One day I was in between appointments and had some time to kill. As usual, I used this time to drive the neighborhood and search for any vacant or distressed properties. While driving I noticed one house that seemed quite odd compared to the others. As I drove past it, I noticed that there were vines growing up the sides of the house, up and through the gutters, onto the roof.
Not only that, but the vegetation everywhere was completely overgrown. It was so bad, you could barely find the front door for this property, and it was painted bright red (or at least was at one point in time before weather stripped some of it). The grass must have been knee high, and the trees on the lot were completely overgrown. A few of the trees that were close the property now had limbs that were resting on the roof and had visibility torn off roof granules. The fence, from what I could see in the front, was dilapidated and had boards missing and littered across the yard.
A Dilapidated House Reclaimed by Nature
From what I could tell, this house was only able to get this bad because it was towards the back of the subdivision on a cul-de-sac with only a few other houses. There were no code violation postings or anything like that, which was surprising given the house had many potential violations. Needless to say, this was a house that I was interested in.
As I pulled in closer, I saw a few vans parked near the property, and a few people were walking out of the house towards them. As I got closer, I noticed that it was animal control.
I pulled up and went out to talk to them. As it turned out, they had pulled out a family of raccoons that had claimed residence in the attic and a few boxes of feral cats that had now claimed the rest of the property as their own. Curious to find more, I quickly pulled up the Dallas CAD on my smart phone to see who owned the property, but sadly, no dice; it just reported “current owner,” which did me no good.
Playing Real Estate Detective
Trying to find more clues, I approached one of the animal control employees and asked them if they knew what had happened to the property. They were pretty clueless and seemed as stumped as I was. After the crew left, I went to check out the perimeter of the property some more and noticed that the back door was completely off the hinge (maybe that’s how all these animals got inside). Anyway, I decided to go ahead and peer inside for a quick moment (don’t do this at home, kids).
For a house that looked so dreadful from the exterior and had been previously inhabited by wild animals, the interior was in pretty good condition, all things considered. Mostly it just needed basic cosmetics, like paint and flooring, to help get rid of the smell and cover up some of the damage. This was a pretty nice neighborhood–not an area in transition or being taken over by rental properties or anything like that. It had an ARV of about $230k, to give you an idea, and it seemed weird to me that a house like this could be let go to this extent in this neighborhood.
After leaving I decided to make one last ditch effort to try and find contact information for the owner, so I started to go knock on the doors of the few neighbors in the area. The first few were not home, but at the last house, someone answered. The neighbor was an older female, and as it turns out, she was good friends with the owner of the subject property. She started to tell me what had happened to the house and how she was getting tired of the house just sitting there like that–especially given that they were thinking about putting their own house on the market soon. She rummaged through a rolodex and was able to come up with a phone number. I thanked her for my time and headed back to the car.
Finding the Owner
Hoping the number was current, I went back to the car and gave it a call. To my surprise, the owner’s daughter answered the phone. As it turned out, the mother was now living in an assisted living facility, but they had both previously agreed it was time to sell. She asked me over the phone if I could make an offer. I felt a bit nervous doing it on the spot like that, especially since I hadn’t even met them yet, but I quickly ran some numbers through my head and figured out the ballpark area where I needed to be for this deal to make sense. I put my number out there–and then silence. I waited a few seconds, but it felt much longer than that. She said that my offer was the highest that they had received so far (apparently some other investors had already looked at the house). At this point in time, she was ready to be done with the house and asked me when a good time to meet would be to sign the contract.
Fast forward to a few weeks later: I had an executed contract in hand and a house set for closing within a week.
When’s the last time tracking down the owner of a dilapidated home paid off for you?
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.