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Investing Strategies

Wholesaler Essentials: How to Find Owners of Abandoned Properties

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waldoHey guys, (proud!) Mogul faculty member Steph Davis here with an oldie but a goodie. It’s a question I hear all the time from people who are new to wholesaling or even new to real estate investing in general:

How do I find the owners of abandoned or vacant properties?

Now you may be wondering, ‘Why do I even want to find those owners if it’s so challenging?’ Lemme be the first to tell you – you do and here’s why…

There’s a rich (pun intended) opportunity in this area of REI. It offers you a chance to make a heckofalot of money by tracking down those owners, but it can be hard…which is why not a lot of people do it… which is why the reward can be so rich. (See what I just did there?! Full circle people.)

When you do find them, it’s typically easier to negotiate deals because the owners don’t really want the house anymore anyway, which is evident by its condition. Oftentimes, the owner is so happy that someone is actually willing to pay them cash to take it off their hands, they’ll jump at your offer.

My Abandoned Prop. Story

I recently found myself in this very predicament. So I’m gonna lay it out all there by walking you through what I did to try to get in touch with the hard-to-find seller of an abandoned property (no sign in the yard, of course) that I saw on the way to my grocery store.

I did a little online research; with all the info that’s on the web today, by doing a little digging, you should be able to track down the info you need.

So, I hopped online to my county’s property tax record website and inputted the address of that property, and poof, the owner’s name popped up. Even better, sometimes the owner has updated the info with their new mailing address. (To find out whether your county has online records, go to netronline.com and click on your state then city.)

Now you’ve got not one, but two addresses to reach out to… so send one postcard to the abandoned house’s address and see if and where it gets forwarded, and send another postcard o the owner’s new mailing address.

mailMake sure you hand write the address and include “address service requested” – the more personal the postcard looks, the more likely it is to be read instead of tossed out as junk mail.

It doesn’t stop there for me though, I don’t want to hang around waiting for snail mail to help me with a potential deal; I like to reach the owner by phone.

So I just did a little more digging, nothing fancy though. All I had to do on Google was put in the owner’s name and I quickly found his address from a White Pages listing. (Whitepages.com is also our friend.)

Luckily in my case, the owner had a pretty unique name (not Joe Smith), so I was fairly confident this was the right person. I called the number listed only to find out it was disconnected. Bummer. But we REIs are persistent!

So, I logged onto the MLS site to see if the property had previously been listed – I was pretty sure it wasn’t currently listed since like I said, there was no sign in the yard and hadn’t been for some time. (If you don’t have access to MLS, no problem, ask an agent friend to look it up for you).

Luckily, this particular property had been listed before, back in2009. And that listing provided me the agent’s contact info: email and phone number. And just like, I’m back on track.

I called the agent, who was nice enough to give me the owner’s cell number. She probably wasn’t supposed to, but perhaps she was just responding to how nice and polite I was being to her… you catch more flies with honey…

 I left the owner a voicemail on his cell and although I haven’t heard back yet, I still feel like I made good progress.

So no, I didn’t get as far as I wanted, but the takeaway here is that with a little digging, you can get closer to where you need to be. Investing some time online usually pays off; you just gotta stick to your guns til you find some good info that can propel you to the next step.

Make New Friends

Oh, one more tip…

If you’re feeling ballsy, just walk up to the surrounding houses, knock on their doors, tell those neighbors that you’re an investor and ask them if they have any info about the abandoned house.

Go about four houses over on each side and across the street too. (Do this only if you feel comfortable and safe in the neighborhood!) And make sure you leave your contact info with the neighbors in case details later materialize that they want to share with you.

I get it if you’re not too keen on the in-person approach.

Instead you can mail those neighbors (in a handwritten envelope) a letter stating that you’re an investor who’s interested in purchasing the property and you want to fix the house up and help make the neighborhood look better. That usually goes over well because the neighbors will know that their property values can potentially increase if the abandoned house is fixed up. You win, they win. Nice!

dogsCall in the Big Dogs

If you wanna go “Bloodhound Style,” and really sniff out the info you need, here’s a few more tactics that can help save you time and energy:

  • Place a flyer on the front door with your contact info.
  • Drop a “We Buy Houses” bandit sign in the yard.
  • Offer Neighbors Money (Yes, really!) - If they’re able to provide you a solid lead that helps you close the deal, surely it’s worth forking over 500 bucks after you pocket 20K.
  • Call 411 - The web is probably your best bet, but utilizing this service might still be helpful.
  • Clerk’s Office (Courthouse Records) – Once you find the homeowner’s name, input it on the clerk’s website and look through all the recorded documents that come up, you’ll likely end up with a treasure trove such as:
    • Divorce Filings
    • New Loans
    • Liens
    • Lawsuits
    • Salary Garnishments - If the owner’s salary is being garnished, their employer will be listed.
    • Warrants/Arrests - If the homeowner is/was in jail, you can find their contact info and their attorney’s contact info.
  • Local Tax Appraiser’s/Assessor’s Office – If you can’t find the info you need on their websites, head to their office where you should be able to find out where the tax bills for the abandoned prop are being sent.
  • Hire a Skip Tracer at findtheseller.com – This is a fancy term for a private investigator, which does cost some money, and typically takes 24-48 hours to bring back some info. While the pro is searching, you should double dip and continue your own search using the other various methods.
  • Use the Phone Book – If the owner has a unique last name, be daring, and call up everyone in the book with that last name; you might find a relative who can provide you some useful info.
  • Voter Registry website
  • Department of Motor Vehicles website – If the owner happened to get a ticket of some sort, the ticket can lead to an address.

springerThe Final Add-On:

If by chance, you’re just not getting anywhere, do not toss all your research in the recycle bin! Place all the info you have managed to collect in a folder and file it…

Many times, weeks can go by and then out of the blue, a neighbor you’d previously spoken to randomly calls, or the property goes into foreclosure, or someone calls after seeing your bandit sign – and suddenly your back on track.

And you certainly don’t want to waste time by having to redo the research when you’ve already done all the leg work– grab the file and start where you left off…that much closer to a possible deal. Ka-Ching!


Do It To It! Immediate Action Steps

Get Online – Hop on Google, Whitepages.com and your counties tax records website where you most likely will find the contact information you need for the owner.

Be Polite, Yet Bold – In safe areas, walk right up to the neighbor’s homes and ask the residents if they can give you any details about the abandoned house and its owner. After speaking with two or three neighbors, you might acquire enough pieces of info to finally reach the owner.

Keep Digging – If the traditional methods are turning up duds, don’t throw in the towel! Place bandit signs, mail letters in handwritten envelopes, check out the DMV’s website, bust out the phone book and start calling everyone who has the same unique name as the owner – it will probably be worth it.

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