Buying & Selling Houses

House Reclaimed by Wildlife: How I Found My Latest Deal by Investigating a Distressed Property

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

Related: Driving for Dollars Bible: Finding Distressed Properties and Marketing

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.

Related: Rehabbers Beware: 5 Big Issues Distressed Properties Hide (& How to Detect Them)

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?

We want to hear your stories! Be sure to leave a comment 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. I...
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    Mike McKinzie Investor from Westminster, CO
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    We want to see before and after pictures, and the numbers! Great Job!
    M Watson
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Nice! That’s exactly why driving for dollars works well. Just one word of advice….try and avoid using the phrase “cover up some of the damage”. It gives investors a bad rap by implying that we do shoddy work and take shortcuts on flips. It would be nice to hear some numbers… Reply Report comment
    M Watson
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Nice! That’s exactly why driving for dollars works well. Just one word of advice….try and avoid using the phrase “cover up some of the damage”. It gives investors a bad rap by implying that we do shoddy work and take shortcuts on flips. It would be nice to hear some numbers…
    Chris Feltus Residential Real Estate Agent from Fort Worth , Texas
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Hey M Watson, thanks for commenting. I didn’t mean to imply I was intending on hiding anything – it will be a full rehab and everything structural will be fixed rest assured. I don’t have numbers because I just picked up the executed contract and its set to close within a week or so.
    M Watson
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I know you did mean that. Looking forward to hearing the rest of the story…
    Nnena O. Investor from Boston, Massachusetts
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great story! Thanks for sharing. Can you talk a little more about the “fast-forward” part. What did you do in the few weeks between the phone call with the owner’s daughter and getting the property under contract? These types of details are, I think, what stumps us newbies.
    Account Closed Flipper, landlord, investor from Coronado, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    This is a prelude for what could become a long and suspenseful story on the rest of the project. Good luck!
    James Green Wholesaler from Waldorf, Maryland
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great story! Thanks for insight into going the extra mile to find out information.
    Luka Milicevic Rental Property Investor from Nashville, TN
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Nice. I’m hoping to see before/after pics and also see how the numbers work out. Please keep us posted 🙂
    Stephen Hundley Realtor from Lafayette, LA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Wow! I love when I have time between appointments too! Haha making the most of that extra time!
    Ron Averill Investor from East Lansing, Michigan
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Overgrown vegetation is a good sign to look for. Almost all of my deals have $1k-$4k in tree removal work in the budget. My tree guy loves me. Out of all the work that we do during renovation, often removing the overgrown trees and shrubs has the biggest impact on the look and feel of the house.
    Robert Steele Investor from Lucas, Texas
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Congrats on an excellent find! If the neighbors had turned out to be clueless I am guessing that your next step would have been to pull the deed for the owner’s name. If you are not familiar or comfortable with Dallas city ROAM and you are a DFW Realtor I think NTREIS Realist gives you a bare bones chain of title with names.
    Linda Leh
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    That’s really interesting. I have never seen animal control dig out feral cats and raccoons from an abandoned house. Usually towns are too shorthanded. Must be some very dedicated people in your town. How is the framing in the house? How much of it needs to be replaced?
    Bryan Rodriguez Investor from Colorado Springs , Colorado
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I did a couple of weeks ago and continuously do it. Luckily, I got my lead and expecting to have a signed contract shortly. It works. Driving for dollars is fundamental!
    Ayodeji Kuponiyi Investor from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    That worked out really well for you. Congrats and I look forward hearing the value you added to the house.
    David White from Edgewood, Maryland
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Congratulations. I’m interested in seeing how this plays out.
    Rick Dimicco from Daniel Island, South Carolina
    Replied over 4 years ago
    @Chris Feltus Any update on this property? Curious to see how it ended for you.