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Property Record Cards at Puget Sound Regional Archives

If you are researching specific buildings in a neighborhood, one very good place to start is with the King County Assessor's property record cards.

The property record cards were kept between 1937 and 1972. Today they are best known as a source of historical photographs of homes and commercial buildings.

In addition to the photographs, the property record cards provide a cumulative history of each parcel of real property in King County, including legal description, ownership, and assessed value. All real property improvements are described by size, features, condition, construction materials and methods. An outline drawing ("footprint") of the area covered by the structure is often present.

For help researching property history, see also the Researching the History of Seattle and King County Buildings (PDF) -- an in-depth research guide, newly revised and expanded to cover all of King County, in collaboration with Seattle Public Library Special Collections.

 
What kind of properties are covered by the cards?

Commercial and residential (taxable) properties are present in the cards. Briefer information with or without a photograph, may be present for tax-exempt structures.
 
What can the cards tell me about my property?
Property record cards generally contain:

• Record of tax assessments
• Photographs of building exteriors
• General description of construction
• Date of construction
• Small sketch of the exterior plan of buildings (including dimensions)
• Segregation (property division) dates and short platting information
• Numbers for land parcels
• Ownership information (incomplete)
• Excise numbers (incomplete)
• Building permit numbers (post-1937 construction; incomplete)
 
What won't I find in these cards?

• Name of the tax payer
• Every owner of the property
• Amount of taxes paid
• Purchase prices (although this is occasionally noted)
• Detailed floor plans or blueprints (possible sources of plans)
• Photographs of building interiors
• Location of buildings on the property
• Architect or builder name
• Reason for segregations (property divisions)
• Changes of zoning codes (help in researching zoning changes)
• Easements
 
Are the property record cards available online?

At this time the cards are available in hard-copy format only. See below for information regarding access to property cards.
 
How do I access these cards?
Contact the Puget Sound Regional Archives, a branch of the Washington State Archives in Bellevue:

Puget Sound Regional Archives (external link)
Pritchard-Fleming Building
3000 Landerholm Circle SE, MS-N100
Bellevue, WA 98007-6484
Telephone: (425) 564-3940
FAX: (425) 564-3945
PSBranchArchives@sos.wa.gov

To access these cards you will need a tax account (parcel) number or a brief legal description of the property. The cards cannot be retrieved by address alone. To obtain a tax parcel number, contact the King County Assessor. Or, click here to access the online Parcel Viewer.
 
Why aren't the property record cards at the King County Archives?

The Washington State Archives established regional branch archives as repositories for local government records prior to King County's establishment of the King County Archives in 1990. Some King County records, including the property record cards, remain at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue.
 
Can I get similar property information earlier than 1937?

The Puget Sound [state] Regional Archives also maintain some tax assessment rolls (1866-1937). The rolls contain only limited information: taxpayer name, legal description of property, assessed property value, and taxes paid. Rolls are limited for years before 1900. Only every fifth year is present between 1900-1941. Please contact the Regional Archives (external link) about using these records They are contained in large bulky volumes and can be viewed onsite, by appointment.
 
What kind of resources are available after 1972?

Folios (1972-2006) from the King County Department of Assessments' Residential and Commercial appraisal divisions currently document the characteristics of individual parcels of land and buildings in the county. The folios indicate land use, building types, number of rooms, some construction details, and include at least one photograph of each building. Additional photographs, if any, document significant changes made to buildings. Files are arranged by area, subarea, and tax account number and document information gathered and recorded. These records are held at the Puget Sound [state] Regional Archives in Bellevue. Please contact the Regional Archives (external link) for additional information.