Say you spot the perfect office space one day while walking down the street. You’ve been looking to invest in a commercial property like it for a few months but haven’t come across the right one. If only you could speak to the owner to find out if they plan to sell — and increase the chances you’ll be the first to know. Finding the owner of a commercial property to make an inquiry like this can be straightforward, but does require research and knowing the right place to look.
Read on to learn how to find out who owns a property and tips on the best way to reach out.
How to Find Out Who Owns a Property for Free
“Finding land ownership is easier than one might think,” John McGurk, Vice President of Development at Milhaus, told Leverage.com. Here are the main ways to find a property owner by address.
Conduct Online Research
Given how much information is available online, your first inclination might be to turn to Google. Many addresses are listed online in public records, so you may have luck locating the owner with a simple online search. Some websites with this information — Whitepages and PeopleFinder, for example — charge a fee, and often this information is not up to date. However, an online search could be an easy and convenient starting point.
Consult With Your Local Tax Assessor
A local tax assessor, a government official who provides an estimate for a property, may be able to provide information about the owner of a property. Tax records will also tell you the property tax the owner is paying.
Register of Deeds
A deed is a document that states ownership of an asset. The register of deeds, which is maintained by a local government official, is typically used to verify an owner of a property during a real estate transaction. It is also used to access information about a property or property’s history — such as who owns it, the chain of title, and whether there are any liens on a property. There is often a small fee for accessing these records.
Use Online GIS Mapping
According to McGurk, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping is a reliable way to conduct a search. “Most all counties and cities now have online GIS mapping. You can drill down to parcel level and see all sorts of information related to that parcel of land, including ownership,” McGurk said.
He explained that, along with the owner’s name, this information will often include their mailing address for tax billing purposes. If the owner is an individual, you can use the internet to find an email or phone number to reach out.
Locating a person to speak with is more complicated if the property is owned by an entity. “Sometimes you can find them on the internet, but a lot of times they are single-purpose entities formed just to hold that property and may not have much of a digital footprint,” McGurk explained. “If that is the case, you can search the mailing address found on the GIS site to see if there is a person or entity associated with that address.”
If this method still leads to a dead-end, check the Secretary of State’s website for the state the property is located in. Most of them will have a “business search” field where you can pull up articles of incorporation, registered agents and other info that can then be used to track down a real person to reach out to, McGurk said.
Online Property Search: Find Property Owners by Address
There are many online databases of public records available online, making looking up owners of property pretty easy. Here are a few options we recommend to assist your search.
US Realty Records is a public records database where you can search for real estate reports based on an address. Downloading a report on one property costs $1.25 and includes owner records, property details, tax records and mortgage information, sales history and a calculated property valuation.
Property Shark is a tool geared for real estate professionals. Property Shark provides information on who owns a property, its characteristics, a current sales history, estimates of property value, and information on zoning and air rights, among other useful information. At $59.95 per month (or $599 per year) for the basic plan, it’s on the expensive side but will provide far more information than what’s available online or in many other databases.
Reonomy and Loopnet are online databases for commercial real estate professionals. LoopNet is a CRE marketplace to access millions of prospective properties for sale and for lease in the U.S. Reonomy is a CRE data platform with more than 50 million properties and extensive features to narrow your search. The platform also provides property data, including sales, debt and tax information and owner information (even when the property is owned by an LLC) to help you connect with the owner directly.
Whitepages, Spokeo and PeopleFinder are all more general public records databases that provide information like background checks. These websites allow you to search for an owner of a property based on an address but are not geared towards real estate. Whitepages costs $4.99 per month or $9.99 for one report. Spokeo costs $19.95 per month (or $14.95 per month for three months) for unlimited searches, including reverse address checks. PeopleFinder charges $29.78 per month after a $0.95 trial.
How to Approach the Property Owners
We all have communication preferences. Some of us are old school; others like the techy approach. No matter who the property owner is, there’s a chance they will be receptive to at least one of these methods.
Call, Text or Send a Postcard
Brian Boyd, Owner and Managing Attorney at Boyd & Wills, PLLC told Leverage.com he often gets calls and texts from people interested in buying his property. “A lot of people send out postcards — these little tiny postcards, that say, ‘hey, I’m interested in your property.’ We’ve gotten handwritten letters before, too,” Boyd said.
According to Boyd, texting a property owner a brief note with interest is a very common way to test the market and happens all the time. He added that even if he isn’t currently selling a property when he receives an inquiry about it, he’ll keep the contact in mind for the future — as long as they were polite, they’d be his first call. “You’d be surprised at how many deals get done that way,” he said.
Use a Database For Initial Research
While cold calling (or texting) can work, not every property owner is going to react positively to a cold call. Tomas Sulichin, President of Commercial Division at RelatedISG Realty, takes a different approach, one that starts even before searching for a property owner.
“Before entering the rabbit hole of an ownership search, you must note that not all inquiries will bring you genuine leads,” he said, adding that public records are often not a reliable way to attain accurate information on a property owner. “You also have to take into account that for commercial properties, the owners’ names could be identified as anonymous corporations, LLCs, or holding companies,” Sulichin explained.
Instead of online search tools and a local tax assessor’s website, Sulichin recommended using a professional tool like Costar, a comprehensive database that includes property details such as the present and past tenants, availability, comparables, and ownership information. LoopNet and Reonomy are also helpful resources used by CRE professionals to find information about a commercial property, including the owner.
“Once you have the owner’s information and have researched him, you can reach out with a defined and clear objective,” he advised. “Start by introducing yourself, and then share the reason for your call. Be brief and listen carefully. Some owners don’t like receiving calls out of the blue, while others might appreciate the possible offer, and you can start building a relationship and negotiation onward. Cold-calling can be tricky, but it can also be rewarding.”
Check out our interview with Tomas!
Connect With An Investment Sales Broker
Investment sales brokers are CRE experts and can help you through the process of finding the right investment property and all the complex steps involved with closing the deal. For example, one of the top brokerages, JLL, has over 30,000 real estate professionals in over 750 locations and 60 countries and works with buyers and sellers for all different CRE property types. Marcus and Millichap, Sands Investment Group and The Boulder Group are examples of a few other top firms. To learn more, read Reonomy’s list of the top commercial real estate brokerages.
If you need a brokerage specifically for helping you finance a property, try Lev, our sponsor.
Locating a Property Owner Can Lead to Securing a CRE Deal, But Requires Research And Patience
There’s no one way to go about locating a property owner for a commercial real estate property. While many owners’ information is listed online in public records or is available through a local tax assessor, others may require more research to locate. Depending on your investing strategy, a professional real estate tool like Costar or Property Shark may be worth the cost. When reaching out to property owners, keep it brief, and remember closing a deal on a property is a long-term game.