I found a house in a nearby neighborhood that had some fire damage. An elderly resident managed to set two fires within the course of a weekend. The house is now boarded up and vacant, with a sign on the door that the city plans to demolish it, if it is not brought up to code. I spoke to neighbors and learned that the fire damage was not widespread, and from looking in the windows, it seems like minimal repair work. Neighbors said (may no be true) that the owner just took the insurance money and has no plans to fix the house.
I inquired at city hall about the process of potentially buying the property before they demolish it. They said the owner lived out of state and I would need to contact her directly. They wouldn't share a phone number, and my letters to her have been ignored. The house remains boarded up with no progress, and demolition approaching.
@Jesse Smith if you are trying to get ahold of the owner, do some hustling. Look up the owner's address from the tax bill, overnight them a letter. Use their address and put it into whitepages. Search the owner's name on FB or Linkedin.
@Andrew Kerr Thanks for the reply. I've tried all of those things so far, and I've sent a few letters to a couple different addresses. It's very frustrating that the city knows who owns the property but can't/won't share the contact information that actually works.
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