While you may know a piece of real estate by its mailing address, that's typically not how information about properties are recorded in city and county land records offices. Instead, records are often organized using what are known as assessor's parcel numbers, or APNs, corresponding to each piece of property. You may need an APN to access tax, deed, mortgage and other records online or in person, and once you have the APN, you can usually use it to search for records in a city or county office or online.
Real Estate and APN Numbers
An assessor's parcel number, often called an APN number, is a numeric code that identifies a property within a particular jurisdiction, such as a county or city. Often, the APN is in multiple parts that enable you to find the property in physical books of maps of the jurisdiction, so the APN may include the book number, page number and property number on that page of the book. Special rules may apply for properties such as condominium units.
Because addresses can change over time, and in some jurisdictions, some properties may not have mailing addresses, APNs can be a more reliable way to identify a particular parcel of land. That's why they're often used by agencies like zoning boards, property tax assessors and land records offices to speak about real estate.
Keep in mind that each jurisdiction has its own system of APN numbers, so you can't expect that APN numbers will have the same numeric format between different places or even that multiple pieces of land in different jurisdictions won't have the same number.
Some municipalities use their own unique parcel numbering system, like New York City's borough, block and lot system, while others use book-and-page-based systems. If you're storing information about properties by APN number, such as in a spreadsheet or database, make sure you record what jurisdiction issued an APN number as well as the number itself.
Finding APN for a House
If you want to find the APN number for your residence or another property, there are usually several ways to do so. The number is often printed on deeds, property tax bills and other property records, so if it's your property or you otherwise have access to these records, check for the APN number.
If you don't have the number in your records, you can see if your jurisdiction has an online tool to search for a parcel number by address or by owner. Determine if your city, town, county or other agency keeps land records, and see if there's such a search tool online.
If you don't see the search tool, you may be able to call your local land records office and ask someone there to look up a particular property's parcel number. Depending on the agency, you may need to physically visit and examine printed maps to find the APN. You may want to bring another map showing the property you're interested in to make sure that you can find it reliably when you look through the paper maps.
A real estate agent or appraiser may also be able to help you find the APN. Depending on the situation, you may need to pay for this service if you're not otherwise using the expert's service.
Using the APN Number
Once you have the APN, it's often useful to search for other land records online and offline. For instance, land recording offices might let you use the APN to search online for deeds, mortgages and other information about a property. Assessors' offices also might have information about a property's tax bill and how much it's considered to be worth by the local government.
Depending on where you are, some data may only be available by physically visiting records offices. Bring the addresses and APN numbers for properties you're interested in to expedite your search.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.