Driving through any just about any neighborhood, you will find homes that have overgrown, unkempt lawns, a stack of freebie newspapers on the front steps, no curtains in the windows, and basically just a "nobody lives here" feel to them.
These are the properties that you are looking for. Once you find one, you need to act quickly to seize your profits!
When you locate a property that you feel is vacant, the first thing to do is attempt to locate the owners of the property. First and foremost, go to a neighbors home and ask if they know anything about the home and its former occupants. Many times a neighbor will be a gold mine of information, and they probably love to talk!
When they start talking--listen up!
Take out your notepad and begin taking down all of the information they care to share. Do understand that much of this info may be speculation and gossip, but there may indeed be a nugget of truth in there somewhere.
If they indeed say that the property is vacant, you may want to sneak a peek at any old mail that may have been delivered and not forwarded. It is illegal to take mail out of the mailbox, but you can sneak a peek, get the name off of any old mail. This in itself will aid you in locating the owner.
Now that you have armed yourself with as much ammunition as you could find at the property, you will want to set out to investigate further. Depending on the size of your city, you will want to go to the city hall or county building and simply ask to whom you should speak in order to locate the owner of a certain property.
They will direct you to the office or offices that will give you the best information. I personally have found that the tax recorders office has the best records because they collect the taxes every year.
In my town, they tell me if the property was classified as a single-family or multi-family home and the name and address of the last known owner. Between what I find out at the property itself from the neighbors and my sneaking around and the city and county buildings, I set out to contact owners.
Try to talk to a former tenant first
Before I actually attempt to get to the owners of the property on the phone, I try and talk with the person who actually lived in the property last. Many times this was a tenant. Why would I want to talk with a tenant?
Simple: You want to find out the truth about what is wrong with the place! Again, you want to try and get the previous tenants on the phone if possible.
If you have the name and address, you can do a quick search using an Online phone directory www.anywho.com. You simply input the information and hopefully you will come up with a contact number.
A quick call to the tenant explaining that you are doing research on the property located at "xyz address," and that you need information on the property "before our offices contact the owner" and you will get every bit of dirt the home has to offer!
You will know which lights are burnt out and which hinges squeak on which doors. Of course, we want all this information to gain the control we need when speaking to an owner.
The final step is to contact the owner directly. You want to have extreme confidence when speaking with them. The way to gain this confidence is to remember that you hold all the cards:
You know what is wrong with the home
You know that it is costing the owners money either in payments, insurance, taxes, or all three
You know that they do not have a ton of interest in the property, or they would be doing something with it
Remember, YOU hold all the cards
Get the owners on the phone if you can and tell them that you are an investor who purchases and renovates homes in that community.
Tell them that you are working with neighbors (You are because you spoke with them, remember?) in an effort to revitalize their neighborhood, and that you may be interested in buying the property IF the repairs are not too extensive.
At first the owners may try to play hardball and state that the home is great, and they were planning on fixing it up, but they will consider any offers. Be friendly and upbeat and explain that that would be great.
Tell them that you had already figured that they would be looking to fix it up, and that you have a list of needed repairs from an exterior inspection and speaking with the former tenant (give them the tenant's name).
At this point, they will know that you have them, and their attitudes will change. Make your low ball offer and see if they bite. Sometimes you get lucky and they say that they want to get rid of it and basically ask YOU what you want to pay. Again, low ball is the key phrase. The bottom line is to acquire the property for as little money as possible.
What if I cannot find a former tenant or the owner?
Well, if I cannot find a former tenant, I visually inspect the neighborhood and the exterior of the home. I still contact the owners with an air of confidence, as I know that they still have a vacant property that is costing them money.
If I cannot locate the owner? That's a simple one. I place a big, bold hand-printed FOR SALE BY OWNER sign in the yard with my number on it. More often than not, the owner, a relative of the owner, or a friend of the owner will call me. Most of the time, it is the owners themselves.
If they do, I apologize for the sign stating that an assistant must have gotten their house confused for another empty home in the neighborhood, "but since I have you on the phone, what are you going to do with the house?" The air of confidence comes rushing back!
[Editor's Note: For more ideas on how to find owners of abandoned houses, read: Resources to Find Abandoned Property Owners.]
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About the author...
Patrick Zanders is a real estate investor and marketing consultant. He is developing postcard marketing software that uses unique tactics to get a constant stream of motivated sellers contacting you, eliminating the need to search for them once and for all. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org