Some people think the deal-making process in commercial real estate is pretty straightforward.
What they often don’t understand, however, is the intense and extensive research that goes into informing those deals.
Perhaps the biggest piece of information needed will always be the name and contact details of the owner.
Finding property owner records, though, is no easy task.
Here, we’re going to dive into searching owner records, look at some alternatives, and ultimately shine some light on the quickest way to find owner records in any market.
Property Owner Records
Public records have traditionally been the tried-and-true resource for CRE professionals searching property owners.
While there are certainly more tools available now to assist with these searches, most people still start with public records as their baseline.
Public records allow CRE professionals to either:
1. Search properties by the name of the owner.
2. Search properties by address, parcel ID, and/or transaction details.
This allows you to conduct two major points of research. In the first search, you’d be diving in to learn about an owner and their portfolio.
In the second search, you’d be looking to simply find who the owner is by viewing property sales deeds and other documents.
What ownership info can you actually find with public records?
Generally, public records can be pretty helpful for CRE professionals, and have long been the go-to for property research.
When it comes to ownership records, however, the information is not going to be too thorough.
Through sales and other deeds, you can use public property records to see:
- Sales transaction dates
- Sale amounts (except in non-disclosure states)
- History of property ownership (at the level of reported owning entity)
- Liens on a property
How about a real world example…
Say you know that John Smith owns a 150-unit apartment building in Houston, and he’s owned it since 2000.
By visiting the Harris County Clerk website, you can search documents by the file number, date, block and lot, or by the name of the trustee, grantor, or grantee.
By searching with “John Smith,” you can see the history of documents associated to him as an owner.
The mortgage on John’s property, if any, will also be recorded in the public record, showing you how much the original mortgage was.
Property Sale Date, Price, and Previous Owner:
The sales deed will show who the property was purchased from, exactly when, and for how much.
A savvy real estate professional can even use this information to determine how much John put down to purchase the property (e.g., 20%, 25% or more).
This is where information can be turned into insights to win new business.
Say you calculate that he put down 50% when he purchased the property. That indicates that he has significant equity in the property.
This could be a signal to CRE service providers, such as solar installers or roofers, that John Smith may have the funds available to invest in property improvements—maybe a PV solar array or roof renovation.
This could also signal that maybe John Smith is willing to buy another asset.
A commercial real estate broker can use this information to flag John Smith as a potential buyer.
Let’s take the example a bit further.
You’re a broker representing John Smith’s neighboring building. Discovering that John should have some cash-on-hand would make him a prime target.
With the details you compiled in your analysis, you could now build a pitch to John Smith that sounds something like this:
“I see you have 50% equity in 123 Main St, Houston. I’d love to be a resource in helping you draw on that equity to purchase the property next door. With property management and other operational factors in place, the only thing you have to lose is money.”
How about on the mortgage broker side?
Well, let’s say the property owner records indicate that Mr. Smith only put down 25% back in 2000.
He may still have a hefty mortgage balance.
A commercial real estate lender or originator may use this information to flag Mr. Smith as a candidate for refinancing.
Property owner records can also show you whether the person has any liens against the property.
Despite all of this, however, if you didn’t know John Smith’s name, you’d be limited in the amount of information you can find.
Even with sales deeds, the best you’ll get is the name of two LLCs. Public owner records don’t allow you to go beyond that LLC, let alone find any contact information.
The Pitfalls of Public Property Owner Records
Searching by owner name is pretty straightforward. Searching for an owner name, however, is an entirely different ballgame.
It can be a very frustrating process, even if those records are available online.
Unless you have a person’s name or property address, your search can take a significant amount of time, and may still hit a dead end.
Case in point: You’re a broker at a networking event, and you meet an investor that appears to fit your exact target prospect.
The investor mentions that she owns several apartment buildings in the Houston area, and is looking to expand her portfolio.
You take her business card so you can perform the necessary research and follow up.
The problem is, she owns all of her assets under different LLCs. This is where your property owner records search hits a dead end.
Thankfully, there are ways around this.
Finding Property Owner Records with Tech Platforms
While public records might be the best free option in your county, new platforms can save you hours in research every week.
