Being a real estate investor can at times feel like you are really a private investigator. This is because making the deal happen can require many “detective” type skills. And, if you can deduce a little bit better than your competition, you just might get the deal.
For example, you notice a property that looks neglected and vacant. Sensing that it is a potential deal you look up the owner’s name on your local tax assessor’s data base to send them an offer letter. Upon looking up the owner you note that the owner’s address is listed as the same for the property you are interested in. Should you send your letter to a vacant house or should you investigate further?
I would investigate further. Here is why.
Six Steps to Find Property Owners
The owner may have become what I will term “lost.” Your job to get the deal is to find them. After all, you can’t acquire the deal unless you can bring someone to the table to sign the deed.
Perhaps the owner died. Now you need to find the heirs. Perhaps there was a divorce, foreclosure or a bankruptcy and the owner has simply abandoned the property. Strange, but it happens.
So how can you go about finding them?
First, check with your local tax collector. Are there taxes owed? If not then some one is paying them. Where are the checks coming from? Where are the tax bills being mailed? Even if taxes are owed, you may still have a deal that warrants further investigation as the actual owners may not even know they own it. If you can find them, they may be happy to get rid of the property.
Second, double check the local tax assessor’s data base. Who is listed as the owner? What is the address of the owner? Is it the same address as the subject property? If not, there is a starting point for you to search further.
Third, check with your local register of deeds. Do a mini title search on the property. Most everything is online now. Some, like mine in Shelby County, TN are free. For others you may need to use a subscription service.
Fourth, try good old Google. Type in the name and address and see what comes up. Obviously, the less common the name you search for the better. If you do have a common name like John Smith, try and refine the search as much as possible, by adding the city, zip code or some other qualifier. Google will often lead you to other sites like Linked In or Facebook that can provide you with enough information to lead you to the owner. It is amazing what people post on social media sites.
Fifth, check your local court sites. Perhaps you will find a will at the probate court and from there you can find heirs. For bankruptcy courts, Pacer.gov is an awesome resource. Pacer is a government pay site, but only on a per page basis. So you pay as you go and it is only eight cents per page.
Sixth, try other web resources. One of my favorites is findagrave.com. I know, it sounds morbid, but you can find out a lot of info from this site. Info such as when an owner died and often if there was a spouse or children, which can lead you to the current owner.
How much time should you spend trying to find a “lost” owner? That is up to you and your needs. Your initial investigations will often tell you if it is worth your time going forward. You may find information to keep up the search or you may hit a dead end.
I know folks who have spent years looking for owners to clear up title problems and create opportunities. I would spend at least a little time trying to find the owner and a proper address because those few extra steps will make you stand out from the crowd and may just get you that deal.
What detective skills do you use?
Want to share any cool detective websites? Got a good detective story that netted you an awesome deal? Let us know with your comments.
Photo Credit: paurian