Marketing to Owners of Vacant Houses

Posted on August 6, 2013 by

OneHourHomebuyers.com Hummer - We buy houses in 1 hour or lessLast month’s article was on “Driving for Dollars and Farming with Flyers”. As you are out driving neighborhoods in search of houses to buy, you will soon discover that there are many vacant houses out there. Some of these houses are obviously for sale or rent as indicated by a sign in the yard, but many are not so obvious. These houses are just sitting empty, often deteriorating, waiting for someone like you to come along and buy them. Many of these houses appear to have been abandoned and unkept.

Vacant houses often provide some of the best opportunities to create some killer deals. After all, many of the houses have mortgages, taxes and other expenses that the owner is responsible for paying, even as the house sites vacant and unused. Even houses that are free and clear have expenses the owner must pay to avoid tax liens and code enforcement violations. Since the owner doesn’t live in the house, they are often highly motivated and more than willing to do just about anything to get rid of it.

When I am out driving neighborhoods and spot a vacant house, I stop and take pictures and write down the address. If the house is for sale by owner or for rent, I write down the number on the sign and call the owner later. I will even call Realtors from time to time if I know the house has been sitting vacant for a while since the owner might be motivated and eager to sell.

But to make an offer on a vacant house that is not clearly listed for sale or rent, I have to track down the owner. Sometimes this is rather easy and other times it can be rather difficult. More often than not, the harder the owner is to find, the more likely that no one else is competing for the same house and I can often negotiate a better deal as a result. If you think of these prospects (owners of vacant houses) as Gold and yourself as a Gold Prospector, you will soon discover that the deeper you have to dig, the bigger the Fortune you will often find.

Here are some tips I have for tracking down the owners of vacant houses that don’t appear to be for sale, but could be if I can get in contact with the owner:

  • Leave a note on the front door. You can attach a brightly colored yellow, orange or lime green note or flyer with blue painters’ tape to the front door and garage door that the owner will see when they return to check up on the house. Tell them to give you a call if they are interested in selling.
  • Put a FSBO sign in the yard. You can put a sign in the yard of a vacant house you want to buy that says “For Sale by Owner?” with your phone number on it for everyone to see. Please note that the “?” is handwritten onto the sign and is often much smaller than the FSBO text size. Often the neighbors will see the sign and call the owner to find out what is going on or the owner will drive by and see your sign. In either case, the owner will usually call you immediately and may be quite upset. Just politely remind them that the sign said “For Sale by Owner?” because you wanted them to call you if the house was for sale… and they did. This is also a great way to build your buyers list since other investors and prospective buyers will call you about the property as well.
  • Ask the neighbors if they know how to reach the owner. Often when an owner moves, they will ask a neighbor to keep an eye on the property for them and leave them their phone number. Knock on the doors of the neighbors on either side of the house or across the street and tell them you want to contact the owner about buying the property. If they don’t know how to reach the owner, leave them your card in case the owner stops by the property. You can even offer the neighbors a finder’s fee if they help you reach the owner so you can buy the house.
  • Check the tax records. If the property is an investment property, the owner’s current mailing address is usually listed. If the house was owner occupied, the owner may have filed a new address when they moved out. If you find a mailing address that is different than the address of the property, send them a postcard or letter asking them if they would like to sell their house. If their address is nearby, you can stop by and talk to them or leave them a note.
  • Google the address of the house. Often there might not be a sign in the yard because the owner lives out of town, but the house may be listed on a site like Zillow.com, Trulia.com, FSBO.com, Craigslist.org, etc. along with the owner’s contact information.
  • Look up the owner online. If you know the owner’s name, you can Google their name or look them up in an online white pages directory such as AnyWho.com or even a social networking site Facebook.com. If you are able to find people with similar names that live nearby, contact them and let them know you are interested in buying the vacant house if they are the owners.
  • Ask your Realtor to look up the house in the MLS. Even if the house is not currently listed, it might have been listed in the recent past. If you contact the previous listing agent, they may know how to reach the owner.
  • Send a postcard or letter to the house. If you can’t find the owner’s current address, send a postcard or letter using first class postage to the house marked “RETURN SERVICE REQUESTED” above the address. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward envelopes marked “RETURN SERVICE REQUESTED”, but will return it with the new address affixed, if available, at no charge. Now you can send the owner a postcard or letter at their new address asking them if they would like to sell their house. Again, if their address is nearby, you can stop by and talk to them or leave them a note.
  • Hire a skip tracer. You can provide a private investigator or skip tracing company with the owner’s name and last known address and they can usually find them quickly by doing a national database search. They will often provide you with the owner’s new address and phone number if available for as low as $20 per search.

These are just a few techniques investors use to track down the owners of vacant properties. I hope they serve you well. If you have other creative ways of finding the owners of vacant houses, please submit them using the comment link below.

Thoughts to Ponder Regarding Vacant Houses:

  1. How many vacant houses do you think you will find in your buying area if you start to look carefully as you drive for dollars?
  2. How many of these vacant houses do not appear to be for sale or rent?
  3. How many of these vacant houses appear to be abandoned and unkept?
  4. How much could one completed purchase and sale transaction on one of these vacant houses be worth to you and your business?
  5. Are you willing to do what it takes to track down the owners of these properties, even if they do not appear to be for sale?

Dustin GriffinDustin Griffin is the Executive Director of the Tampa Real Estate Investors Alliance (Tampa REIA) and the Atlanta Real Estate Investors Alliance (Atlanta REIA) and is also an entrepreneur, real estate investor, website developer, internet marketing enthusiast and a husband and proud father of two.

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