If you want to find out who owns a property in the U.S. – whether privately owned or commercial – it's fairly easy to do. Property ownership records have always been publicly available in the United States, but with the advent of the internet, those records have become even more accessible online.
In this post, we cover how to find both the owner of a commercial property and their contact information. We'll offer tips on how to research property records online, as well as time-saving strategies to streamline your prospecting process.
But first, why is it so easy to find who owns a property? Why isn't that information private?
Why Property Ownership is Made Public
In the United States, property ownership records are considered to be public records. The openness of the information, the theory goes, is for owners' protection. Without having an open record of a deed or title of ownership, imagine the unscrupulous people who would try to make a claim to a property. Deeds and titles are published to establish ownership. And when ownership has been established, you can buy, sell, change and borrow against the property.
As Investopedia explains, publicly filing property records creates a "traceable chain of title," which matters when collecting taxes and transferring ownership. There are more than 100 types of real property documents that can be recorded, the most common of which are deeds, liens, foreclosures, mortgages, easements, and plats.
Now that we understand why property ownership information is public, we can dive into how you find it.
Who Owns Commercial Properties?
For the most part, how to find a property owner for free is relatively easy. Property ownership records are maintained by local governments, including townships, counties, and cities. Finding out how to contact those property owners, however, is a whole different story. We'll get to that in the next section.
First, we explain where to go to find the owners of commercial property.
The first place to look is at a county assessor's office, so named because they assess property values for tax purposes. County assessors might also be referred to as county appraisers in some states.
In addition to the property address, you might want to find the parcel number and nearest intersection. In our experience, not all counties' online search engines are user-friendly. You have to enter the information exactly as it is stored in their database; otherwise, you come up empty-handed. So the first thing to know is how the assessor's office handles data.
Example: Manual commercial property search
To illustrate this, we looked at who owns 875 N. Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. That's in Cook County, Illinois, and it's the famous John Hancock Center skyscraper.
First, go to www.cookcountyassessor.com/address-search and enter the house number, which is the same as the commercial property number (875); the direction, which is north (N); and the street name, which is Michigan. When we included "Ave" or "Avenue," we got zero results. When we left off the road type, we struck gold with the Cook County Assessor's Office.
This is what we mean when we say you have to enter the search criteria exactly as the Assessor's office requires it. The property search engines are not like Google, which will look for "something close"; you'll need to exactly match the way the data is stored in their database. This quirk is not unique to Cook County.
Another way to look up commercial property is by finding the parcel number. Some municipalities call the parcel number something else, such as "property index number," as Cook County does in Illinois. If you have the parcel or PIN, you don't likely need the address.
To find a parcel or PIN, however, you'll need to either look at a real estate listing or at an assessor's map.
How to Find Contact Details of a Commercial Property Owner
In the downtown Chicago commercial building example, we found through the Cook County Assessor's Office that the property is owned by Madison Capital, based in New York City.
If you're a vendor or service provider looking to reach the property's owners, then your search has just begun. You'll spend the next couple of hours searching Google for property tax records, company websites, employees' names and social media profiles to find the right people to reach.
"You're going to spend 80% of your time finding the contact information, leaving 20% of your time to build a relationship," said Ben Hertz Biscred General Manager. "We believe you should spend 20% of your time finding the right contacts and 80% of the time building relationships."
With a rich dataset that scrapes multiple sites for real-time information about commercial properties, you have ownership and management information at your fingertips. The research has been done for you. All you have to do now is drill down to the most relevant companies and build your prospect list.
Example: Commercial property research using datasets
In this next example from Biscred, we look for commercial properties listed in Cook County, Ill., that are listed as office buildings, and we find 177 companies that include owners, asset managers, developers, brokers, and more. Within each company, we find a list of employees, contact information, and links to their companies websites.
Users can search for specific types of properties, such as entertainment facilities, government buildings, retail centers, schools, senior living facilities and dozens more. Select the records you want, save them to a list in Biscred or download them to a .csv file to be uploaded to your sales CRM.
"Data-driven prospecting is replacing the old style of buying stale lead lists and manually sifting through hundreds of pages of information," said Ben Hertz. "We are continually updating the datasets, which makes the data highly valuable."
With datasets like Biscred, it's easier than ever to not only look up who owns a commercial property but also locate and contact the property owners and managers.