Real Estate Marketing

The Detective Real Estate Investor: Six Steps To Find Property Owners

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Flipping Houses, Business Management, Personal Development, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Real Estate News & Commentary
210 Articles Written
How to Find Missing Owners

Being a real estate investor can at times feel like you are really a private investigator. This is because making the deal happen can require many "detective" type skills. And, if you can deduce a little bit better than your competition, you just might get the deal.

Want more articles like this?

Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up for free

For example, you notice a property that looks neglected and vacant. Sensing that it is a potential deal you look up the owner's name on your local tax assessor's data base to send them an offer letter. Upon looking up the owner you note that the owner's address is listed as the same for the property you are interested in. Should you send your letter to a vacant house or should you investigate further?

I would investigate further.  Here is why.

Six Steps to Find Property Owners

The owner may have become what I will term "lost." Your job to get the deal is to find them. After all, you can't acquire the deal unless you can bring someone to the table to sign the deed.

Perhaps the owner died.  Now you need to find the heirs.  Perhaps there was a divorce, foreclosure or a bankruptcy and the owner has simply abandoned the property.  Strange, but it happens.

So how can you go about finding them?

First, check with your local tax collector.  Are there taxes owed?  If not then some one is paying them.  Where are the checks coming from?  Where are the tax bills being mailed?  Even if taxes are owed, you may still have a deal that warrants further investigation as the actual owners may not even know they own it.  If you can find them, they may be happy to get rid of the property.

Second, double check the local tax assessor’s data base.  Who is listed as the owner?  What is the address of the owner?  Is it the same address as the subject property?  If not, there is a starting point for you to search further.

Third, check with your local register of deeds.  Do a mini title search on the property.  Most everything is online now.  Some, like mine in Shelby County, TN are free.  For others you may need to use a subscription service.

Fourth, try good old Google.  Type in the name and address and see what comes up.  Obviously, the less common the name you search for the better.  If you do have a common name like John Smith, try and refine the search as much as possible, by adding the city, zip code or some other qualifier.  Google will often lead you to other sites like Linked In or Facebook that can provide you with enough information to lead you to the owner.  It is amazing what people post on social media sites.

Fifth, check your local court sites. Perhaps you will find a will at the probate court and from there you can find heirs. For bankruptcy courts, is an awesome resource.   Pacer is a government pay site, but only on a per page basis.  So you pay as you go and it is only eight cents per page.

Sixth, try other web resources.  One of my favorites is  I know, it sounds morbid, but you can find out a lot of info from this site.  Info such as when an owner died and often if there was a spouse or children, which can lead you to the current owner.

How much time should you spend trying to find a “lost” owner?  That is up to you and your needs.  Your initial investigations will often tell you if it is worth your time going forward.  You may find information to keep up the search or you may hit a dead end.

I know folks who have spent years looking for owners to clear up title problems and create opportunities. I would spend at least a little time trying to find the owner and a proper address because those few extra steps will make you stand out from the crowd and may just get you that deal.

What detective skills do you use?

Want to share any cool detective websites?  Got a good detective story that netted you an awesome deal?   Let us know with your comments.

Photo Credit: paurian

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in ...
Read more
    Mark Ferguson
    Replied about 7 years ago
    I have had good luck with Zaba search before and people finder websites, but it has been a while. LinkedIn can be a great way to find people as well as sites like Mylife, schoolfeed.
    Kevin Perk
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Mark, Thanks for sharing the info and for reading my post. Kevin
    Lindsay Wilcox
    Replied about 7 years ago
    How do you get a hold of your local tax collector/assessor? I’m supposed to close on my first house within a week and there are a couple others on the street that might be abandoned and easy enough to fix up, but I don’t even know what I don’t know!
    Kevin Perk
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Lindsay, Just google “tax assessor” or “property appraiser” or “property tax assessment” along with the county your property is in and it should hit. Many out there are online. If yours is not you may have to pick up the phone book, flip through the blue pages and give them a call. Good luck and thanks for reading and commenting, Kevin
    Replied about 7 years ago
    If I think someone in the area may have an interest in the property, or there might be a former neighbor still in the area, I put a “For Sale By Owner” sign on the property with a pre paid cell phone number. This usually garners a “What the #@%& right do you have to try to sell my property! Next I apologize claiming my sign guy must have put the sign on the wrong house. Along with the apology I offer, I can’t believe the guy got the two houses mixed up, because mine is; boarded up, the lawn is 3 feet high, a tree is lying on the house, trash all about. Describing their house to the tee, where I get a reply “Well so is mine”. “Oh are you interested in selling it?”
    Lindsay Wilcox
    Replied about 7 years ago
    This might be my favorite idea I’ve ever seen on BP. Thank you for that. The way it played out in my head was absolutely hysterical!
    Kevin Perk
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Dennis, Interesting! Have you gotten any deals this way? Thanks for reading and commenting, Kevin
    Giovanni Isaksen
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Great post Kevin. Sometimes I have luck searching on just the owner’s name and city and have found people who are no longer at the address listed as owner’s when the last transaction was recorded on the assessor’s site. BTW I tried going to and got a trucking company instead??? Is it @Dennis, great idea, and like Lindsay it cracked me up thinking about how that would play out.
    Kevin Perk
    Replied about 7 years ago
    Giovanni, Yep, you are right. It is Hopefully we can get that fixed. Thank you fr catching that. Thanks also for commenting and reading, Kevin