Researching properties is a tedious process. The commercial real estate databases and Google play major roles in any research. However, I always the Dallas County Appraisal District website (www.dcad.org) is where I find some of my most valuable information. I have come to realize I am very spoiled by its “Search Appraisals” feature.
Most of our projects are in Dallas County, although we are also active in Tarrant, Collin, and Denton Counties. Recently, we have been researching properties in Houston (Harris County), Lubbock (Lubbock County), Austin (Travis County), Midland (Midland County), and Odessa (Ector County). The amount and variety of information available on DCAD is significantly more than what I have found on any of the other county appraisal district websites. I’ve concluded that DCAD is a big benefit to citizens of Dallas County.
Yes, I know this sounds like some sort of paid advertisement or testimonial for DCAD. We all can cite instances where DCAD information is inaccurate or incomplete (i.e., zoning information is a big area), or complain that their appraisal values are too high or too low. However, if you have never used those other appraisal district websites, you have no idea of the wealth of information available online through DCAD.
I view the web site as a starting place for my research. It does not replace a formal survey, appraisal, or architectural plans. It has strengths and weaknesses that should be taken into account.
Some of its major strengths:
• The site has great maps that include contours, flood plains and aerial photos. These can be enormously helpful, particularly the aerial photos.
• There are photographs of most commercial buildings. They are actually quite good.
• It is easy to identify contiguous property owners using the “Parcel Identify” feature. With just a few clicks, you can identify the owners for large areas.
• The “Measure” feature gives you the ability to do your own rough measurement of a property’s boundaries. For odd shaped properties, this is extremely helpful and there is no need to struggle with geometry measurements.
Some of its weaknesses:
• Sometimes the current Owner information is not correct.
• Don’t rely on the zoning information when making a decision to buy or lease. It is very general, can be incorrect and doesn’t include Planned Development Districts numbers. You should verify the zoning with the City where the property is located.
• Don’t rely on the legal description. There may be errors, and it is certainly not a complete legal description.
• Parcel Dimensions may not match the actual survey. They should be used for initial dimensions and verified by the survey.
• The building square footage frequently may be more or less than actual property. Square footage should be verified by an architect.
Overall, I have learned that the more I “play” with the DCAD website, the more valuable it has become for me. When I combine my research with Google Maps, I have a pretty good sense of the property before I drive by or tour it. This process saves my clients and me a significant amount of time. I look forward to seeing how its features are enhanced in the years to come.
Eliza Solender is president of Solender/Hall, Inc. a commercial real estate brokerage firm that specializes in representing nonprofit organizations. Contact her at [email protected]