Driving for Dollars Bible 2: Tracking Down Owners & More Tips!

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The much anticipated follow up is here. In the second part of the ultimate driving for dollars guide we will discuss tracking down difficult to find owners of vacant properties, and includes some additional tips to employ when driving for dollars. The more difficult it is to find the owner, the less competition there will be and that means more opportunity for you. This is a continuation of my Driving for Dollars series, if you missed the first installment click here to read it first.

Red Flags

If you drive for dollars long enough you will stumble upon circumstances where the owners address is not available. This creates a problem, how will you market to this lead if you don’t have their information? There are a few red flags to look out for that indicates additional research will be required to find the owner address. Some of the more common situations are shown below.

  • Scenario 1: You drove by a property that was clearly vacant; however, your Central Appraisal District (CAD) displays the property is still owner occupied. This is typically due to the appraisal district not yet updating their records, which can sometimes lag behind 3 to 4 months. For example if you drove by a property that looks like the image below, and your CAD indicates the owner still lives at that property, you need to continue your research to find the owners address because obviously they no longer live there.

jsmith2_doenst_livehere

no owner

 

  • Scenario 2: Returned yellow letters or postcards that were returned due to failed delivery
  • Scenario 3: When you research the property on your local CAD and you discover the owner address section contains no data. This may come in the form of being completely blank or display “No Data” (as shown in the image below) or perhaps a place holder such as “Current Owner”.

no data

 

Using Deed of Trust and Public Records to Track Down Owners

This is the first step in the process; we will pull data from public records and use it to mine Google for owner information. When your CAD lacks sufficient information you will use the Deed of Trust recorded in your counties public records to track down the owner. To find your counties public records simply Google search “[your county name]public records” and you should be able to find it.

The deed of trust will display all parties involved within the transaction, from grantors to individuals with power of attorney (as shown in the image below). This data is invaluable when attempting to locate the owner of the property.

deedoftrust

Mine Google for Data

Once you have searched public records it’s time to take the owner (and any of the grantors names recorded in the Deed of Trust) and start plugging them into Google search.  For starters try searching their full name as displayed in the Deed of Trust. If that yields few results try combining their name + local phone area codes (as shown in the image below). This can often reveal:

  • Landlines or Cell Phone Numbers of the Owner or Grantors
  • New Address of the Owner
  • Any Websites they own
  • Company PDF contact sheets

Mine-Google2

If you are unable to locate the owner, but able to track down one of the grantors, you can often get the contact information you need by reaching out to them. Sometimes you will find PDFs or About Us profile sections on company websites and you  can use this for updated contact information. If you find a website they own you can do a “who is” on the domain and retrieve information that way as well.

Skip Trace

If all of the above fail, you might consider utilizing a Skip Trace service. If you take some time to research using the methods discussed earlier, you should not need to use a skip trace 9 times out of 10.

additional_tips

 

 Leave a Note on the Property

Tape a note to the properties front door and or garage in case the owner returns to their abandoned property. You can bet if they find a note taped to their garage or front door, they will read it. You never know when the owner may return to collect mail or check on the house. You can write the notes manually if you would like, or you can print out a stack of them using a handwritten font. Either way, bring a stack of them with you into the field.

 

note2

Exchange Business Cards with Neighbors

Often time’s neighbors are willing to divulge information on the abandoned properties owner. After all no one wants a vacant property sitting next door and dragging their property values down with it. If you see a neighbor outside strike up a brief conversation, hand them a business card, and many times they will provide helpful information.

Recruiting an Army of Mailmen Bird Dogs

When driving for dollars keep a look out for mailmen of any sort. I approach them on their route, briefly introduce myself and my business and hand them a card that explains what I am looking for. Explain to them if they find a house that fits your criteria, and you are able to close on it, they will collect a handsome referral fee.  Mailmen know what’s going on in a neighborhood better than you do, since they drive these subdivisions every day. Get to know a few of them and you will be richly rewarded.

business_card

 

Avoiding REO Heavy Neighborhoods

In my previous blog post someone emailed me a great question, and I thought it would benefit many of you to address it here. How do you determine if a subdivision is potentially REO heavy before driving it? The answer is by utilizing your local CAD you can quickly sort through a subdivision and get a rough idea. As illustrated below, you can view the list of individual properties with the subdivision along with the owner’s name. You can quickly look through the subdivision at a glance and determine a rough density of REOs. This way you can include or discard subdivisions before wasting time or gas money driving them (assuming you want to avoid REO properties). Alternatively, use the MLS if you have access.

bank3

In Conclusion

Thanks for reading, hopefully with a little bit of legwork and persistence you will discover some gems when driving for dollars. Take action and you will reap results. If you have any questions, please leave them below and I will do my best to help.

Letter_example

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About Author

Chris discovered his passion for real estate early on working for a land developer and enjoys helping others along on their journey. In addition to flipping houses, Chris operates as a licensed Realtor in the Dallas Fort Worth area.

