Personal Development

A Lesson in Real Estate Safety: My Encounter With a Squatter (Pics Included!)

Expertise: Personal Development, Business Management, Real Estate Marketing, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics
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As always, I am a firm believer in sharing my stories and experiences from the trenches with the community here on BiggerPockets. However, this case study has a twist, and things did not quite go as routinely as planned. Have you ever had a close encounter with a squatter or another unwelcome "guest" when visiting an abandoned property?

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Up until now, I had only heard stories through the grapevine and had not actually experienced it firsthand. But that changed a few months ago…

Lead Generation

One segment of my marketing is identifying properties that are listed below market value on the MLS, although the deals found in this manner are few and far between, especially in a highly competitive market like the Dallas real estate market. However, they are there if you look hard enough — especially if the listing, for whatever reason, has expired.

Related: Squatters Rights: A Frightening Case Study

That was the case with this story. The property had been on the market for well over 200 days. The seller had started out way too high on the price, and it sat for over 90 days without any traction. And I guess from there, they started to reduce the price down and receive some attention. Long story short, it looked like several buyers had fallen through for one reason or another.

The listing had expired, so I decided to reach out to the homeowner to see if they still had any interest in selling.

Contacting the Owner

For properties such as this that were at one time listed on the MLS, time is of the essence, and the situation can often be a red flag indicating a potential motivated seller.

For this reason, I employed some good old-fashioned detective work to find the seller’s contact information. After unearthing a few potential numbers, I started to make some calls. I was able to get ahold of the seller, and fortunately, he was still interested in selling, but was having a terrible experience with realtors on both sides of the aisle and wanted to go another route.

I asked the seller if they would be interested if I made an all cash offer on the property. They said they would very much be. The problem was that the homeowner was out of state — actually, way out of state, living up in Oregon. Turns out it was an estate property from several years back, and the house had been sitting there vacant for almost two years now. However, the seller was just now becoming motivated.

He was having some recent financial difficulties in his life and didn’t want to pay the property taxes for a vacant home he had sitting right here in Dallas, thousands of miles away. He just wanted to unload it at this point and get a fair offer with someone dependable who would close. We had a good conversation on the phone, and he gave me some details on how to access the property and said to drive by and take a look inside anytime. Sometimes you build a relationship with a stranger over the phone, rather than building trust via your brand, and that’s ok.

The Appointment

As I always do before setting foot in an abandoned property, I announced myself and let my presence be known so I didn’t startle anyone, just in case. I started off doing my typical walk through, clipboard handy, marking off segments of the house that need improvements and started running up repair costs in my head.

It seemed at one point, someone had tried to do a little bit of rehab on the property themselves. As you will see in the pictures below, the bathrooms and kitchen had both been slightly updated, and there were cans of paint laying around the house. The seller never mentioned anything like that on the phone.

As I started to make my way through the house and began taking pictures, I started to immediately identify items that looked suspicious, as if the property were not vacant — things that struck me immediately, such as a mattress on the floor in the master bedroom with a lamp, an empty plate of food and some shoes with a dirty pair of socks.


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I continued to make my way through, all the while seeing certain signs of life. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something — or someone — moving. I caught the passing glance. My heart skipped a beat. That is the first time I have ever had a run-in with a squatter at a vacant home… and hopefully the last. I felt like I had seen a ghost. You hear about things like this happening, but really you never expect it to happen to you.

Related: I Checked Out a Drug House So You Don’t Have To (With Pictures!)

Fortunately, whoever this individual was left in a hurry, through one of the windows in a bedroom. Needless to say, I packed up and hurried out the house immediately. Luckily, I had already seen most of the house and had documented everything with pictures, so I was still able to make an offer on the property and get it under contract.

After this encounter, the squatter was not seen in the house again, and the house remained vacant until the day of closing with no issues. Check out some of my other case studies (with pictures!), such as this Fort Worth hoarder house or this drug house in Dallas.

Have you ever had any experiences like this? More importantly, how do you keep yourself safe when going on appointments in case something like this happens?

Let us know in the comments below.

