If you've identified abandoned properties as a lucrative real estate investing niche because of the relative lack of competition, the tendency of the owners to be motivated to sell, and the fact that you can generate almost instant equity by making a few well-placed repairs, you'll probably be ready to dance a jig in the street once you've located an abandoned property you'd like to purchase and -- with just a little research -- figured out who owns the property.
Not so fast.
Although there is no question that you've gotten somewhere with this information, you still don't have the most critical piece of the puzzle. The property is vacant, and the owner is nowhere to be found. The bad news is the owner could be almost anywhere -- just around the corner or on the other side of the country -- but there's also good news. I'm going to show you a few key strategies that you can implement today to find the owner and begin putting together a proposal that will expand the size of your portfolio and fatten your wallet.
A lot of novice investors immediately jump to the conclusion that the owner will be hard to locate, so they'll prematurely throw in the towel or unnecessarily spend a lot of money trying to track down the owner. It's best to treat locating the owner like you would go about getting to know your local real estate market. Start looking close to home and widen your search area as necessary. The difference here is that you'll begin your search at the abandoned property.
Start Close to Home - Although the owners no longer live in the property, there's a possibility that they may have been friends with the next-door neighbor. It costs nothing to find out, and if the neighbor knows the owners’ whereabouts, you could be on the phone with them within an hour. When you approach the neighbor, be very clear and honest about your intentions. If they are friendly with the owners, they'll swear on a stack of Bibles that they've never heard of the owners if they think you're a bill collector or a possible enemy of the property owner. By stating your intention of wanting to renovate the property you may motivate the neighbor to help you out. If they're unable to help you, there's also a possibility they may be able to point you in the right direction.
County Courthouse - While you've checked the courthouse for the owner of the abandoned property, you've probably overlooked another possibility: they may own another property. See if the owners are listed as the owners of any other property. If their name comes up on any other property, try to track them down. While you're in the building, check the voter registration rolls as well. This is public information, so if they're registered to vote, you may be able to find an alternate address.
Free Web Resources - Two free web resources I recommend for the next phase of your search are www.whitepages.com and www.reversepages.com. Both sites have an easy-to-use interface that will list possible addresses for your elusive owner.
The U.S. Mail - Believe it or not, you can sometimes locate the owner of an abandoned property for the cost of a postage stamp. It doesn't happen very often, but it's an inexpensive strategy that can yield the information you need. The strategy is brilliantly simple: Address an envelope to the owner of the abandoned property, using the address of the abandoned property as the address to which you're sending the letter. If any of your other searches have yielded addresses, fill out an envelope for those as well. Make sure you mark each envelope "DO NOT FORWARD. Address Correction Requested". Mail the letters. If they've updated their mailing address with the Postal Service you'll know within a few days when your envelope is returned to you with a sticker affixed to it providing the last address of the owner that is known to the Postal Service.
Will the strategy work? Maybe. It's worth a shot. It's a little bit like baseball. When you're in the batter's box and you get a letter high fastball, you swing for the fences. You either strike out or you get to round the bases with a home run. Either way, it's fun to try.
The Big Guns - If everything else fails, you may have to do what law enforcement officers do when they've exhausted all other possibilities: You may have to spend a few bucks to locate the owner. I recommend you try www.intelius.com. You do have to pay for this resource, but if you locate the owner, it's worth the expense. This resource may not give you the direct information you need, but it will frequently provide you with the names of friends and relatives. Then you can widen your search by contacting friends and relatives and seeing what you can glean from these searches.
The strategies above aren't guaranteed to work. Remember, locating the owner of an abandoned property can sometimes be difficult. If you can't pass up a mystery novel without pausing to read it, this aspect of real estate investing can be a lot of fun.
Once you locate the owners of the property, the real fun can begin. You get to call them, introduce yourself, and sell the owners on selling to you. Abandoned properties can be lucrative and life changing. Go ahead, get started today. Today's abandoned property can be tomorrow's cash flow machine. Good luck!
Sean Flanagan has a FREE audio course titled 7 Secrets to Making Big Bucks in a Slow Real Estate Market which you can get right now by visiting http://www.YuckyHouseSystems.com. to get a trial coaching program for new real estate investors. Reprinted by Permission. Copyright © 2004-2014 BiggerPockets Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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