Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice

How to Find the BEST Hidden Deals Using Your Local District Website

Expertise: Personal Development, Business Management, Real Estate Marketing, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics
70 Articles Written

Let’s face it: It’s becoming tougher and tougher to find great deals out there. This is a little trick that very few people are using and that makes a great supplement to a direct mail campaign or driving for dollars to fill up your lead funnel.

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The Ace Up Your Sleeve

If they are not in a heavily rural area, most central appraisal districts (CADs) have a website with a database — or some way to purchase the data at the very least. The data is usually stored in a Microsoft Excel or access database.

Some of this might sound a bit technical, but it will guarantee to net you deals that no one else is looking for — because it is hidden to them. But not for you, not now. This can be done in the comfort of your own home or on a break in between appointments at your local Starbucks.

The Secret Sauce Is in the Metadata

The database stores the basic information, of course, such as owner name, address, property tax assessed value, etc. However, many appraisal districts contain information that is incredibly valuable to us as real estate investors. Metadata sounds confusing, but it’s simply information about the data.

Related: The Stupid-Simple Truth on How to Buy More Real Estate Deals

For example, when records are stored for a given property, they will often have a few codes that are attributed to them. These codes are arbitrary and make no sense at face value. But the database usually comes with a PDF or a help section online that contains the metadata. This will serve as your Rosetta Stone to translate these abstract numbers into something meaningful. In other words, this is where you are going to snag deals that no one else can find. The code “01444” might mean a property that has overgrown grass, for instance.

Use the Codes

Every central appraisal district is different. For example, the different counties I access here in the DFW area include Dallas County, Tarrant County and Denton County. At least for the counties in my area, I can access the data for free by downloading it from the website. If you are having trouble locating where the data is stored, try finding the webmaster’s email for the site, and they are usually pretty helpful, at least in my experience. They each are their own separate entities, and therefore have separate databases and ways they classify data. Some appraisal districts have additional data that others lack and vice versa.

Once you get more comfortable with the data and figure out what the codes mean, I recommend making a small legend for yourself so you can quickly scan through to find what code is attributed to what; that way, you don’t have to attempt to memorize a bunch of numbers. Once you have a firm understanding of the process, this is something you could easily outsource to someone else and have them scan the CAD for deals while you go about your day.

For my local appraisal districts, there are codes for things such as:

  • Dilapidated Buildings: There is a specific code in one of the columns. The code is something arbitrary, a 5 digit number like “18294.” And without reading the metadata that I talked about above, it will mean nothing to you. That’s why it’s so important to take this seriously and do a little bit of research because it can have a big payoff in the end.
  • Burnouts: Not everyone feels comfortable with these, but these are a great resource. My local CAD has a code associated with all known burnouts in the city and updates the records once a month.
  • Properties With Very Tall Grass: If a house has tall grass to the point that neighbors are complaining to the city and the house is starting to collect violation stickers on the windows, then you know you have the potential for a good deal. These are usually vacant homes; if a house is lived in, even tenant occupied, they typically don’t let grass grow thigh high.
  • Code Violations: All code violations are stored against the target property. Again, these are stored as arbitrary codes, but it lists each violation on the property. Another great source.
  • Properties That Owe Back Taxes (& How Much): The County can take the house back at any time with the sheriff’s sale auction here in Texas. These people are usually pretty motivated. And if property taxes are accumulating, that is generally a red flag that there are other things wrong with the house, or the seller is in a situation where a discounted sale likely makes sense. Just make sure the back taxes don’t meet or exceed the property’s value (I have seen this several times before).

Related: 4 Expert Tricks for Finding Flip Deals in a Tight Market

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I can find properties that have multiple heirs and the estate still hasn’t settled from many years ago (in other words, no one is likely mailing them, so there’s no competition). I can find properties where there is a divided interest in the property. I can find properties that have a combination of things, such as tall grass, broken windows, or an absentee owner who owns the house in Dallas but lives in California.

