This post originally appeared on Marketplace Advertiser, Reonomy and is republished with permission. Find out how to syndicate your content with theBrokerList.
Table of Contents
Property Owner Records:
The Quickest Ways to Search Property Owner Records in Any County:
Some people think commercial real estate is simply investors trading property – pretty straightforward to the naked eye.
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s a lot happening behind the scenes before a deal even gets off the ground. Research is an important aspect of that.
Finding property owner records, for one, is no easy task.
Public records have traditionally been the tried-and-true resource for CRE professionals looking for property ownership information. While there are certainly more tools available in 2019 to assist with these searches, most people still start with public records as their baseline.
We’re here to look at the quickest ways to search owner records, and to give some insight into alternatives changing the process on the whole.
Property Owner Records
There are a number of reasons why CRE professionals would want to find property owner records.
Most importantly, property owner information is critical when trying to find leads or potential customers.
For instance, a commercial real estate lender might want to know who owns a particular 20-unit apartment building so they can initiate a conversation about refinancing the property. Meanwhile, a commercial real estate investor might want to know who owns a property in an attempt to purchase that property from them.
CRE professionals typically utilize owner records in two ways.
The first way is to search FOR property owners using public records. In the examples above, a person might start with the property address and use that to mine public records to find property ownership information.
The address will reveal not just the current owner, but also when that person (or entity, such as an LLC or S-corp) purchased that property. Property owner records will also show a history of who has owned that property over time.
An alternative way to use public records is to search BY property owner. In this scenario, the CRE professional already knows the name of a person to search by, but want to learn more about the specific holdings of that person.
For example, you might encounter a person at a networking event who mentions owning several properties in the Los Angeles area. You could then take that name and plug it into LA County’s public records search to see exactly which properties that person owns and where.
What’s good about public owner records?
Public records are incredibly helpful for commercial real estate professionals. Not only do they tell you the ownership history, but they also provide other telling information – such as how much an owner owes on the property.
Here’s a real world example: you could find that John Smith owns a 150-unit apartment building that he’s owned since 2000. The mortgage, if any, will also be recorded in the public record. The mortgage will show how much Mr. Smith had to borrow to purchase the property.
The deed, showing who he purchased the property from, when and for how much, will also be recorded. A savvy real estate professional can use this combination of information to determine how much Mr. Smith put down to purchase the property (e.g., 20%, 25% or more).
This tells you a few things about Mr. Smith. Let’s say Mr. Smith put down 50% when he purchased the property. This indicates he has significant equity in the property.
He had significant equity when he purchased the property and, assuming values have continued to increase, he should have even more equity in the property now.
This could be a signal to CRE service providers, such as solar installation companies, that Mr. Smith may have ample funds available to invest in property improvements like installing a PV solar array.
A CRE broker may use this information to flag Mr. Smith as a potential buyer for other properties.
For instance, if a broker is representing the neighboring property owner in the sale of his building, the broker might want to make a pitch to Mr. Smith.
That pitch may look like this: You have XXX amount of equity in your property already, why not draw on some of that equity to purchase the property next door? This will help you grow your portfolio and lends itself nicely to operational efficiencies – your current property manager could manage both!
Now, 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 may use this information to flag Mr. Smith as a candidate for refinancing into a better loan, at a lower rate, depending on the current market conditions.
Property owner records can also show you whether the person has any liens against the property.
If you search records by property address, it will show a history of the current owner’s property liens, if any, such as back taxes. A property owner record search by name will reveal if that owner has any liens against his other properties, which can provide insight as to his ability to afford and maintain properties over time.
For instance, the solar installation company from above may decide it doesn’t want to get into business with a person who has a mechanic’s lien against one of their properties, which is a signal that he has outstanding debts owed to contractors.
As you can see, property owner records can be wildly helpful. The information recorded tends to be highly accurate. A CRE professional who knows how to mine all property owner records can paint a pretty colorful picture of a real estate owner without ever speaking to him.
What’s bad about public owner records?
However, searching property owner records isn’t for the faint of heart.