Chris is an active real estate investor who buys and flips houses in the Dallas real estate market. He enjoys helping others along on their journey. In addition, Chris operates as a licensed Realtor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
    Sean T. Rental Property Investor from MA
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Thanks for the blog! If you cannot tell from my pic, I am a VERY large man. People often comment to me that it must be nice to go in without worrying! News flash, needles, knives, and bullets, oh my! Everyone should be aware of these risks. Thanks again.
    Chris Feltus Residential Real Estate Agent from Fort Worth , Texas
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Hey no problem Sean, thanks for stopping by. You are right no matter how tough you are SOMEBODY needs to know where you are. Even if the danger is not another person squatting in the house you never know what you will bump into in an abandoned house. I heard through the grapevine a guy got bit by a rattlesnake while walking through an overgrown back yard.
    Dawn A. Rental Property Investor from Milwaukee, WI
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Was it the squatter who was actually making the repairs?
    Chris Feltus Residential Real Estate Agent from Fort Worth , Texas
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Haha, good question could have been!
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Chris, glad you’re safe – and that the squatter didn’t seem to be destroying the property. Thanks for sharing your experiences. When I have to inspect alone (we try to go in pairs), I do a bit of recon from afar and then take a (fake) very loud call as I walk around the house exterior. I try to make my presence known, make it possible to escape out a different entrance, and make it clear I’m speaking to someone en route to meet me (but with an undisclosed amount of time until arrival). Don’t know if it actually works, but even when it’s been clear that someone has been there, they’ve thankfully always been gone by the time I enter. Whew!
    Chris Feltus Residential Real Estate Agent from Fort Worth , Texas
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Hey Sukey, thanks so much for stopping by and you’re welcome I love sharing my stories here and reading what others have experienced as well. Going in pairs is a great idea and something that I should probably try to do more often, its always better to go in a group if you can. Even if you pull up and obviously try and make yourself known it doesn’t always mean there won’t be any surprises inside, as this story shows. Thanks again and stay safe 🙂
    Frankie Woods Investor from Arlington, Virginia
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Thanks for the story!
    Chris Feltus Residential Real Estate Agent from Fort Worth , Texas
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Hey no problem Frankie, thanks for reading 🙂
    Mario Martinez
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Good story Chris, thanks for sharing. Similar but a bit more complicated. I own a piece of real estate in Miami Fl. and next door to that there is a small property (3,000 sq. ft.) with extensive roof and interior damage. I checked it out and found out that the owners had not paid the taxes for several years. I came up with an offer where I though I could rehab and add it to my property which is a contiguous building. Long story short, I found the owners, divorced couple, the wife was willing to work with me because she just wanted out. The husband thought he was sitting on a golden opportunity and was unreasonable as to price and negotiations. He had a friend (hoarder) was squatting on the property. many difficult times attempting to access and inspect the property including calling the police. I ended up walking away from it because the husband as I said was very unreasonable. Eventually they lost the property and the county sold it at auction. The owners got nothing from the transaction and the buyer in my opinion paid too much for it and had to evict the squatter with the police present. The buyer has spent a lot of money rehabbing and now has the place up for sale at an extremely high price to recoup their investment. It has now been on the market for a year without any offers.
    Chris Feltus Residential Real Estate Agent from Fort Worth , Texas
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Mario, thanks for stopping by. Wow what a story, thanks for sharing with everyone. Sometimes people just have completely unrealistic expectations. Which is a shame it sounds like you really would have been able to help the family and create a win-win for all parties involved. I have seen similar things with some of the tax delinquent properties I mail to. Some of the owners are not motivated enough even though the threat of auction could be right around the corner. Thanks again
    Justin Green Real Estate Agent from Portland, Oregon
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Thank you for sharing also. I list many vacant rehab properties and I sometimes scare my own clients how loud I knock on the door. I take the police knock and announce yourself approach. It is a concern especially as we move into winter, people seek shelter. I had my contractor come out last time with me at a suspect property and screw every door and window shut (Except front door entrance only). This is a problem we all have to deal with and need to be aware of our surroundings. Carrying some sort of club or hammer can double as an inspection tool or a defensive tool if the situation arises. We would all rather hear of close calls rather than sad stories.
    Stephanie Dupuis
    Replied about 6 years ago
    Glad your encounter turned out ok! Running into a squatter always gets the adrenaline going – yikes! I’ve had multiple encounters with squatters where I am. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood or how nice or bad the house is – no house is exempt. If it’s vacant, there could be squatters. As stated above, I always knock loudly (on vacant houses), announce my entry loudly, and take a quick walk through the house. If I suspect someone else is there with me, I immediately call 911 and have the local police clear the property for me. The police are more than happy to do this.