Maybe you want to know what type of brick is on your porch or perhaps you want to ask the original contractor about adding an addition. But if you're not the first owner of the house, you probably don't know the builder's name. For homes constructed within the last few decades, finding the name of the builder often requires no more than a visit to the local building authority. Discovering who built a historical home, though, takes a good deal more investigating, and you could still come up empty-handed.
Today, virtually all communities require builders to file permits before constructing homes. Your local city or county inspector's office keeps a record of which builder pulled the permit, and often the names of the subcontractors as well. Many communities started archiving permit-filing records seven, or more, decades ago. If you live outside the city, contact the county offices to find which department maintains rural permits.
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Most builders don't put their names on the homes they build, but you can sometimes track them down by contacting one of the subcontractors. Plumbers regularly put their service stickers on water heaters, reverse osmosis units and water softeners. Likewise, HVAC contractors put their service stickers on air conditioners, furnaces and even ductwork. If the subcontractor is still in business, he might remember who built your house.
A register of deeds department, often located in a county courthouse, keeps residential records from the beginning of a property's history. While these records typically do not contain the names of the builders, they will list previous owners. From there, you can try to locate a former owner and ask who the builder was. Some communities are putting their records online, but the older your house is, the more likely it is that you'll have to go through the old record books in person or pay a fee for the clerk to conduct a search.
By knowing the year in which a historical house was built, which should appear on the title insurance documents or abstract of title, you can search the library's microfilmed copies of the local newspaper for that year to see if any residential developments, and builders, appear in news of local interest. Ask the librarian about any additional records, such as fire insurance maps or local architectural publications that might also list builders.
If other avenues fail to produce leads, contacting the owners of homes similar in style to yours might turn up clues. For instance, if your home has a barn-style roof with a large front porch and another home in the community is identical in style and age, the same builder might have constructed both homes.
Memories and Memoirs
Elderly neighbors, a historical society and town historians are all sources of decades-old local information. Local libraries carry historic books by local authors that you can browse on the off chance your historical home, or similar homes, appear. Unless your home is a landmark, though, its builder's history could be lost to the annals of time. Builder records were sketchy before the turn of the 19th century.