It can be a frustrating process. It takes significant time to search public records, and often, it’s hard to search the records unless you know exactly what it is you’re looking for.
Unless you have a person’s name or property address, your search might hit in a dead end.
Case and point: you want to search for information about that person you met at a networking event who told you he owns several properties in the L.A. area. You took his business card and plan to use his name to search the property records. However, nothing comes up on the search.
That’s because the property owner holds each of his properties in a separate LLC. Unless you know the name of each LLC, it will be hard to track down ownership information.
In addition to being time consuming, public records are also subject to human error when they’re being input into the system. It’s not uncommon to find names misspelled or property addresses missing numbers, which makes it tough to track down what you’re looking for when searching online databases.
Finally, not all public records are available online. This is incredibly frustrating for CRE professionals – it’s 2019, after all! For example, if you wanted to search property owner records in Alameda County, California, you’d have to head down to the County Administration Building and search hard copies of the records in person. The website notes: “the cost and effort to continuously update this information is prohibitive,” and therefore, the property owner information is not included on property records available online.
The Quickest Ways to Search Property Owner Records in Any County
CRE professionals looking to save time can turn to Reonomy TrueOwner, a tool that has made searching for property owner records easier than ever before. TrueOwner allows you to search FOR owners and BY owners in any county in the U.S. in record time.
With Reonomy TrueOwner, you can forgo the headaches and time needed to search public owner records and quickly dive into ownership on any asset type other than single-family homes—in 50 states, and in over 3,000 counties.
That includes piercing the LLC and seeing the individuals associated with a property, along with their contact information.
Quickly search properties off-the market, filter them by a multitude of building and lot, sales, debt, tenant, and ownership information.
From there, you can dive into individual properties to see who the owner is and reach out to them directly if need be.
Public Property Owner Records Search Examples
Here are a few examples of how you might search public property owner records online. We hope this is a useful resource for those looking to begin their public records search online, or for anyone who wants to mine public records in conjunction with TrueOwner.
The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder, otherwise known as the L.A. County Clerk’s Office, unfortunately falls into the same category as Alameda: property owner records are not available online. Instead, CRE professionals must visit the Norwalk, CA office between 8am and 5pm to search records in person.
An alternative option is to search the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office, which provides baseline information about a property (you must have the address). It will tell you property owner information, but it will not offer more robust information like copies of the deed, mortgages, liens, etc.
If you’re looking for information about properties located in Cook County, Illinois, look no further than the Cook County Assessor’s Database. The database is somewhat unique in that it does not allow you to search by property owner name. You must have a property address.
However, it offers an alternative that some CRE professionals might find useful: the database can be searched based on property class (absent property address information).
This allows users to search for a wide variety of asset classes, ranging from one-story homes under 999 sq. ft. to two- to six-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 a specific property type.
A user can get pretty nuanced with this search, including searching for farm land, properties that have received home improvement exemptions, even properties that are owned by nonprofits. The downside of this search tool, though, is that it offers SO many options that the user may need to conduct multiple granular searches to find what he’s looking for (e.g. farm land under market prices vs. farm land under use-value pricing).
The Harris County, Texas County Clerk’s online database is somewhat limited in that it only allows users to search if they have the grantor (seller) or grantee’s (buyer) name.
What’s more, only records from 2000 and on have images available online for viewing.
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 other geographic area, if a person’s name or address is unavailable – a tool that’s helpful for those who are interested in a specific area but do not have a specific parcel in mind.
The Miami-Dade Property Assessor’s database allows people to search for information by address, name, folio or subdivision name – a useful starting point, but a challenge 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 other key property characteristics such as the current assessed value, exemption benefits, and 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 by searching by name or property address. ACRIS is also unique in that it allows users to search by business name, an option not commonly available in other county searches.
One of the most helpful aspects of ACRIS is that it allows users to search by document type, such as for deeds, mortgages or other conveyances. This allows users to fine-tune their search from the get-go, particularly useful when trying to find information relative to a person who owns multiple properties or has been party to dozens (or hundreds!) of transactions over time.
Where ever you are in the U.S., you can likely find a local county resource for searching property owner public records—or you can turn to Reonomy.