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How To Find The Owners Of Vacant Properties
We've all been told at one time or another just how profitable abandoned and/or vacant properties can be. The tales of insane profits made from vacant properties are easy to find. The people whose signatures you'll need to get into those deals, however, are slightly more elusive. I feel your pain, and I'd like to offer a little help. Here are a few steps to find those owners, even if they don't want to be found.
One of the simplest ways to find homeowners is by heading down to the Tax Assessor's office and looking at the property's tax history (which should be freely available for viewing). Some cities and counties make this information available on the Internet, making this process significantly easier. Once you find the tax history for your property, take note of the owner's address. Is it the same address as the property you're looking at? Are there multiple owners listed? Note these things and anything you think may be relevant.
If the owner's address of record matches the address of the property, you'll have to dig a bit deeper. Remember the "other" owners you found on the tax record? Let's give them a call. See if you can find them in the telephone directory and give them a call. If there weren't any other owners on the tax record, it may be worthwile to call people with the owner's last name who live in the owner's city or neighborhood. This is fairly hit and miss, but it does pay off from time to time.
Another hit and miss option is to send a certified letter, Return Receipt Requested, to the owner at the property address. If the owner has a forwarding order on his mail at the post office, your letter will be forwarded to him and the return receipt will let you know he got it. Of course, if the owner chooses not to call you from your letter, the trail is still pretty cold.
It is likely that your property owner lived in the property for more than a couple months, and at least one of the neighbors probably knows him. Knock on the neighbors' doors and ask them if they know where you could find your guy. Some neighbors will be suspicious, thinking you're either a process server or collection official come to darken an already bleak situation. All you can do is reassure each of them that you're a real estate investor and just want to get hold of the owner to discuss possibly buying the property from him. If the neighbors aren't home, leave a short note taped to their storm door along with one of your business cards.
Another excellent source of leads is the property's mail carrier, newspaper carrier, UPS/FedEx driver and the like. These people drive this neighborhood every day and may have had contact with your owner. If so, they may be able to point you in the right direction to find him or get in contact with him.
There are sites on the Internet which claim to be able to find owners of vacant properties for a nominal fee. We can't link them here, but they do exist and several of them are fairly well respected among the investors who use them.
Sometimes you have to leave a job to a professional. When you can't find the owner of your distressed property, sometimes it's a good idea to hire a private eye to root him out for you. These folks snoop for a living and are much better at it than you or I. They'll cost you more than a trip to the courthouse or a knock on a neighbor's door, but if they find you your guy and you do the deal, it's worth it!
Hopefully these examples will give you an idea of how to approach the task of tracking down the ever-elusive vacant property owner. If you have success finding owners using another method, please e-mail me and I'll be happy to include it in a future version of this article.
About the Author: David Jaymes is a professional real estate investor with over 15 years' experience in the creative real estate investment field. David operates Worth Repeating, an online creative real estate community by and for budding investors.