If you’re trying to conduct business with off-market commercial property owners, you’ll find out pretty quickly that tracking down ownership records and contact information can be pretty challenging at times.
Real estate assets listed on the market typically have an owner or broker’s phone number listed. To find any owner information on off-market properties however, you will have to do all the research yourself.
In this article, we’ll look at some ways to better navigate property ownership public records and avoid the hassles of finding contact info.
Property Ownership Public Records
Brokers, investors, and building service providers have long relied on public property ownership documents for research and outreach. Even though this method works successfully for many commercial real estate professionals, it is fairly time-consuming and can be quite convoluted at times.
While the potential payoff typically outweighs the time and effort invested in finding the right information, there are more streamlined, sophisticated ways to find ownership details and contact information thanks to new commercial real estate tech and data aggregation tools.
How to Use Property Ownership Records
In the United States, property ownership is public information that is collected and maintained by the county clerk or tax assessment office in each county.
The information recorded typically includes the current and previous reported owners, property descriptions, applicable exemptions, past 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 platforms may also feature an interactive map that can be used to pinpoint a property or narrow down an area of interest.
To find the public source of property owner records in a specific county, you can conduct a Google search for “county name + property owner records.”
Let’s look at a couple of specific examples.
Say, you are interested in locating property records in Jacksonville, Florida, the county seat for Duval County. If you search for “Duval county property ownership records,” the first result you see in Google is for the county appraiser.
The site offers a couple of different ways to search for properties:
- Basic Search: You can run a basic search using an owner’s name or a property address.
- Advanced Search: Advanced searching allows you to use more specific property characteristics such as land-use type, sales dates and values, property size, and more.
To illustrate another example, let’s search for “Greenville county property ownership records.” We get the Real Property Services search tool for Greenville, South Carolina as the top result.
As you can see in the screenshot below, there are several different ways you can search for Greenville property owner records.
While these two examples were pretty straightforward, tracking down public records databases is not always as easy because each one is hosted and maintained independently by the corresponding county clerk or tax authority.
What does this mean?
If you’re looking to invest in or service properties in many locations, before you can research each property of interest individually, you will have to track down the appropriate public records web search tool.
To make things more difficult, certain counties don’t even maintain a digital copy of their property ownership records. 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 such locations. Not to mention the inability to research properties while you’re on the move.
One of the major issues with relying on public records for property ownership information is the use of LLCs.
A common practice amongst both commercial property owners and residential real estate investors is to develop or purchase properties under an LLC instead of as a corporation or a natural person.
An LLC, or limited liability company, is a type of private company, whose owners are known as “members.”
The 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 holdings from liability.
Another important benefit of LLC ownership is pass-through taxation, which allows members to claim any income generated by the company as personal income and avoid double taxation.
LLCs as a Research Barrier
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 the public records of a property owned by an LLC, you’ll get exactly that—the name of an LLC.
In order to find out who is behind the LLC, you will need to go further down the “rabbit hole” of public records.
You can use the secretary of state’s website for the LLC’s state of organization to look up the company in the business entity and corporations database. If the website allows access to a copy of the LLC’s Articles of Organization, you should be able to see the names of the original organizing members.
Don’t be surprised however, if you find out that the members of the LLC you’re researching are other LLCs.
After you finally find the names of the individuals that own the property, you still have to figure out how to get their contact information.
In short, there are no reliable free tools for gathering property owner contact information. Using public records is a tedious and time-consuming process that does not guarantee successful results.
That’s where new tech and data aggregation tools come into play. Let’s take a look at Reonomy and how you can use the platform to simplify your search for commercial property owners and their contact information.
A New Way to Search Owner Records
The Reonomy Platform streamlines the entire property owner research process by:
- Allowing you to search for 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 and view details like building and lot data, sales, debt, tenant, ownership, and tax information.
- Giving you direct access to commercial owners’ phone numbers, emails, and mailing addresses.
Unlike county-based public records, Reonomy lets you access detailed information on properties and owners in any market nationwide, all in one place.
In short, Reonomy can empower you to connect with owners while spending minimal time and effort on research.
What to Expect From a Public Records Search
As we mentioned earlier in the article, property owner records are maintained independently by each county’s recorder or 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 name and address of the property owner (LLC or person)
- A description or parcel ID of the property
- Estimated market value
- Assessed tax amount for the most recent and past years
As the technologies used by the county recording authorities become more sophisticated, more information is being made available.
In addition to the basic details mentioned above, you may find 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 name, etc.
- Any applicable exemptions
- Sales history, including sale dates, sale prices, and deed instrument types used to record the sale
- Details about any structures and other improvements on the property
- An aerial photo, map, property layout, and other visual aids
In the screenshot below, you can see the available information for a sample property we looked up using the Duval County, Florida property appraiser site.
As you can see, public records can be a valuable source of information for investors and service providers looking to do business with off-market commercial real estate owners.
However, if you choose to use public records to source your leads and their contact information, be prepared to spend a significant amount of time navigating various county recorder and state business entity web sites.
Additionally, you should be aware that you may not always be able to locate the information you are 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.