If you’re trying to conduct business with commercial property owners, you’ll find out pretty quickly that tracking down ownership records isn’t easy.
In fact, it can be pretty challenging at times.
Properties listed on the market might have an owner or broker’s phone number listed.
Off-market properties, however, require you to do the research yourself to find all and any owner information.
In this article, we’ll look at some ways to better navigate public record property ownership and avoid the hassles of finding contact info.
Public Record Property Ownership
Brokers, investors, and service providers have long relied on public record property ownership documents for research and outreach.
This method works successfully in many situations, but it can be convoluted at times, and is usually fairly time-consuming.
While the potential payoff almost always outweighs the time-needed to find the right information, there are now more refined options available that make it less of a hassle to find accurate owner details.
While the potential payoff almost always outweighs the time needed to find the right information, commercial real estate tech and data aggregation tools have come a long way, now offering more streamlined, targeted ways to find ownership details and contact information.
Property Ownership Records
In the United States, property ownership is public information that is collected and maintained by the tax assessment office in each county.
The information recorded typically includes the current and previous reported owner names, property descriptions, and a list of exemptions, sales and assessed tax history.
Many counties have digitized their records, and have made them available online.
While the interfaces differ widely from county to county, you can usually search the database by entering a property ID, address, or owner name.
Some feature an interactive map that can be used to pinpoint a property or narrow down an area of interest.
To find your local public source of property owner records, you can conduct a Google search for, “your county name + property owner records.”
For example, by searching for “Duval county property ownership records,” the first result in Google is for the county appraiser.
Duval’s county seat is Jacksonville, Florida.
The site offers a few different levels to search for properties:
- Basic Search: A basic search allows you to search with owner information or an address to find a property.
- Advanced Search: Advanced searching is geared towards property characteristics. Here you can search by land-use type, sales dates and values, property size and more.
When researching sales deeds, the site shows the name of the owner listed on the most recent document associated with that property.
To illustrate another example, by searching for “Greenville county property ownership records,” you’ll get the Real Property Services search tool for Greenville, South Carolina as the top result.
There are many ways to search the site for Greenville property ownership records.
As you can see from the examples above, tracking down these databases is not easy as each one is hosted and maintained independently by the corresponding county tax authority.
What does that mean?
If you’re looking to invest in or service properties in many locations, not only will you have to research each property individually, you’ll also have to track down the appropriate public records web search tool.
And in some cases, certain counties won’t even maintain a digital copy of their property ownership records, making things even more difficult.
In those locations, you’ll have to go to the tax assessor or county recorder’s office in person, and attain physical copies of the deeds and documents you’re looking for.
If you are an out-of-town investor, this can dramatically limit your access to critical decision-making information in that location.
Not to mention the inability to find that information while you’re on the move.
The Trouble of LLC Barriers
The major issue with relying on public records for property ownership information is the common use of LLCs.
A common practice amongst commercial property owners as well as residential real estate investors is to develop or purchase a property under an LLC instead of as a corporation or a natural person.
An LLC, or limited liability company, is a type of private limited company, whose owners are known as “members.”
Benefits of LLC Ownership
Typically a real estate investor will create a separate LLC for each individual property in their portfolio, thus protecting not only their personal assets, but also their other real estate investments from liability.
Another important benefit of LLC ownership is pass-through taxation, which allows them to claim all income generated by the company as personal income and avoid double taxation.
While this practice is great for real estate owners, it adds another layer of complexity for those searching for property owner contact information.
If you look up a property owned by an LLC using a public records search tool, you’ll get exactly that—the name of an LLC.
In order to find out who is behind this LLC, you will need to go further down the “rabbit hole” of public records.
At this point, you can use the secretary of state’s website for the LLC’s state of organization to search for the LLC in the business entity and corporations database.
If the website allows access to an actual copy of the LLC’s Articles of Organization, you should be able to see the names of the original organizing members.
Some states may charge a fee for accessing this information.
Also, don’t be surprised if you find out that the members of an LLC you’re researching are LLCs also.
After all of this, even once you find the name of an owner, now begins the battle of getting their contact information.
In short, there are no reliable free tools for property owner contact information.
So, as you can see, researching public property ownership records can become a pretty tedious and time-consuming process that does not guarantee successful results.
That’s where new tech and data aggregation come into play.
Let’s take a look at what finding commercial property owners looks like on Reonomy, versus what you can expect from public records.
A New Way to Search Owner Records
The Reonomy Platform streamlines the entire owner records search process by:
- Allowing you to search and discover properties and owners based on a number of different physical attributes, sales history, debt history, tenants, tax history, and more.
- Enabling you to conduct in-depth research on those properties and owners with layers of detailed building and lot, sales, debt, tenant, ownership, and tax information.
- Giving you access to commercial owner phone numbers, email, and mailing addresses for faster and more direct outreach.
You can do all of the above without leaving the platform, as well. You’ll have access to the same depth of information in every market nationwide, all in one place.
The platform can also be used to find new prospect owners in any location with the same level of ease.
With just a few extra steps, you can be connecting with owners you’ve discovered a mere few minutes prior.
What to Expect from a Public Records Search
As we discussed earlier in the article, property owner records are maintained independently by each county’s tax assessment authority.
Not only are the counties throughout the country at different stages of digitizing their records, but the ones that have made them available online use a wide variety of interfaces to present the information.
Furthermore, the property ownership details that are available will differ from place to place.
In general, you can expect to find:
- The address and/or name of the property owner (LLC or person)
- A description and parcel ID of the property
- Estimated market value
- Assessed tax amount for the most recent and past years
As the technologies used by the tax assessment authorities become more sophisticated, more information is being made available.
In addition to the basic details mentioned above, you can expect a variety of additional facts such as:
- Official record book and page number (this can be useful if you need an actual copy of the document)
- Property use definition, legal description, subdivision, etc.
- Any applicable exemptions
- Sales history, including sale date, sale price, and deed instrument type used to record the sale
- Details about any structures and other improvements on the property
- Currently assessed property tax amount and tax history for several years
- An aerial photo, map, property layout, and other visual aids
The results of a sample property lookup using the Duval County, Florida property appraiser site:
As you can see, public property ownership records can be a helpful source of information for investors looking to purchase off market commercial or residential real estate.
However, if you choose to do this type of research on your own, be prepared to spend a significant amount of time navigating various county web sites.
Additionally, you should be aware that you may not always be able to locate the information you were looking for, or you may discover that the records are not accurate – just like anything else, the digitization process of public record property ownership data is prone to human error.