Know the Law: Purchasing Commercial Property at Foreclosure

Headshot - John Weaver
John F. Weaver
Director, Corporate Department and Chair, Real Estate Practice Group and Chair, Artificial Intelligence Practice
Published: Union Leader
January 1, 2011

Q: I’m interested in purchasing a commercial property at foreclosure and moving my business operation into it, but I’d like to check out the property before doing so.  Where can I go to review the status of the title and any zoning restrictions?

A: New Hampshire has a wealth of title documents available online.  Deeds, notices of lease, mortgages and easements are recorded at each county’s registry of deeds and are all publicly available. You can review them by going to and selecting the appropriate county, although Carroll County is still not available.  These online databases are searchable by the names of the grantors and grantees.  Typically, each document will reference earlier documents by book and page number, allowing you to trace the history of a property through its legal transactions.  Such research can lead you to discover problems with a property, such as an environmental lien or an undischarged mortgage.

Similarly, most towns in the state keep extensive records online.  You can find tax cards and assessment data on many towns’ websites, showing a variety of information about property: zoning district, land value, value of improvements, current use status, diagrams of buildings on the property, etc.  These documents can help to give you a better idea of a reasonable auction price based on recent assessments, although bear in mind that municipal assessments do not set the market. Similarly, reviewing a property’s tax card can give you a better idea of how much property tax you can expect to pay, should you purchase the property.

Before buying commercial property, it is helpful to look at the town’s website for its planning department information.  Towns usually keep their zoning ordinance, site plan regulations, and all application forms online.  This information – as well as a quick phone call to the planning office – can help you determine if you’re going to need a variance or special exception before your business can begin operations on site.  Additionally, the property likely has a file at the town office containing records of any land use proceedings concerning the property.  Reviewing these records can reveal conditions placed on the property by a land use board, approved site plans, or existing variances.  Once you have researched a property’s title and land use history, an experienced real estate attorney can discuss potential solutions to any issues related to the property that may disrupt your business plans for the site.