35 Comments

  1. Great ideas, but you missed one that I think may help- use a USPS Ancillery Endorsement- basically, you send a letter to the last known address of the owner (what the county has on file) and put Return Service Requested on it. If the USPS has a forwarding address on file, you will get a notification of what it is.

    See http://pe.usps.com/text/qsg300/Q507.htm for full information and all the options avaible.

  2. In Philly I employ a trick that is bound to get you a call from the owner just about every time (at least in my experience so far). The method has also earned me a small list, of contractors and investors looking for properties.

    Now before you go out and employ this method, you will be getting lots of irate calls from owners and in some cases heirs.

    Post a garden variety “For Sale By Owner” sign on the vacant property with your contact info.

    Believe me in a short while you are going to get a call.
    When the calls comes in, some times from a very upset owner or administrator, your job will be tell a fib about a similar property a few blocks up the street with the same house number and similar features. Your handyman must have put the sign on the wrong property.

    Hey!, but while I am on the phone is your property boarded up like mine? Is is for sale? How about I go over to meet you and get my sign back?

    But be prepared sometimes I get strings of four letter words. One fellow was living in his fathers house (he never moved out) the place was not then or ever for sale. The boards were over windows that his father was always going to get around to fix, and F me the place is not abandoned looking as I said was my house for sale.

    Nobody ever said REI would be easy, if they did watch for their nose to grow.

    • Chris Feltus

      That is an interesting tactic Dennis, thanks for taking the time to share it with everyone. Your method is definitely not for the feint of heart, but it sounds like it delivers results.

  3. Hey Chris,

    Great post! I’ve been doing some of this in Weatherford. I get the kids involved, one taking pics, one writing down addresses, and the other asking what can she do to help (poor thing she’s only 2). I HIGHLY recommend the handwritten note on smallish paper and not normal size envelope. My response rate has been over 40%, I’m choosy who I mail to.

  4. I ride my bike through interesting but older neighborhoods, take my phone, dictate the address and take a picture. Better exercise than driving

  5. You produce very helpful and useful information here, well I sometimes walk and find lots of deals really you see more on foot

  6. Chris one element of “No Data” or “Current Owner” that you may not be familiar with is Senate Bill 247, This affects the Texas State Property Tax Codes in listings of ownership of certain individuals who qualify under its privacy clause in CAD records and Tax records. This was put in place to protect the individuals who protect us; judges, police, and high ranking government officials. This should also affect county deed records, if the paperwork is filed correctly (which it commonly isn’t). This notification may be placed on any property that the person who qualifies may own vacant or not.

  7. Chris,

    Thank you for sharing this information. I will be implementing some of these strategies to find motivated sellers. I noticed that you wholesale properties. I would like to begin wholesaling as well. Can you recommend a good wholesaling course?

    Thank you,

    Steve

    • Chris Feltus

      Thanks for reading Steve. In regards to wholesaling courses, unfortunately I do not have any recommendations. Personally, I spent a great deal of time here on Bigger Pockets reading forum and blog posts. You have to do a little bit of digging, but all of the information that you need is right here with a little searching, and free too!

  8. Chris,

    Excellent article I will file this one away for future use. One thing I noticed when driving for dollars is when I looked up some of these properties I noticed they were owned by corporations. Should I just the letter to the corporate address? Obviously I can’t personalize yellow letter by name but I can still include property address in letter.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Chris Feltus

      Moe thanks for the kind words and taking the time to read my article, I appreciate it.

      To answer your question, yes absolutely send the letter to their corporate address. Alternatively you can use some of the methods touched on in this article to research the corporation and potentially name an individual name or two.

  9. Chris,
    Awesome articles (1&2) great tips especially like the biz card. Also appreciate you showing examples & taking the time to fully explain in detail the tips you provide.
    Anthony

  10. Hi Chris, great article! As far as skip tracing sites go, do you have any favorites? I have used a few with not much more info than I received off the internet! Thanks!

  11. Chris,
    About the referral fee for mailmen, two questions. Is the $1000 shown on the sample card the amount you would normally offer to mailmen and are there any legal implications of offering such a referral fee to a gov’t employee? Also, what is the search criteria to identify the homeowners and or banks that own homes in a particular subdivision. If the ownership shows North Texas Equities or Eponential Asset Founders does that indicate a bank owned property even though it is not a recognizable “bank”.

  12. Chris,
    You mention you create maps of subdivisions with average tax assessed value. I live in Jacksonville, Florida and I am having a very difficult finding any county maps that show subdivisions. Some will list the area or community names but not the specific subdivisions on the maps. What is the best search filter criteria to locate such a map and also how would you find just a list of subdivisions in a county. Also., can you obtain the number of houses in a specific subdivision. Several questions… appreciate any assistance you can provisd.

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