This method allows me to find beat up houses with tons of equity that no one else can find. For example, houses like this hoarder house in Fort Worth. When you can combine the data in this manner, this becomes a lethal weapon in your real estate investing arsenal. So take the time to nerd out a bit and dig into your local appraisal district.

Investors: What tools do you use to find hidden deals? Do you use your local CAD?

Let’s talk in the comments section!

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. I...
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    Gautam Venkatesan Investor from Dallas, Texas
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Darren Sager Investor from Summit, NJ
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great article Chris. I don’t think I can recall anyone else bringing this up before!
    William M. from Brooklyn, NY
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Yea. I guess I won’t be sleeping on the job nomore. This article is really a gem.
    Andy H. Investor from Stockdale , Texas
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Thanks for the great insider tip! I’m definitely going to look into this.
    Mario T. Banker from Glen Allen, Virginia
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Amazing article! Question: Who should I be asking to get a copy of the CAD in my county? I live in a medium size county and their records are still stored at the courthouses. You can’t find anything online
    Edward Barnes from Smithfield, Virginia
    Replied over 4 years ago
    awesome article
    Edward Barnes from Smithfield, Virginia
    Replied over 4 years ago
    …seems like this is Texas -pecific, not sure it works elsewhere. Least not in Virginia.
    Jim Viens Rental Property Investor from Kansas City, KS
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Do you have some type of scraper program that goes through all this data or do you do it manually?
    Colin Smith Realtor from Colorado Springs, CO
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Very clever! I will definitely be checking this out in my area. Thanks for the tip!
    Todd Whiddon Residential Real Estate Agent from Atlanta, Georgia
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Awesome post! I’ll be trying it out this week!
    Herb Carter Investor from Little Elm, Texas
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Chris, this is a tremendous help! I have just started working the Denton area.
    Bevla Reeves Real Estate Agent from Scottsdale, AZ
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Thanks Chris! Questions: Are central appraisal districts the same as Tax Assessor Offices? And which specific databases should I ask for?
    Greg Junge Realtor from Phoenix, AZ
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Do you know if Phoenix has a cad? I searched but can’t seem to find it anywhere. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Siraj Ahmed
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Anyone have any idea on how the Cook County one works in Illinois? I checked the Assessor website and treasurer . No luck so far… Thanks in advance!
    Siraj Ahmed
    Replied over 4 years ago
    I also checked my Niles district (since i live in a city called Morton Grove) website but i am not sure what the database is called.
    John Hyatt Investor from Glendale, Arizona
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great article!! I went on my local assessor site (Maricopa) and it looks like they charge for this data, quite expensive. Any thoughts on how to get for free? Or should I just search for another county that offers it for free?
    Siraj Ahmed
    Replied over 4 years ago
    @John, what did you type in to find this database? what is the correct term to look for? thanks for your help
    John Hyatt Investor from Glendale, Arizona
    Replied over 4 years ago This is the site that I went to, probably not the correct site though?
    Patrick Kucera Engineer from Dover, Delaware
    Replied over 4 years ago
    Great article @CHRIS FELTUS! I’ve used something similar searching for properties in Florida. I searched for the “Geospacial Information System Portal” for my county. This portal (depending on how much data the county has) may have information concerning flood zones, closest fire dept/police, topography, sales records, tax records, etc. Each county may not have one, but if they do and update it with good data it could be very useful! I used to work on these types of systems in the early stages of my time in the Air Force so I know that these could include a vast array of data that investors may seek. Thanks for sharing! Patrick
    Mary D. Rental Property Investor from Salem, NH
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Hi I too have the question of… is this the county/town assessors website? And is this for agent access only. I got to this article from another article that was agent specific. I can access my local appraisal website and look at most of the towns in my state. Thanks Mary
    Tracy R. from Marietta, GA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hi Chris, I still can’t find the Metadata you’re talking about but I’m going to keep trying! In case anyone here is having trouble even getting to their county’s site in the first place, I found a great national portal site that helps you, so I wanted to share it: Just click on your state and then your county, and you’ll find either your specific county tax assessor, CAD, (or whatever it’s called) site, or a phone number. Good luck – hope this helps some of you even get started to search, as it did me!