The easiest way to find out who owns a property is to obtain the exact address and then search online or inquire at your local tax office or title registry. It may be more difficult to track down the person or people behind a property owned by a shell company or a trust. But there are ways, beyond old-fashioned door knocking, that you can research that information.
Picture this: you are strolling down a quiet street in New Orleans and see an old French-colonial-era building that, with a little retouching, could be the house of your dreams. Or perhaps you are a property investor looking to buy an asset in a neighborhood. Or maybe you are an FBI agent looking into the real ownership of a condo in NYC that might be tied to a Russian oligarch under sanctions. Whatever the case may be, if you need to know the name of a property owner, there are ways to find it. Some properties will have harder-to-find owners than others, so let’s get into the best ways to find this information.
Make sure you know the exact address of the property
The first step before you delve into your property ownership investigation is to find the exact registered address of the “real property.” You can do this in the following ways:
Google Maps will allow you to zoom in and find the exact address of the property you want to see. However, this works better in more urban centers; it’s possible that outside of cities, the Google Maps address won’t be as accurate.
Go in person
You can go straight to the source and knock on the door, but it could be awkward. You can also see if the address is posted on the home and/or mailbox, as many are.
Parcel maps are the official documentation that a county or municipality will use to define property boundaries (to enable levying property taxes, for example). You can obtain these property records online or in person, usually from the county recorder or assessor’s office.
How to find out who owns a property
Property ownership is a public record and thus should be accessible. You can search for property ownership information at the following locations:
- An online database, such as a city register
- County recorder’s office or website
- Local assessor’s office or website
- Title company
- Real estate agent or broker
- Real estate attorney
- Local library
- In person
Different people will have different strategies. We spoke with Nicole Beauchamp, who is a real estate broker and expert on the New York City market. She is always on the lookout for opportunities in the Big Apple. “Other than a quick Google/web search, my first stop is to search the city register,” she says. “Here in NYC, one can do so directly via a portal or through third-party services that also use it (ACRIS) as a source.”
How people hide property ownership
If property ownership is a public record, you should be able to find out who owns every property, right? The answer is sometimes no. Although the owner of the property needs to be public record, it might not be an individual person. Instead, the owner could use a shell company or a trust to buy the property.
Whether you are trying to find out who owns a property and a name like “Bluetides LLC” comes up, or you want to be the anonymous owner of a property, you should understand shell companies and how they work.
How shell companies work
Shell companies get their name because they don’t make products or perform services. Instead, they are used to hold assets, which means that the company name appears on the deed or title of the property instead of an individual’s name.
Here are the steps you would have to take to form a shell company.
Choose the company name and structure
In the vast majority of cases, property owners will choose a limited liability company (LLC) structure. This is the simplest way to set up a shell company to purchase property. There are alternative structures, such as S Corps and more, but for property owners looking to protect their identities, an LLC is the easiest way. Now you can choose a name. If you really want to hide your identity, choose a random name that is not easily linked to you.
Hire a registered agent
This is a trained individual or entity that will act on the company’s behalf legally. If you are looking to start an LLC in the state of Colorado, for example, there are both individuals and businesses that will act as a “registered agent.” If you get involved in a legal dispute, the communication between you and the government will go through the registered agent.
Select an address of incorporation
The company needs to have an address tied to it. It could be an American-based LLC or it could be an LLC registered agent. Some registered agents will offer incorporation address services as well as acting as registered agents.
Register the shell company
Once you know what you want to start and have the location and registered agent in place, you can register the company with the appropriate government agency and/or the Securities and Exchange Commission.
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Beyond shell companies
The method above is a relatively simple way of registering a shell company to buy an asset. However, with some due diligence, it might be possible to find who owns the shares of the company that owns the asset.
To avoid this, people who are adamant about hiding their identities will use the following options.
The shell company is not held in an individual name but in a trust. The trustee managing the trust can be found but not the actual owner of the trust.
Series of shell companies
Another way to hide a property owner’s name is to create a series of companies to confuse people about the true owner of the property. For instance, you could do this if you wanted to own an asset under BlueTides LLC that is based in the U.S. but located in Greece.
How to find the real owners of LLC structures
Many people own property under LLC structures for reasons that are completely normal. Others might be trying to launder money or avoid government sanctions. Either way, if you want to find out who is really behind a shell company, here are some steps you can take.
Search online databases
There are a few online databases where you can search for LLC owners, some free (like your state’s Secretary of State) and some you will need to pay for. You might be able to uncover who owns the property via one of these databases.
Look for an official record
There should be official records of the company somewhere, whether it be an LLC in the U.S., Panama, or the Virgin Islands. You might be able to find out who owns the company through a local government tax or recorder’s office, although you might find out another shell company or a trust is the owner.
Was the company ever involved in a dispute or did they have to go to court to apply for permission for something? If so, then court records could prove to be extremely helpful in pointing you in the right direction of ownership.
Sometimes, you can find out who owns a shell company online or through their social media accounts. You would be surprised about how lax people are about hiding their identity when it comes to social media.
How can I find out who owns a property?
You can conduct a property owner search online through a portal, or you can visit your local government offices, such as county recorder or assessor, and even request a parcel map. If you want to be old-school about it, knock on the door and ask.
Can I find out who owns a property if I only have the address?
Yes, if you know the address you can search online or visit a government office. However, you may find the property is owned by a company or trust rather than an individual person.
Is it possible to find out who owns a property if it is in foreclosure?
That depends on the state of foreclosure because, after foreclosure, the property is owned by the bank. Suppose the foreclosure process hasn’t been completed. In that case, you can probably find out through one of the ways detailed above. You may need to look at court records and even a delinquent property tax bill, if you can find it at the county clerk’s office.
Are there any fees associated with finding out who owns a property?
Yes, but they are typically minimal. You might have to pay small fees at a government office or online database. However, it could get expensive if you are trying to track down a complicated LLC shell structure. You will need to hire lawyers and possibly a forensic accountant to trace money flow and legal documents.
- There are various reasons you might want to find out who owns a property, but it could be complicated if the property is owned by a company or trust.
- The easiest way to find a property owner is to obtain the exact address of the real property and then search online or inquire at your local tax offices. Look for a county recorder, tax assessor, or title search/land registry.
- Owning property through LLC shell companies is a common way to hide one’s identity. There are a few simple steps to set one up.
- If you need to find the owner of an LLC, it could be difficult, depending on how they structured the LLC. However, you can always look at court records for unpaid property taxes or lawsuits related to the property.
View Article Sources
- Automated City Register Information System – NYC Dept. of Finance
- Filing a registration statement – U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission
- What Is An LLC? A Comprehensive Guide – SuperMoney
- How to Finance Land – SuperMoney
- Should You Buy Undeveloped Land? – SuperMoney
- S Corps: What They Are and How They Can Benefit Small Business Owners – SuperMoney
- What is Due Diligence? – SuperMoney
- What is a Trustee? – SuperMoney