Case Study: Vacant Fixer-Upper Discovered by Driving for Dollars [With Picture!]

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I just picked up another house here in the Dallas-Fort Worth market that I think would make for an interesting case study to share with all of you.

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Lead Acquisition

Oftentimes when I have an appointment scheduled for the day, I will take a stack of comps with me to filter through to help arrive at an ARV for the subject property. When I get there early, I always take the time to physically drive the comps, even in neighborhoods where I regularly flip houses. Not only does this help me make more confident offers, but it also occasionally nets additional deals for me, as was the case this week.

Driving for Dollars in Dallas

While driving comps, one thing I keep an eye out for within the neighborhood are any houses that are in a state of neglect or disrepair. This might include tall grass, boarded up or busted windows, mailboxes stuffed to the brim, newspapers piled up on the lawn, etc. Essentially, this is exactly the same as driving for dollars.

Typically, when I go driving for dollars, it is a concentrated effort where that is all that I am focusing on, but there is no reason you can’t do it in between appointments or when you are out driving comps, as was the case for me.

As I was driving the comps, I found a road that went to a dead end with no outlet. This was where I found this lead. The neighborhood overall was in decent shape, but I could tell that whatever house I looked at in this area would likely need foundation work (the streets themselves were busted up and patched over, which is usually a sign that the houses too will need some structural work).

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And here is what I saw from the street:


Does that look like a prospect to you? After doing this for long enough, vacant houses start to jump out at you. Now, I have to admit, with this particular house, it’s a little more subtle that it’s vacant — it probably wouldn’t strike most of you as vacant right away. It might be hard to see from the picture, but the lawn is a bit overgrown, the curtains are peeled back and you can see there is no furniture inside, and there is a pile of newspapers by the front door. What I do at this point is take a picture with my phone to use in a mailer later if I don’t have any luck in the field finding information for the owner. Luckily, that was not the case for this house. If you have read my driving for dollars guide, you won’t be surprised what I did with it next.

Meeting with the Neighbors

After taking the picture, I exited my car and took with me some clear tape and a yellow notepad and pen that I always carry with me. On the notepad, I just left a simple message for anyone who might come by to check on the property. It just stated my name, that I buy houses for cash as is, and that I would appreciate giving me a call — that’s it. I then took the note and taped it in a few different spots, usually the front door and garage. This kind of seems silly, but it has a high response rate in my experience. It may not be immediate, but when people return to the house for whatever reason (check up on it, clean it out, etc.), I usually get a call off these notes.

The next thing I do if the neighborhood isn’t too unsafe is start knocking on neighbors’ doors and asking around if they have any information on who lives in the subject property or information on the owners. And this is where I had success for this case study. I went to each house in the cul-de-sac (about five houses), and most of the people were not home. One neighbor answered the door but didn’t have a clue what was going on with the vacant house. The second to last house where I knocked, the neighbor came out and started to spill the beans — another fun fact, there was a real estate agent sign in his yard showing his home was for sale.

Why is this method so effective? People hate having trashy, unkempt houses sitting next door to them. If they ever want to put their house up for sale, the vacant, beaten up house next door is going to drive down their home’s desirability in the eyes of buyers.

The neighbor started to tell me about how he was getting negative feedback from the buyers at this point because of the vacant house next door, and it was actively causing him lost offers. Again, the picture is kind of small; it doesn’t do this beaten up house justice. The paint was peeling off the front, there were busted windows on the side, the backyard fence was completely wrecked and overgrown, it was visible from inside the neighbor’s house, etc. I told him that I was a real estate investor and interested in buying the house and fixing it up, and it made him so excited. So he began to open up about the property and what had been going on with it.

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Apparently, the property had been leased out for a bit, but the previous tenants were evicted and trashed the property in the process. Not only that, but apparently the landlord had been deferring basic structural maintenance for a while now. He told me that when the owners had dropped by on more than one occasion to keep an eye on the house, he had gone out to talk with them and express his frustrations.

He had all the information that I needed, and he provided me with not one but two phone numbers (the husband and wife owners) and one email address. In the follow up blog post, I will write about the initial phone call contacts with the owners, as well as the appointment itself, making the offers and the final numbers, in the upcoming weeks (it’s still under contract but set to close soon).

Until then, wish me luck.

Investors: Have you found any deals lately by driving for dollars?

Leave your comments below!

About Author

Chris Feltus

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.


