Debtors know that a few clever tricks can make it difficult to trace a real estate purchase back to them.
The biggest challenge in tracking down real estate is knowing where to look. In the United States, property transfers are recorded at the county level, so we start by checking the county or counties where the debtor lives or has lived in the recent past. We also check other counties to which he has ties, including where he vacations, where his family lives, and if applicable, where his paramour lives. If we have access to credit card records, we look to see if he’s been repeatedly traveling to any particular place and we check there as well.
If he’s clever, the debtor has avoided buying the property in his own name, so we check as many other names as possible. Options include variations on his name, the names of children, family members and close friends. We consider not only parents, but also stepparents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and family of siblings. We search the names of past and present business partners. Many people form companies to make real estate purchases. We search under company names with ties to the creditor, including any previously or currently used company names. In our experience, people tend to name companies in patterns, using tricks like their initials, a nickname, a pet name, or their last name spelled backwards. In some instances, the names reflect personal hobbies or interests, so we check those and their variations too.
A search of state and county UCC records for the debtor and any companies affiliated with him may also be helpful. If the debtor used his property as collateral, the UCC record will detail the property address.
Some debtors have the means to purchase real estate in cash, greatly reducing the paper trail linking them to the purchase. But for those who need a mortgage, a search of the documents on file at the county courthouse is crucial. Mortgages reveal to demanding bankers entire corporate chains of custody, neatly linking the partnership that may own the land with the LLC or partnership you know is linked to the debtor.
A litigation check may also provide good leads. If there is any litigation involving the property—a dispute with a contractor, or a disagreement with a neighbor—the court records may provide the property address. Also, any payments made to contractors or designers for renovations or alterations, for the purchase of furniture, or to movers may appear on bank or credit card records. These may help generate a list of people to contact who may have information on the property’s location.