Let’s face it: It’s becoming tougher and tougher to find great deals out there. This is a little trick that very few people are using and that makes a great supplement to a direct mail campaign or driving for dollars to fill up your lead funnel.
The Ace Up Your Sleeve
If they are not in a heavily rural area, most central appraisal districts (CADs) have a website with a database — or some way to purchase the data at the very least. The data is usually stored in a Microsoft Excel or access database.
Some of this might sound a bit technical, but it will guarantee to net you deals that no one else is looking for — because it is hidden to them. But not for you, not now. This can be done in the comfort of your own home or on a break in between appointments at your local Starbucks.
The Secret Sauce Is in the Metadata
The database stores the basic information, of course, such as owner name, address, property tax assessed value, etc. However, many appraisal districts contain information that is incredibly valuable to us as real estate investors. Metadata sounds confusing, but it’s simply information about the data.
For example, when records are stored for a given property, they will often have a few codes that are attributed to them. These codes are arbitrary and make no sense at face value. But the database usually comes with a PDF or a help section online that contains the metadata. This will serve as your Rosetta Stone to translate these abstract numbers into something meaningful. In other words, this is where you are going to snag deals that no one else can find. The code “01444” might mean a property that has overgrown grass, for instance.
Use the Codes
Every central appraisal district is different. For example, the different counties I access here in the DFW area include Dallas County, Tarrant County and Denton County. At least for the counties in my area, I can access the data for free by downloading it from the website. If you are having trouble locating where the data is stored, try finding the webmaster’s email for the site, and they are usually pretty helpful, at least in my experience. They each are their own separate entities, and therefore have separate databases and ways they classify data. Some appraisal districts have additional data that others lack and vice versa.
Once you get more comfortable with the data and figure out what the codes mean, I recommend making a small legend for yourself so you can quickly scan through to find what code is attributed to what; that way, you don’t have to attempt to memorize a bunch of numbers. Once you have a firm understanding of the process, this is something you could easily outsource to someone else and have them scan the CAD for deals while you go about your day.
For my local appraisal districts, there are codes for things such as:
- Dilapidated Buildings: There is a specific code in one of the columns. The code is something arbitrary, a 5 digit number like “18294.” And without reading the metadata that I talked about above, it will mean nothing to you. That’s why it’s so important to take this seriously and do a little bit of research because it can have a big payoff in the end.
- Burnouts: Not everyone feels comfortable with these, but these are a great resource. My local CAD has a code associated with all known burnouts in the city and updates the records once a month.
- Properties With Very Tall Grass: If a house has tall grass to the point that neighbors are complaining to the city and the house is starting to collect violation stickers on the windows, then you know you have the potential for a good deal. These are usually vacant homes; if a house is lived in, even tenant occupied, they typically don’t let grass grow thigh high.
- Code Violations: All code violations are stored against the target property. Again, these are stored as arbitrary codes, but it lists each violation on the property. Another great source.
- Properties That Owe Back Taxes (& How Much): The County can take the house back at any time with the sheriff’s sale auction here in Texas. These people are usually pretty motivated. And if property taxes are accumulating, that is generally a red flag that there are other things wrong with the house, or the seller is in a situation where a discounted sale likely makes sense. Just make sure the back taxes don’t meet or exceed the property’s value (I have seen this several times before).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I can find properties that have multiple heirs and the estate still hasn’t settled from many years ago (in other words, no one is likely mailing them, so there’s no competition). I can find properties where there is a divided interest in the property. I can find properties that have a combination of things, such as tall grass, broken windows, or an absentee owner who owns the house in Dallas but lives in California.
This method allows me to find beat up houses with tons of equity that no one else can find. For example, houses like this hoarder house in Fort Worth. When you can combine the data in this manner, this becomes a lethal weapon in your real estate investing arsenal. So take the time to nerd out a bit and dig into your local appraisal district.
Investors: What tools do you use to find hidden deals? Do you use your local CAD?
Let’s talk in the comments section!