There are a few ways to attain public property records. You can either go to county courthouses and public offices and retrieve the data in person, or search web platforms offered by the municipalities themselves. For someone running a property search in Harris County, the first site they’ll likely go to is hcad.org.
What is HCAD?
HCAD stands for the Harris County Appraisal District. It is a subdivision of the state of Texas that, “accurately and uniformly,” determines the value of properties within the county’s parameters. It’s the most notable option for those looking to find property information within Harris County.
There are a number of ways that you can navigate property information on HCAD, making it important to know the different levels of granularity for which you can search the site. Maximizing your HCAD property search is about knowing what information to include, and how to use that information to uncover new opportunities.
Let’s take a look at the different ways that you can identify real estate information through an HCAD property search.
HCAD Property Search
On the HCAD site, you can search on three different levels dependent on your preferred search granularity. You can run a Quick Search, a Real Property Search, or a Real Property Search Advanced.
Running a Quick Search is the simplest way to search for properties on the HCAD site. Upon entering the Quick Search page, you can choose between searching by account number, by address, or by the name of the property owner.
Once you choose one of these three criteria, you’ll be given a simple search bar to enter the necessary information. When searching by account, you first need to select a tax year. HCAD maintains public property records for the previous five years.
Once you’ve selected a tax year, you can enter the 13-digit account number of your desired property and click Search.
To search by address, simply click the Search By Address button at the top of the search bar. Here, you again have to start by entering a tax year. Once you’ve done so, you can enter the street name and number into the search bar, and click Search.
To search by owner name, again simply click into the Search By Owner Name tab, and first select a tax year. From there, you need to enter the last name, followed by the first initial of a property owner, specifically without a comma included.
Once you search for a specific account number, address, or owner name, you’ll be taken straight to the information page of that property, where you can find everything from ownership history, to building information, valuations, and more.
From the information page, you can also search nearby properties, properties with the same street name, and properties with similar owner names.
Real Property Search
The next way to search on HCAD’s site is to run a Real Property Search. For the most part, a Real Property Search is the same as a Quick Search, with only a few functional differences.
Here, you can also start your search with one of the same three criteria – account number, address, or property owner name. To do so, enter the Real Property Records search page, and select which piece of information you’d like to search by.
After you select one of the three options, you’ll be taken to a page similar to that of Quick Search. From here, you can enter the necessary information as you would above.
The only difference when entering information into the search bar is the amount of details that you can include when searching by property address.
With an account number or property owner search, you only need one piece of information. Real Property Search adds another layer of information that you can include when searching by address, however.
The first address search option is similar to a Quick Search, where you can enter a single address. On top of a street name and number, however, here you can also automatically include properties that have a similar street name to what you’ve entered.
What’s most different about the Real Property Search is the ability to search within a range of addresses. In this section, after choosing a tax year, you can search a street name, then add a range of street numbers. Real Property Search better affords you the ability to search for multiple properties by address at once.
The other main difference in the functionality of the separate search bars is how they interact with the page after you’ve clicked Search.
When running a Quick Search, for example, the search bar remains at the top of the page, even as you’re looking at property information:
With this, you can continuously search property after property without ever losing the search bar, thus making it quick to run through multiple property information pages.
With a Real Property Search, however, after you’ve entered your search criteria, the search bar will disappear to make way for the property information page:
The information available on each property page is the same no matter how you get there, however, so choosing between Quick Search and Real Property Search is merely a matter of preference, and a matter of prior knowledge on a property.
If there are no results for what you’ve entered in your search, HCAD will present you with the option to jump into an advanced search to help you add more details to your search and better hone in on your desired property.
Real Property Search Advanced
A Real Property Advanced Search is by far the most granular and detailed way that you can run an HCAD property search. Even at a glance, the search page for an advanced search is much more extensive than any other.
On this page, to search by address, you can enter any combination of a street name, street number, and zip code. To search by owner name, add the last name and first name or initial of your the property owner.
