Vacant Homes, driving for dollars in OC

10 Replies

So what exactly is a “vacant home?” Is it exactly what it sounds like? How will I know that it is a vacant home, will it have a sign for sale in front of it? Or will I have to do some extra research ? I ask because I want to get into real estate with less competition in the OC area and plan to just start our by driving for dollars Thanks in advanced !

Hi Peter!
It’s typically pretty difficult to “drive for dollars” in OC. You may find a couple of boarded up or obviously vacant homes, but there aren’t many out here.
Some signs of a vacant home:
-overgrown grass or weeds
-piles of mail on porch or mailbox
-boarded up windows

What kind of real estate investing are you looking to get in to in OC?

Hi Lindsey!

Thanks for the reply! Well I guess I’m not really looking to score off of one from driving, just to get a feel for my neighborhood. I’m just looking for single family or small multi units( which is pretty rare) to start off with. Have you had any luck in the area you are investing in?

Sure thing! 

Huntington Beach has some great small multi-family properties (2-4 units) but Long Beach is a great place to invest.  There's no rent control and the rental demand is very high.  That's where my husband and I invest currently and are looking for our next property.  

What kind of home and return would you be looking for?  Have you thought about house-hacking?  

I'm from Long Beach and live in Huntington Beach.  Seems like we would be a good pair.  Let me know if you'd like to partner on any projects.

Thanks a lot guys ! I will look into Long Beach and Huntington. I would love to partner with you Whitney, and Lindsey if you’re open to it!
I also have thought about house hacking but I live at home right now and I can save ~1000+ for doing so so I’m going to stick to that to save money for investing. I am also working full time so I have definitely have enough funds which is why I decided to invest in a OC but it seems like it’s pretty tough right now

I agree with Lindsey regarding Long Beach. Huntington Beach is overall pretty safe, good schools, and lots of things to do (I live around there). However, you will probably get better returns in Long Beach and you can find most of the things in HB right in LB.

This depends a little bit on whether the trash is handled by the city or private contractors, and also whether the custom in that city is to keep the trash cans "hidden" when not in use (like, in the backyard, or in the garage), but: if you can't see any trash cans around the side of the house or at the corner of the garage, or in the driveway on trash day, whereas the neighbors' houses do have trash cans in those locations, maybe nobody is living there.  It could also mean that somebody is just on vacation or has a seasonal home, though.

Also, occupied houses sometimes will have signs like kids' toys in the yard, or well-kept flowerbeds in front of the house.  If there are no toys and the flowers are all dead from last year, that's another sign that it might be unoccupied.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.  Don't go trespassing just to find out about the trash cans, toys, flowers, etc, but my understanding is that if you are standing on the public street or on the public sidewalk, anything you can see from that location is knowledge you can use.  Again, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

I hope this helps!

@Matt R. Thank you so much. That helps out so much. I hope great things happen to you sir haha. Let me know if you need anything I can do, it’ll be my pleasure!

So next question, this might be pretty simple but I’m still pretty new to real estate.
Let’s say we suspect that a house is vacant, how will we go about contacting the owner? Power of google? And a phone number ?


@Peter Bui


This is based on experience in the Midwest, but I think California should be similar.

Once you've found a house, one place you can look is your county land records.  For heavily populated counties (which Orange County, CA definitely qualifies as), these are usually on the Web and free to look at.  Sometimes they are on the Web and cost money, but if you go down to the county courthouse, there is a PC you can use to look at them for free. For rural counties, sometimes you have to go to the county courthouse and look at the paper records.

Google for "Orange County land records" and see what you find.  These days there will often be a map, where you can either click on the property of interest, or enter the address, and get a basic report - whose name is on the property tax records, how much the property tax is, the square footage, year built, etc.  Often you can get a history of the past few years of what the property tax was and when it was paid.  You can usually get a name and address from this, but you may not be able to get a phone number.  You can always Google the name to see what you get.

Sometimes you can also get stuff like the subdivision plat or land survey from the same place you got the tax information.  Other times, this stuff is on another site at the county (like the county recorder of deeds), so you have to take the parcel number, or the subdivision and lot number, from the tax records, and do another search on that second site to find more information.  The maps and things are possibly not as critical at first, but they will tell you if there are things like utility easements or (maybe) flood zones that you need to think about.  The other records for that property will sometimes show how often the property has changed hands, or if it was foreclosed to a lender, etc, in the past.

Tips: If you live in Orange County now, or you know someone who does, try to look up your/their house in the county land records for practice.  The stuff you find should match the things you/they already know about the house - who owns it, which bank holds the note (if any), the name of the people they bought it from (if not bought brand new), etc.

Sometimes it takes a little digging through the county website to find the right property, and depending on the software the web site uses, it's not always easy to bookmark the page in your Web browser when you find the information you're looking for.  You might print the Web page to a PDF, and either keep those PDFs in folders on your computer/phone for each property, with folders named like "101 S Main Long Beach", or "1217 W Oak Huntington" or similar, OR name the PDFs like "101-s-main-county-taxes.pdf", "1217-w-oak-old-mortgages.pdf", so you can find them again later.

I hope this helps!

@Peter Bui   There is NOT much in California that an experienced investor is already doing, so by saying that you are going to "drive for dollars" you will accomplish a few things:

1. Waste your gas.

2. Waste your time.

3. Get frustrated really quick.

Honestly, I see the "drive for dollars" a lot here on Biggerpockets, but what is your conversation at the front door?  "Hi, I'm a Real Estate Investor and I want to buy your home because it's the ugliest home in the neighborhood?"

There are apps that you can use to identify homes on an "NOD" notice of default list.  This is a prime target for door knocking, cold calling, letters, etc.  You already know that they are in trouble, so why not knock on their door.  Is this not a better conservation at the door ""Hi, I'm a Real Estate Investor and I want to buy your home for ALL CASH!  Do you have a few minutes to speak with me."

The same app can provide you with names, information about the property, phone numbers, valuations, etc.  I have been a subscriber for over 10 years and use it everyday.  Understand that many professionals use this app, so there is a lot of competition so what will make you stand out from everyone else is education and persistence.

Make your day productive with tools that are actually working and not drive around polluting the world.

Good investing...

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