New tech allows for all public records to be aggregated in one place, and combined with other records sources.
The Reonomy Platform, for example, combines public records with private data sources, layering on owner contact information, sales history, debt history, and much more to existing public owner records.
Reonomy Property Owner Search
With Reonomy, you have three options to search property owners.
Option 1: Search by owning entity.
In short, with this feature, you can search for an LLC.
In the list of properties associated with that LLC, you’ll be able to see the members of the LLC along with their contact information.
Option 2: Search by owner name.
This is similar to a public records search, except here, you’ll be shown all properties associated with that person, even if those properties have LLCs as reported owners.
Option 3: Discover new properties and owners.
Reonomy also comes with full flexibility.
You can run a property search based on location, asset type, building and lot specifics, sales history, debt history, taxes, tenants, or all of the above.
Instead of having to meet your target prospect at a networking event, you can seek them out on the Reonomy Platform, then quickly access their contact information and reach out.
Let’s compare that against a few real life public property owner records search examples.
Public Property Owner Records Search Examples
The examples below show the innate differences between public resources and more thoroughly built, tech-fueled platforms.
Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder
The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder, otherwise known as the L.A. County Clerk’s Office, actually doesn’t have property owner records online.
Instead, CRE professionals must visit their local county recorder in person to find the records and documents they need.
An alternative option is to search the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office, which provides baseline information about a property (though you must have the address).
It can show you property owner information, but it will not offer the more in-depth information like copies of sales deeds, mortgages, liens, and so on.
Cook County Assessor’s Office
If you’re looking for information about properties located in Cook County, Illinois, you can turn to the Cook County Assessor’s Database.
This database does not let you search by owner name. You must have a property address.
It does, however, offer an alternative that some CRE professionals might find useful: the database can be searched based on property class.
This allows users to search for a wide variety of asset classes, ranging from one-story homes under 999 sq. ft. to 2-6 unit structures built before 1962.
There are a range of categories segmented by property type, size and age which allows users to hone in on target properties.
A user can get pretty nuanced with this search, including searching for farm land, properties that have received home improvement exemptions, or properties that are owned by nonprofits.
The tool offers so many options that a user may need to conduct multiple searches to find what they’re looking for.
(E.g. farm land under market prices vs. farm land under use-value pricing).
Maricopa, AZ Assessor’s Office
The easiest way to track down property owner records in Maricopa, Arizona is to search via the Assessor’s Office.
The online database can be mined using the property owner’s name, property address, parcel number, or business personal property account number.
The website includes a GIS mapping tool that allows users to refine their search by zip code or geographic area, in case a person’s name or address is unavailable.
This tool is helpful for those who are interested in a specific area but do not have a specific parcel in mind.
Miami-Dade County Clerk
The Miami-Dade Property Assessor’s database allows people to search for property owner records by address, name, folio or subdivision name.
This is a useful starting point, but again limits some of the flexibility available for those who do not have this information handy.
Nonetheless, if you know what you’re looking for, the Miami-Dade Assessor’s database will provide property ownership information and a number of other key property characteristics.
Information on each property includes, among other things:
- Current assessed value
- Exemption benefits
- Taxable value
It also provides current and archived aerial imagery and building sketches, when available.
The property owner record will also typically include links to other useful governmental bodies relative to that property, such as the local board of education and water management district.
The NYC Department of Finance Automated City Register Information System, better known as “ACRIS,” is an online tool that commercial real estate professionals can leverage to find property owner information in NYC.
ACRIS is perhaps the most searchable and well-organized public property owner records source in the nation.
The site is unique in that it allows users to search by business name, an option not commonly available in other county searches.
Furthermore, one of the most helpful aspects of ACRIS is that it allows users to search by document type, such as for deeds, mortgages, and other conveyances.
This allows users to fine-tune their search from the get-go.
It’s particularly useful when trying to find information relative to a person who owns multiple properties or has been party to many transactions over time.
No matter what market you might be in, however, including those mentioned here, Reonomy can key you into the necessary property owner records.
From duplexes, all the way up to the nation’s largest skyscrapers, see owners, their contact information, and streamline your ability to win new business.