Many of the most granular search criteria on this page are property-level pieces of information. You can run a search by property-level data such as building-style code, land code, neighborhood number, school district, total value, total value range, total square footage, and total square footage range. You can add any combination of these filters to search with less or more granularity.
Most of the search filters can be added by simply typing in the necessary information. Tax year, school district, and the range-based filters, however, can all be added by selecting from a dropdown.
Once you’ve added all of your search filters, you can choose how you want your results to be ordered (by account number, street address, or owner name), and click Search.
HCAD Property Records
There is still quite a bit to digest once you’ve landed on a property information page. Each individual property page includes ownership, land, and building-level data.
The top of the page includes a broad-level overview of the property. The first section includes ownership information, as well as general land and building-level data.
The first thing you’ll see is the current property owner’s name and mailing address. Next to it, you’ll see the property’s address and legal description.
In this section, you can also click out into ownership history and the fiduciary information on the property, namely, its account number.
Next is an overview of the land and building-level data associated with the property. Here, you’ll see information such as State Class Code, Land Use Code, Building Class, Total Units, Land Area, Building Area, Net Rentable Area, Neighborhood, Market Area, and more.
There are more granular sections of land and building data further down the page.
The next section on any property information page includes tax data and valuations. First, there is information for tax exemptions and jurisdictions, as well as the tax rate for the year prior.
HCAD’s valuation data includes a property’s value for the two most recent years, broken down into land, improvement, and total valuations. There is also an option to click and view a property’s five year valuation history.
Land and Building Information
The next section includes more detailed land and building-level information, from land use, unit type, number of units, and price per unit, to year built, building type, building style, and other information on the building’s functionality, like plumbing, heating, and on. This section is focused on a property’s overall usage and functionality.
The bottom of this section also includes the quantity and condition of the “extra features” of the property, such as loading docks and property fireproofing.
Essentially, as you work your way through a property information page, the data becomes more and more granular as you get closer to the bottom of the page.
HCAD Parcel Viewer
Another feature available on the HCAD website is their online parcel viewer. Here, users can see and search the entire county with an aerial view map. Users can pan freely across the map, zooming in and out to view specific areas of land.
In the HCAD parcel viewer, there is a search bar on the left-hand side of the page, where you can search for specific properties by account number, address, or owner name.
When you search for properties, a list of results will appear underneath the search bar.
Other parcel viewer tools include the ability to find your current location to see nearby properties (if you are within Harris County, of course), and the ability to change the map view, from road map, to parcel map, to earth view.
Measurements can also be added to the map in a multitude of different unit types – from land measurements like acres, square yards, and square feet, to more general measurements like feet, yards, miles, and kilometers.
To take your parcel view on the go, you can also print the map just how it sits on the screen by using the Create Map tool, represented by the printer icon in the upper right corner of the page.
Alternatives to HCAD
Public property records let you dive deep into singular markets, but don’t always give you a full and broad understanding of an area’s real estate. The only way to truly gain a full understanding of any municipality is to utilize tech platforms that aggregate data from a variety of sources.
Sites like HCAD include data on a large quantity of properties in a given district, but can sometimes lack breadth, requiring you to use additional sources to get all of the information you need. That doesn’t even account for the process needed to instill the data into your daily processes.
In this case, while HCAD includes information on virtually every property within Harris County, the breadth of the data surrounding those properties isn’t quite as illustrious as it could be.
What you may be missing out on when using these sites, are insights. With new data platforms, you can compare properties to other similar properties, compare markets, see property sales and debt history, and much, much more.
These platforms can be used as a way to bolster your HCAD property search, as a way to compare Harris County property records to other counties, or can be used entirely on their own. The most important part is simply taking advantage of this heightened accessibility to data.
These platforms can be used as a way to bolster your HCAD property search, to compare Harris County property records to other districts, or can be used entirely on their own to identify and analyze target real estate opportunities.
While knowing how to utilize sites like HCAD are important, the most important part is buying into the new accessibility of real estate data.