While real estate web sites give the most important information about homes to potential buyers, there are many other free web sites that give public information about homes in Minnesota. I use these sites on a regular basis, especially when I'm inspecting a flipped house. Not only is it interesting to see if permits have been pulled for work being done, but it's also interesting to see if the work has ever been inspected and approved.
I think it's wise to check the permit history when buying a home. The standard Seller's Property Disclosure Statement asks the seller if appropriate permits were pulled for any work performed at the property, but I think this is a fairly worthless question, and I often find the check boxes on this form just left blank.
If permits were pulled, it means the seller was given permission to perform work. It doesn't mean the work was completed, inspected, or approved. If you were buying a home, wouldn't you want to know if there were a bunch of open permits? Or that the basement was completely finished without permits? Or that no permits were pulled for a bunch of hack wiring that was done as part of a kitchen remodel?
The old timey way to check permit history was to call the building inspections department, but today there are at least eighteen cities in the Twin Cities metro area that give building permit history online. If I missed any, please let me know and I'll add them. I also have these cities listed under the "External Links" page on our web site.
*Minneapolis and several other communities use state electrical inspectors, so electrical permits must be looked up here: https://secure.doli.state.mn.us/etrakit2/AdvPermitSearch.aspx
Currently, only Minneapolis and Saint Paul have TISH evaluations publicly available online. Here's how to look them up.
Minneapolis: Go to the Minneapolis Development Review site to look up information about properties within the city. Just type in the house number and street name; don't bother with things like "Avenue" or "East." If there are multiple listings for your search terms, you'll be given a choice. Once you've found the property, click "View this Property".
The next page will have a bunch of links at the top left, including one that says "Truth in Sale of Housing". Click this link to look up any current TISH evaluations. If there are open repair orders, those will also be listed here.
Saint Paul: Go to the Saint Paul One Stop page to look up property information about Saint Paul homes. For TISH evaluations, start by clicking the link that says "Property info and Permits by Address." Type in the house number and street name, hit submit, and you'll be taken to the property info page. To know if there is a TISH evaluation on file for the property, look for an entry that says "Truth In Sale of Housing Inspection".
At the bottom of such an entry should be one or two hyperlinks; one linking to the TISH cover sheet, and another linking to the 'guts' of the report... or in same cases, both the cover page and the guts may be combined into a single report. I've heard some guys have figured out a way to combine the two reports into a single document, but I haven't.
The Hennepin County web site gives information about who the current owner is, what the property last sold for, aerial photos, and rough diagrams showing the sizes and shapes of lots. The image below gives a shrunk-down example of what this looks like. Click the photo to see a large version.
Hennepin County's property information site is the only one I use with any regularity, but other counties give similar information on their sites.