The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 August 2004

Confidentially speaking

We're at the copier station: Valerie is making copies because sometimes that's what she does, and I'm there because Valerie is there and she's awfully pretty. For some reason we got onto the subject of real estate, and I mentioned that my house was built back in 1948. "I don't know when mine was built," she said, at which point I darted back to my cave and called up the County Assessor's database.

I returned and announced: "Nineteen fifty."

"How did you find that out?" Valerie asked.

And she followed me back to the cave, where on the screen was a description of her house, its current market value, and every ownership change on it since, well, 1950.

Most people who have seen this database in action have been impressed that something like this was available in this putatively hick burg. Not Valerie. She was utterly horrified that any bozo from off the street could call up intensely-personal information like this. I pointed out that in years past, any bozo from off the street could walk into county offices and request exactly the same data: real-estate transactions are a matter of public record, after all.

She was not mollified. And she was even more upset when she caught sight of the name of her ex-spouse, who at one time was a co-owner of the house: presumably she got it in the divorce settlement. "They had to execute a transfer to put it in your name. He's a former owner. Of course his name will be on there." I can certainly see why she wouldn't want to be reminded of the guy — and what kind of guy lets someone like Valerie get away, anyway? — but divorce proceedings, too, are a matter of public record.

I don't think she was about to cry, but I've misread her before. Still, she seems to have a point: is it now too easy to access public records? It's not like J. Random Stalker is going to have a much better shot at her; he's got to know how to work the database, which has its quirks, and none of its contents are indexed by search engines, so merely Googling her won't produce any of this information.

I suppose it's a good thing I didn't bring up the GIS mapper, which presumably has an aerial view of her property.

Posted at 8:53 AM to City Scene


Probably better not to inform her that certain satellites in space can pick up people picking their noses in their own living rooms, as well.

Posted by: Vickie at 9:55 AM on 28 August 2004

You could have printed it out, circled it and placed it on her desk.....

And then sat back and listened for the scream.

Posted by: unimpressed at 6:20 PM on 28 August 2004

To heck with the GIS mapper, terraserver.microsoft.com (no longer the actual URL but it's the one I remember and it still works) has aerial photos of most of the country, though some of them are kind of old.

My wife looked at the one showing our house, and there's a little tiny black dot that was, on the day the flyover occurred, my 1981 Bronco sitting in the driveway.

Is the GIS mapper searchable, for example, by street address? That would make it more -- er -- creepy than TerraServer.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:41 PM on 28 August 2004

It's not, at least in any way I can fathom; on the other hand, if you know your way around the county, you can find an individual parcel in about three zooms, max, and it will be labeled with a number that can be run through the database.

And inasmuch as almost all the major arteries correspond to section lines, it's an easy grid to learn.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:47 PM on 28 August 2004

TerraServer has a nice shot of Surlywood right after its previous owner took over; apparently that monstrous shrub in front of the master bedroom used to be even bigger.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:54 PM on 28 August 2004

She's really naive (I am using that word to be kind) if she did not know this before.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 9:08 PM on 28 August 2004

Echo Andrea.

Posted by: Vickie at 5:25 AM on 29 August 2004