Real estate investors who have driven around looking for abandoned houses, know that identifying them is not always as easy as it seems. Want more articles like this? Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox Sign up for free One of my students (Suki) had asked if we could go to a few parts of town to see if we could locate some abandoned houses in hopes of getting to the homeowners before the house reached foreclosure status. We had spotted a handful in about four hours and were about to call it a day when we found a house and I ended up learning a great trick from my student. Here is what happened… The house had a few of the tell-tale characteristics that I look for in an abandoned house. The lawn was overgrown. The front door had an abundance of door hangars and flyers attached to it and the house just seemed to be saying to us, “I’m abandoned” because, it didn’t look like it had any activity about it. At the same time, something was keeping me from walking up to the house for a closer look. I wasn’t sure. Suki wasn’t sure. We ended up getting back in the car and just stared at different parts of the house, looking for a good indication that it was no longer occupied. When I find an abandoned house, I will usually try to gain access to it with the hope that I will find something inside the house that will lead me to the owner. Once I track down the owner, I do what I can to buy or contract the house. Since the owner has left the house, it means they have let go of the emotional attachment they had with their “home” as it becomes just a “house” to them when they abandon it. What I like about the abandoned houses is, because they have left it behind… I always try to buy the house for the amount the owner actually owes on the mortgage. They have given up & left. They have accepted the fact that the house will most likely be foreclosed by the lender and that is the reason I try to buy it for the payoff. It still helps the owners as well. A paid mortgage looks better on their credit than a foreclosure. This particular house had us standing and sitting in front of it for about 20 minutes and neither one of us could be certain if it was abandoned or occupied. I was about to write down the address so I could research the house online when Suki, opened the car door and said, “Enough of this,” and made his way to the front door and rang the doorbell. During the 30-45 seconds Suki was standing at the door, I had no idea what he would say if someone actually opened the door. A second later the front door opened and I could tell that Suki was saying something to the man standing in the doorway. The man shook his head slightly & stepped back in the house as the door closed and Suki turned around to get in the car. When he was in the car, I said to him, “What did you say to that guy?” Suki looked over at me and replied, “I asked if Steve Johnson was home.” I said, “What? Who is Steve Johnson?” Without pause, Suki said to me, “I have no idea but, that house is not abandoned. Let’s go.” That’s Genius, I thought to myself. Ever since that day, if there is any question in my mind if a house is vacant or occupied… I don’t waste 20 minutes looking over the house from the car. I just walk up to the door, ring the bell and if someone answers, without missing a beat I say, “Is Steve Johnson here?” It hasn’t failed yet.