Modern Day Real Estate Investing: How to Find and Manage Great Deals from Anywhere

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People often wonder how it’s possible for me to own and manage properties (currently around 75 homes at any given time) that are outside my geographic area. It wasn’t that long ago that this wasn’t the case. Although it’s going on 25 years now that I’ve owned and managed real estate, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I’ve considered doing so outside my own geographic area. So, what has changed?

The Internet

Since the Internet has taken off, many things real estate related have changed, and the global community has come closer together through social media as well. Although you’re listening to a guy who used to sell real estate in 1986 with a picture book, no fax machines, or cell phones and would cold call and door knock for leads to the point of contemplating suicide, the Internet has obviously changed the way we do real estate investing. I’m talking about much more than just utilizing the MLS here.

Many data services, not accessible before, now help us analyze real estate deals by determining value, courthouse data, insurance data, property condition, etc. Just about anything can be found online, especially through database searches within CoreLogic, RealQuest, Lexis-Nexis, and others. Today, we use so many affordable vendors; I feel obligated to mention a few. REO real estate agents and their networks are much easier to access and utilize. National insurance carriers can write affordable policies everywhere. And, my favorite is the modern-day property preservation companies.

Although the property preservation company I utilize is in Irvine, California, they do work in all 50 states, (including Alaska, Hawaii, and all US territories), and here are a few of the services they provide:

  • Property Renovations, Rehabilitations, & Repairs
  • REO Services Bundles
  • REO Maintenance & Landscaping
  • Property Preservation
  • Evictions
  • Cash-4-Keys
  • Deed-in-Lieu of Foreclosure
  • Vacant Property Registration
  • Code Violation Cures
  • Hazard Claims Estimates & Inspections
  • Property Inspections & Outreach Programs
  • Utility Services
  • Property Demolition & Land Grading
  • Facilities Maintenance & Repairs
  • Commercial Construction, Repairs & Maintenance
  • Road, Sidewalk, Driveway and Parking Lot Paving, Striping and Maintenance

Unique Ways to Find Properties

Years ago, I knew this guy that ran a board-up company in the Philadelphia area, and he owned about 200 houses. I asked my plumber, who was a close buddy of his, how this guy found all of his deals. My plumber said, “from doing all the work for the banks, he gets to see all the deals before anyone else does.” Hello! Why didn’t I hear about this strategy before? I realize you have to be a cheap vendor in order to work for the banks, but you do get to see all the good deals ahead of everyone else.

Just as my property preservation company has an inexpensive pricing matrix for general services, these venders, who are approved to do bank work, can also bid on HUD/FHA repairs, as well as partial and full rehabs. So if you’re a contractor, who hasn’t applied to be a vendor on some property preservation companies’ lists, I think you may be missing out on a huge opportunity, regardless of where you’re located.

So, how exactly can a vendor learn about these deals, and how much of an advantage is it?

Well, fairly often, banks will need work done prior to the sale. If they’re foreclosing and the property is vacant, they will take efforts to protect their interest, such as boarding up the property or winterizing it. Therefore, the vendor for the property preservation company, who is doing this work, will know that the property is bank owned, often times, before an REO Realtor is even brought in to sell the property. He/she could even be aware of the deal before the foreclosure sale.

Usually at a foreclosure sale, those interested are bidding sight-unseen. The property is secured and not listed with a realtor yet, so these bidders are not permitted inside. If this person was already working on the property for the bank, he/she has the advantage of having been to the property and may have a much better idea of what the property needs.

If the vendor comes in to do the work after the foreclosure sale, he/she will still have knowledge of which properties are bank owned. If he/she pays attention, they will know which one’s sold or didn’t sell. This person may then be able to put in an offer in with the REO realtor. Now, imagine if this person is friends with the REO realtor!

The best REO agents have a rolodex, or as we’d say now, a long contacts list in his/her Smartphone.
Obviously, being a vendor for a property preservation company isn’t the only way to find deals, especially in today’s sphere of electronic communication. I’ve found that a great way to find deals is through networking. I met one of my REO realtors, who always gives me great information, at a servicing conference. Many of the banks and REO agents go to these types of conferences, and, usually, they’re promoted online.

There are so many conferences, meet-ups, investing groups, etc. in the Real Estate world. It’s about reaching out, finding people you can trust, and then working with those people.

But, how can you know it’s a good deal when it’s not “right down the street?”

Now, with all the field services that are available to me, I can still get enough clarity and research to make an informed business decision. For example, I can get an REO realtor on the phone, who (I know from our conversations) has lived in that area for over 30 years. I can call this person up and ask him about the area, what the neighborhood is like, etc. He can send me pictures of the neighborhood; tell me what kind of person buys in that area, how often they sell, etc. One time I even needed a logging company, and my agent got me hooked up. This kind of information is invaluable, especially if it’s a deal outside of your geographical area.

Easier Ways to Manage Properties

There was a time, when I wouldn’t invest outside of the county I grew up in. I knew every street. I worked there my whole life up until that point. It was just my mindset. It wasn’t until after I moved some of my RE Investing to outside of my area (I do still have local deals as well), that I discovered it’s one of the most difficult counties to invest in. There are over 3,000 counties, and mine certainly wasn’t near the top.

Looking back, I realized that it’s almost risky to have all of my properties in one spot. I was overexposed to any changes that may occur or uncontrollable factors that could influence that area, with all of my assets parked there. After all, one of the reasons that banks have properties in all 50 states and insurance companies write policies across the US is to diversify their exposure, right?

My situation is slightly different—one of the reasons I own properties across the US is because many of these are mortgages and not just properties themselves. But either way, there are a few services that make it a lot easier for me to manage multiple properties.

