The 10 Minute CRE Drill – Assessing a Potential Opportunity

One thing that I have seen throughout my career is that working efficiently can lead to increased production.  You can save yourself and the borrower a lot of time (and frustration) if you know what to look for up front.  Time being our most valued asset, it’s to your benefit to do whatever you can to use it efficiently!

Today I want to share my “Commercial Real Estate 10 Minute Drill” that I use when prospecting potential opportunities for commercial real estate loans.  More specifically this is an activity that I use to identify refinance opportunities which, even after years of low rates, are still out there to be found.

This drill assumes that you have already identified some potential properties that you are interested in financing.  If you haven’t already done this, it’s a pretty easy thing to do:

  1. Take a ride around your market
  2. Look for properties that fit your lens (industrial, office, retail, multifamily – whatever it is that you specialize in)
  3. When looking at properties, find the ones that are adequately occupied. Lots of cars in the parking lot is a good sign as is a nice location near a busy intersection (retail/office) or near major highways/rail (industrial).  Look for the ones that are well maintained with clean parking lots and minimal deferred maintenance issues.

Once you’ve identified some properties, it’s time for the drill…

Step 1: Find out who owns the property

The first step is determining ownership.  This can be done by searching the county property appraiser website.  If your property is in Santa Ana, CA you would do a Google search for “Orange County CA property appraiser search”.  It would serve you well to bookmark the counties that you work in and to get familiarized with their website.  County property appraiser sites can vary greatly from one county to the next and sometimes have other tools that are useful for building mailing lists and other prospecting resources.

Once you’re at the search portion of the county appraiser website, search the address of the property and you’ll be able to identify the owner.  Typically commercial properties are owned by a business entity or trust, not an individual so now you’ll need to look into who the individuals behind the entity are.  Let’s jump across the country to my home state of Florida for an example of how to do this.

In the case of Florida, you would take the entity name and search for it at which is the Florida Secretary of State Division of Corporations website.  If you don’t know the website for your state, you can easily use Google to find it.  Once you’re there, look up the entity to see who the owners are.  Make note of this as you may be contacting these individuals soon!

Step 2: Determine whether the property is currently mortgaged


Mortgages are recorded documents so they are searchable via public records.  To find the mortgage you’ll need to use our old pal Google again and do a search.  Depending on where you are, the names can vary buy typically you can search Google for either “County Name State Name comptroller search”, “County Name State Name official records search” or “County Name State Name public records search” and one of those will get you to the appropriate website.  Again, bookmark and familiarize yourself with the sites in your market.

Once you’re at the website, search for the entity name as this would be the name listed on the mortgage document.  The record search will pull up all records associated with the entity so you can find a variety of things including the mortgage, mortgage/lien satisfactions, notices of commencement, deed transfers, and more.

I look for mortgages and mortgage satisfactions primarily.  This helps me understand who originally financed the property, who has refinanced it (if applicable) and also if it’s been paid off.

While any real estate can be an opportunity, the lowest hanging fruit is what I start working first which would be those properties that currently have a mortgage.  I print the mortgage document and read through it.  The info that I try to identify includes:

  • Origination date
  • Original loan amount
  • Maturity date

Depending on where you live, you may or may not find the note recorded…but it’s nice when you do because then you can get the rate and other details that might not otherwise be available via public record.  Unfortunately in FL we don’t typically find the note recorded.

Step 3: Identify connections to the owner


So hopefully now you’ve identified the property, the owner, and an opportunity to refinance existing debt.  At this point, I search Google for the individual owners by name to see if they are connected to any other businesses in the area as this can lead to finding a phone number or email address where they can be reached.  And I always check LinkedIn to see if they have a profile…this can be the easiest way to make initial contact with the owner.  Do they know anyone you know?  Are they involved in any organizations that you are connected to?  Try to find some connection that will help you warm the initial call.

Now you’re ready to reach out and get the appointment


Whether you are reaching out via phone, email, or LinkedIn remember to keep it brief and don’t be too salesy.  Be concise and direct in your reason for reaching out but don’t dive into a full on sales pitch!

The first time you do this it will take longer because you will be getting used to using all of the websites discussed here.  After a couple times, it gets really easy – just yesterday I ran through 20 properties in about an hour.  So next time you have a few extra minutes to spare in the car, find some target properties, take some notes on addresses, and start building a new CRE loan prospect list!


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