  1. Kim Martin

    Hi Chris – Yes I just sent a letter to the owners on the tax records when driving for dollars but I LOVE your idea of leaving a note on the front door and garage. I will drive right back over and do that (and try speaking with the neighbors). Thanks for your terrific post!

  2. Dale Forney

    Hi Chris,

    Definitely not a “dead end” for you. You never know what can be at the end of one of those curious streets. Thanks for the insights as I’m getting started in my pursuits out West. I like your tactics: post a note, approach affected neighbors, start a conversation…..and get contact info / lead. Way to go!

    I’ll check out your Driving for Dollars Guide next. Another toolkit to add.

    Looking forward to hearing how this turns out for you. As I’m new to BP, do you know what I can do be notified when you post the follow up blog? I.e. Is there a “follow”, tag, or something? I’m sure it’s on the page, but not seeing it.

  3. John Ching

    Great article, Chris! I LOVE D4D (as I call it!). I will ‘borrow’ your idea of leaving a handwritten note taped to the front door, front window, garage, etc. with my name and contact info. Thanks for the read.

  4. margaret smith on

    Yes, I want to know ALL the details! This post makes such great sense, the story and the pic is something we can all relate to–and so it is very exciting to follow it!

  5. Nothing kills a home sale faster than having neighbors that don’t keep up their homes!!!!! I lived in a newer built area. It was nicer, then several of the employers in the town pulled out. People couldn’t find comparable jobs and they were forced to short sell or be foreclosed on. The neighborhood suffered. Investors -sorry but most of us LIVING in neighborhoods shudder at y’all-why because most “investors” rent to people just like those in your illustration. They have the mentality it is just a “rental” so they trash it. And homeowners HATE that “investors” just like the couple mentioned here let those homes GO. Either they didn’t budget enough for upkeep, or they just had NO clue about what it takes for upkeep, or were just TOO LAZY to do anything. They got them cheap yet fail to upkeep. Then the once nicer neighborhood is ruined. It becomes a trap for the homeowners that do keep up their property and want a nicer area to live in. That homeowner you talked to, they were living the nightmare. Probably trying to sell, to get away from the eyesore and problems living next to a house that was bringing down the quality of their life, and the value of their home. It is hard to have community or pride of ownership when most investors are just coming through neighborhoods buying up homes, to make a profit. When a block goes “rental” it is pretty easy to spot, the quality of care and maintenance of the homes are shoddy. I had to wait out this trend in our neighborhood. Living next to homes that were purchased by “investors” ruined my life. The homes, and the people in them didn’t CARE. It reflected on my property. One home next to me, went through 2 foreclosures, then a guy bought it, fixed it a bit, tried to flip it, but couldn’t make what he put into it. Rule #1 don’t over fix a home with amenities and features NOT standard for the neighborhood. He did a great job, but it was done in the WRONG location for him to recoop, since the block had become rentals mostly. He had to sell for a loss, to another “investor”, who rented it out to property abusers. That investor had to fix the abuse. The HOA passed a no rental sign in front rule, so between advertisings I sold. Prospects didn’t KNOW the history, they didn’t realize they might get rotten neighbors. I offered to keep up the properties I was between, because the investors didn’t live in our town (figures). So I bought flower boxes, planted them, mowed the lawn. Keeping up their curb appeal, but framing my house with the illusion that all was well, when it wasn’t. It looked fine, but the houses were empty. I got offers in days, sold off fast with bidding wars. Y-E-S!!! And now those houses are rented out on either side with loud obnoxious trashy renters. Sadly, my buyers are stuck, at least for now. I got out of that scenario, and am SO glad I did. I just wish investors SAW the reality of what many of them DO to neighborhoods. If you buy a fixer upper next to maintained homes, KEEP IT UP, don’t become the one everyone hates because you are a slum lord looking to cash in. Most homeowners don’t have the luxury of picking up and moving out.

  6. Caleb Friberg

    Great write up Chris! These are all great points and came across something similar to this today. I just dropped off the keys to my new tenants today and on my way home, I took a street that I’ve never been on before. I came across a house that reminded me exactly of this one so I left a note on the door and while doing so, the neighbors came out to see what I was doing. They were pretty fed up having this eye sore next to them and they ended up giving me the owners phone number (some lady in her 70’s). I’m really hoping it develops into a deal. Thanks for your articles, I always learn something new to implement!

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