Now I’m not saying this is always the case for everything, but there are situations where the property preservation guys are much cheaper than my local contractors, who usually work on my rentals. They use interesting strategies to make their services more affordable. For example, the preservation company will do cleanouts, by using dump trucks instead of dumpsters (no high fees or permits). They’ll put a lock box on for approximately the same money I could myself. They’re reasonable for extermination, winterization, changing locks, and even meeting utility companies. They’ll do site visits and even assist with evictions in deed in lieu situations.

I don’t have to go to the property. I don’t have to spend the time, gas, energy, etc. Nor do I have to manage the contractors if I use a property preservation company. They’re work is mostly volume and is also for the banks, normally. The company wouldn’t want to lose a contract, so they already have someone managing the contractors, and I don’t have to worry about what kind of contractor I have out there. Even if I was hiring someone, today, it is so much easier to get boots on the ground than it ever was before the internet. For one example, I can read reviews on Angie’s list before bringing someone in. With today’s technology, I can receive updates more easily as well. My roofer, for example, sends me videos or images of how the roof is coming along when he’s on-site.

I can honestly say that I am very comfortable owning property all over the US today. It really isn’t as hard as I once thought it was. You’re still doing the same fundamental due diligence; you’re just doing it in a different way. Is it still 100% as efficient as doing it yourself in your own back yard? Maybe not. But, I don’t necessarily think it needs to be.

So, I’m curious. In today’s day and age, what has made finding or managing properties easier for you? Has the Internet, or the use of vendors, improved your ability to invest in real estate?

Photo: Alba Soler Photography

About Author

Dave Van Horn

Since 2007, Dave Van Horn has served as president and CEO of PPR The Note Co., a holding company that manages several funds that buy, sell, and hold residential mortgages nationwide. Dave’s expertise is derived from over 30 years of residential and commercial real estate experience as a licensed Realtor, a real estate investor, and a fundraiser. As the latter, Dave has raised over $100 million in both notes and commercial real estate. In addition to his investments and role as CEO, Dave’s biggest passion is to teach others how to share, build, and preserve wealth. He authored Real Estate Note Investing, an introduction to the note investing business, helping investors enter the “other side” of the real estate business.


  1. Terry Hershberger on

    I do 90% of my investing in a state I don’t live in. Good article. I find the most important thing is to treat it as if it were in your back yard and have the proper team in place and all goes well.

    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi Terry, thanks for the positive feedback! I agree with you about having a proper team in place (whether they’re down the street or in another state). It matters less where the property is than what kind of team you have there.

  2. Dave,

    I usually hold all of my SFH and TD notes in my hometown but my apartment complex are in different states. I’m interested of becoming a PL in different states for higher yield.

    • Hi Vincent,
      Well, congrats on investing on some real estate outside your area! I do understand that it’s easier to hold apartment complexes, but if you do decide that you want to do SFH or TD notes outside your area, hopefully some of these online services will be of help to you.
      Best of luck,

  3. I did some driving for dollars and found a few properties with property preservation companies. I knew they were a good lead on properties that were bank owned and I was shocked to see the company on some of these properties were in Kansas when I’m in Minnesota. Its a very interesting avenue to get into. So, if I were to contact this Kansas company are they going to supply the owner of the property or are they going to supply properties they know of or are they going to not understand what I’m asking for.

    I’d love the input! Thanks!

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Yes, you’re right that it’s a different avenue to get into. But, I don’t think property preservation companies typically give out a list of bank owned properties—they may have confidentiality agreements and whatnot. If you’re looking for properties, it may be beneficial to connect with vendors of property preservation companies (usually the vendor is local to the properties he/she works on) or with an REO agent. Are you a vendor as well? A vendor could have a contract with a property preservation company to work on bank owned properties and he/she could discover deals that way. One thing to keep in mind in this scenario is that, typically, banks do have rules about who can buy their properties, for example, REO agents can’t buy their listings.

      I hope some of this helps! Let me know if you have any additional questions.


  4. Dave,

    I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to property preservation teams. I always admire folks that manage so many properties on their own, but wondered about the tricks they use to minimize their time commitment. This new idea to me has the ol hamster wheel a turnin.


    • Hi Jason,
      Thanks for your interest!
      You’re right. Resources, like these property preservation companies, allow us to manage numerous properties and mortgages outside our region with much less time and effort.
      Let me know if you have any additional questions.

        • Hi Jason,

          Depending on what phase it’s at, I might pay a door knock service, property preservation company, or a realtor to do this. I may use a certain type of realtor or resource in different phases–do you have a specific situation? If so, I might be able to provide better info. Property managers can lease properties and evict tenants (our foreclosure attorney network can evict tenants as well).

          I hope some of this helps!

  5. Sara Cunningham on

    Dave very interesting. I also was not aware of Property Preservation Companies or what they do. Although we only own real estate in the market we lived in we are presently living in Europe. The latest deal we have we found on Craig’s list. We have been using the MLS and other online bidding sources to find properties. I only joined this group yesterday and have already found that networking is the best way. It’s who you know. We use our property management company, our realtor and our maintenance crew to get tips too. Thanks for offering another solution.

    • Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your positive feedback! I definitely agree that networking is the best way. I use the types of resources you mentioned to get tips as well. You’re situation is interesting to me, and it’s definitely doable. My brother lived in Italy and had a property manager for three years in Mississippi.

      Best of luck,
      Dave Van Horn

  6. I total agree that properties can be managed from afar. I used to live in the UK and we bought some properties while we lived there. We kept these when we moved back home to Australia and collected another one there. We still own them and rent them out. Not sure how long we’ll be in the US for but I plan on buying more rentals here and keeping them regardless of where we end up. If we only bought property in places where we lived or decided to settle then we wouldn’t have any. If you have good property managers then it’s all doable. My London agent even pays the utilities and tax bills between tenancies.

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