Say you’ve found a building that would fit perfectly in your portfolio. It isn’t listed for sale, but you are sure that you could make an offer the owner would be happy to accept. The only problem is that you have to find out who owns the building to make that offer.
Fortunately, there are a variety of tools that will help you find that owner. Some may take a little more legwork on your part, while others require some outside help. But with a bit of digging, you’ll be making an offer in no time.
Here we’ll look at 3 ways you can figure out who owns a building you’re interested in.
Every county in every state has local records offices. If you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll be able to visit in person, though there is a very good chance that they have an online database as well.
When searching for the name of a property owner, there is more than one office that will be able to help, but sometimes you will need to cross-reference them for a full picture.
To find the name of the building owner, the county tax assessor’s office will be the place to start.
Everyone that owns a building pays taxes on their property. The county tax assessor’s office exists to estimate tax rates for all of the property in a given county. Importantly for you, it also keeps records of those property tax assessments and the name of the owner who is responsible for paying those taxes. These records are available to the public.
To find the building owner through the tax assessor’s website, you’ll need to know the building’s address or the property’s parcel number. (Once you do find the owner's name, you can use that as a search term as well. This can be useful if you want to find out what other property they own in the area.)
The results should show you a variety of information, including the history of tax assessments for the property, the condition the property is in, and of course, the current owner and list of previous owners.
If all you need is a name, then you can stop right there.
But if you want to make sure you have a full picture of the property’s history before approaching the owner, you will also want to search the records in the county recorder’s office.
Whereas the county tax assessor is responsible for the tax assessment of a property, the county recorder’s office is responsible for recording, keeping, and making available to the public all documents that affect the property in question, including property deeds. The deed will be signed by the current owner (so you can double-check that the name you found at the assessor’s office is the same) and whoever sold it to the current owner. You’ll also be able to use the deeds to put together a list of all previous owners and get the full picture of the property’s history.
And in addition to the deed, you can find out important information like whether there are any liens on the property, which will affect its value.
When you search the recorder’s office records, you’ll again be able to search by name, address and/or parcel number. And though every county runs its database a little bit differently, you may have more search options available at the county recorder, like searching by the date of purchase.
Next, the Secretary of State
It’s possible that after digging through those records to find out who owns the building in question, the name you’ve found isn’t for a person at all but an LLC.
It is increasingly common for LLCs to be the listed owner on commercial property records, and for good reason. A significant benefit of an LLC is that it shields the building owner from personal liability. But, of course, it also makes it harder to find out who is behind the LLC and who you want to contact to make an offer on the building you have your eye on. So, after you’ve found an owner from the county tax assessor or county recorder that has turned out to be an LLC, you’ll want to head to the website for the Secretary of State.
There you can input the name of the LLC that you have found. An LLC is required to file articles of organization, which among other things, includes the names of its members.
It is possible that the organizing member for one LLC is listed as another LLC. In this case, you’ll need to search again with that name and go down the chain until you come to a person that you can contact about the building you’d like to acquire.
If that sounds like a lot of work, or if you’re going to be searching for the owner of more than one building, you can save some time by hiring a title company to produce a property report on the property you’re looking at.
You’ll have to pay for a title report, of course, but the advantage is that someone else searches all of the publicly available documents for you. A title report will come back with the owner's name, along with more information about the property to set up your offer. That includes the legal description of the property, liens, tax status, and assessed value for the property.
If you do go ahead with making an offer and buying the building, the other advantage that comes with working with a title company is the opportunity to purchase title insurance. Even professionals make mistakes sometimes, and if a deed for the building you’re looking at was found to be forged after the fact, or an ownership claim was missed during the records search, you wouldn’t be responsible for the fallout if you have purchased title insurance.
Suppose you’re ready to dive headfirst into commercial real estate and are researching multiple properties simultaneously. In that case, there are comprehensive PropTech tools that will put all of the information you need to find out who owns a specific building, plus more granular information, at your fingertips.
A tool like Biproxi's Data Explorer provides detailed information about buildings, on and off the market, across the country. It allows you to search for ownership details when you need to know who to contact to make an offer. And when you’re ready, you’ll come to the negotiating table prepared with not only the property data, assessed property values, and ownership information.
Best of all, the property information is available for free.
When it comes down to finding and contacting the owner of a building you’d like to add to your portfolio, it really depends on how much time you have to devote to the search. If there is a single building in your neighborhood that you have your eye on, your local records office may be the way to go.
If there are a variety of buildings you need property information on, some of which are probably owned by an LLC, then paying a title company for a set of title reports is an investment that will probably pay off in the long run.
But if you are starting in commercial real estate and looking to build up an investment portfolio, you will eventually run into the need for a tool to help you organize all of your data and make critical decisions. When that time comes, you’ll be happy to have Biproxi in your toolbox.