In the commercial real estate world, one’s ability to track down quality data can make or break their career.
That’s because the commercial real estate industry is very relationship driven. Whether you’re an investor, broker, lender, appraiser or contractor – having strong relationships will lead to new business deals.
In order to build those relationships though, you need to know where to start: with the property owner.
But tracking down information about commercial real estate owners is no easy task, particularly in a place like California, where commercial real estate activity is constant and the market players remain fluid.
How to Find the Owner of a Commercial Property in California
Unfortunately, there’s no “easy” way to find CRE owners in California. Most commercial real estate professionals have to navigate a complex web of public records, which are often incomplete and worse, inaccurate.
That said, public records can be a good starting point when trying to find information about California property owners.
In this article, we take a look at the various ways to find ownership information about CRE property owners in California.
Public Record California Property Owner Search
As noted above, public record searches tend to be a good starting point for CRE professionals looking to track down owner information. There are a few noteworthy databases for people to search when looking for California property owners.
Most public records are maintained at the local level, so there are some nuances by county, but generally speaking, you’ll want to look for property records kept by the following departments:
County Clerk/Registrar-Recorder Offices
The State of California is divided into 58 counties, each of which has its own system for maintain property records such as property deeds.
A property deed is a written and signed legal instrument used to transfer ownership of real property from the old owner (the grantor) to the new owner (the grantee).
Locating a property deed will often provide valuable insight for CRE professionals looking to find property owner information in California.
In California, most deeds are recorded with the County Clerk, often called the Registrar-Recorder office.
Depending on the county, property records may or may not be available for viewing online.
For instance, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder does not allow people to search for records online whereas the San Diego County Clerk’s office does. It’s really hit or miss depending on the county.
In California, a city or county treasurer is responsible for collecting local property taxes.
These agencies will often maintain property information, such as records about annual tax payments and any liens placed on a property for unpaid taxes. In smaller counties, the Treasurer’s office is often combined with other offices.
For instance, in Solano County, California, the office serves as the Treasurer, Tax Collector and County Clerk.
County tax assessors are another great way to find information about California property owners.
The property cards maintained by the tax assessor’s office typically include the name of the property owner, that owner’s legal address, and specific property information such as annual property taxes.
The county tax assessor will also be able to provide information about potential tax relief (depending on certain qualifications), special assessments, and other tax exemptions.
Unfortunately, tax assessor records can also be difficult to track down.
For instance, in Orange County, the only way to access assessor roll products are by visiting the Orange County Public Service Center in person, or by submitting a written request.
The Alameda County Assessor’s Office is a bit more user-friendly. Alameda County has parcel information available online for those who know how to navigate the website’s build-in GIS system, as shown below.
California Secretary of State
One of the challenges that many people run into is that, even when property owner information is readily available online, many commercial properties are held as a limited liability company (LLC) or in a trust.
This creates another layer of ambiguity when trying to find CRE owners in California.
Let’s assume, for a minute, that you’ve navigated public records to the point of locating the property owner. That property owner is listed as an LLC. The next step is to figure out who’s behind the LLC.
The best way to learn more about the LLC is by doing a business search with the California Secretary of State’s office.
Conducting a public records search is a good way to find CRE owners in California – but it’s not the only way. An alternative approach is to engage the help of a commercial real estate broker.
Most commercial real estate brokers will have hyper-local knowledge of the market. Those who have been in business the longest will probably know who owns just about every significant commercial property in the region.
California CRE Brokerages
Working with a CRE broker is another great way to find information about California property owners.
A few of prominent CRE brokers in California include:
Commercial Brokers International
Commercial Brokerage International (CBI) was established in 2006 and since then, has carved out a niche in the Los Angeles and Orange County markets.
Vanguard Properties has over 30 years of experience selling commercial real estate in the Bay Area and continuously ranks in the top 5 brokerages in San Francisco.
NAI San Diego
NAI San Diego offers a comprehensive range of brokerage services provided by real estate professionals that work exclusively with specific property types.
Therefore, if you’re interested in finding CRE ownership information about a particular property, you’ll be able to work with a broker that is especially knowledgeable about that asset class locally.
Search California Property Owners Off-Market with Reonomy
Reonomy combines public records across the country with a number of other private data sources to bring many layers of information on property owners into one place.
The Reonomy Platform allows you to search through more than 3 million commercial assets in the state of California.
From Los Angeles County, to San Diego, to the border of Oregon, and everywhere in between, you can easily search for owners by name, or simply discover owners based on their assets.
Search for properties and owners by name, address, asset sale history, debt history, tax history, and much more.
Identifying Owner Needs Off-Market
California property owner information is important, but once you have that data, then what?
Truth be told, most commercial real estate professionals layer this data with another set of data, depending on their niche within the industry.
For instance, a debt broker may know who owns a 200-unit apartment building in Los Angeles County, but unless he knows when the owner purchased the property and last secured financing (and at what rate), the owner information on its own is otherwise insufficient to help him source new leads.
Instead, most commercial real estate professionals combine California CRE owner information with other data sets to identify potential owner needs off-market.
Here are a few tools that come in handy for CRE professionals looking to identify California commercial property owners potentially in need of services:
CalFire Real-Time Fire Map
California is prone to wild fires, so the University of California has created the CalFire Real-Time Fire Map to allow anyone to track fires as they occur.
This tool can be useful for insurance companies and companies in the commercial building restoration sector as they look for California CRE owners who may have been affected by recent wildfires.
ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager
The State of California has some of the most aggressive energy reduction goals in the entire country.
A new law took effect on June 1, 2018 that requires California commercial property owners with buildings over a certain size to monitor, report, and benchmark their energy usage.
The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager allows building owners to track this data. As data is reported to the California Energy Commission, CRE professionals can mine the data to find property owners who may be in need of energy reduction tools and strategies.
This is a great way for commercial solar panel installers and property managers to identify a CRE owner’s needs off-market.
California Department of Water Resources
California commercial property owners are increasingly paying attention to things like climate change and sea level rise.
Buildings are being designed with 100-year (even 500-year) floods in mind, with things like critical power and life safety equipment being elevated out of basements and to above-grade locations.
Industry professionals can take advantage of this trend by seeking out California CRE property owners that have buildings located in existing or projected flood zones.
The California Department of Water Resources provides several tools for those interested in flood management, risk assessment, and property mapping.
California’s warm and sunny climate makes it a natural fit for commercial property owners interested in generating solar power. Aurora Solar provides several tools for installers looking to generate leads in-house.
Software allows users to conduct remote site analyses based on specific criteria (e.g., building size, property orientation toward the sun).
As potential opportunities are identified, Aurora Solar makes it easy for users to generate custom solar reports that identify the CRE property owner’s potential cost savings, and therefore, increases the likelihood of converting this otherwise off-market lead.
Most people think of LoopNet as a resource for buying, selling or leasing commercial real estate – but it can be used for other purposes as well. For example, LoopNet provides significant comp and sales data. Users can collect and analyze this data to spot California CRE trends.
Say there are a lot of properties being sold and repositioned in a specific neighborhood. A commercial real estate broker might reach out to surrounding property owners to gauge their interest in selling too.
Likewise, in an area that has had a lot of activity and new development, a lender might use LoopNet to identify long-time California CRE owners who likely now have more equity in their properties and may be interested in something like a cash-out refi.