I like to buy investment property in Chicago to rehab and resell, and I’ve been doing it for years. My friend, Sam, who lives on the east coast, prefers investing in New Jersey real estate. And, we’ve both noticed that when the market takes a dip, many of our fellow investors run for the hills. When it shoots up again, they come scrambling back in an effort to grab a few good deals.

Sam and I laugh about this because, though real estate markets rise and fall, they rarely fluctuate so wildly to justify such emotionally-charged behavior. Sure, navigating the housing crisis ten years ago was a tough row to hoe, but we survived. If you want to survive—and even thrive—as an investor, all you have to do is know how to find good real estate deals in any market—even an unpredictable one. Well, that, and have the best team of experts on your side.

How to Consistently Find Real Estate Deals in an Unpredictable Market

Finding Leads on Real Estate Deals Wherever You Are

Whether you’re in Detroit or Atlanta, if you want to buy and renovate property as successfully as we do, and for as long as we have, you’ve really got to have the best lead-generating system available. I’ve outlined some of the most popular strategies below for finding good real estate deals and I’ve included what Sam and I consider to be the most effective. I predict that, after you check them out, you’ll clearly see how you can find real estate deals that yield potentially good returns too.

There are two ways to get leads: going after them yourself or letting them come to you. There are many methods to do each. Here’s a little more on each: 

Chase Foreclosure Homes 

Homeowners can experience financial distress and fall behind on their loan payments in any market. So, homes in any stage of foreclosure, from a notice of default to repossession by the bank, can potentially make a good investment. If the homeowner is still in possession of the house, they may want to sell to get out of financial hot water quickly. If the bank takes the home, they may want to unload it fast and cheap, too. Depending on where the property is in the foreclosure process, you can find them listed on lender websites, in published legal notices, on lead lists, and with your local MLS. Public sources, however, will be crawling with competition. 

And, if you do find one: buyer beware. Homes in foreclosure tend to be in rough shape and, sometimes, prohibitively expensive to repair. They can fall in-and-out of the foreclosure process, too, if the owner makes an appeal or gets current on the loan. If the bank takes the home, they may decide to do some of the rehab themselves—and price it at full market value. So, though these homes have the potential to make for a good investment, they also have the potential to cost you in time and money—more than they’re actually worth.

Gamble at Property Auctions

Homes can go to auction because of bankruptcy, divorce, death, back taxes, unpaid liens, and as a part of the foreclosure process. You’ll find that local government offices, like your county sheriff’s office as well as private firms and online companies, conduct them. Sometimes these homes are in move-in condition, but it’s more common that they’re in disrepair since the previous owners were likely financially distressed. And, they tend to be priced below market value to draw in as many bidders as possible, so finding a decent deal on a rehabber is possible.

However, you could end up needing a big chunk of change to buy an auctioned property. Large cash deposits are usually required and the full balance can be due the day of the sale. Depending on the auction, there may also be a Buyer’s Premium fee. There’s almost always a stiff penalty for not paying on time. And, in most cases, you won’t have time to perform an inspection or conduct due diligence. So, if the property is a money pit of repairs and unpaid taxes, it becomes your money pit.

Track Down Zombie Houses

You’ll also find that vacant, abandoned, and non-owner occupied homes are frequently in disrepair and could be purchased below market value. In fact, looking for signs of deterioration—an unkempt lawn, boarded windows, even an overflowing mailbox—could lead you to a good deal if you have the time to drive or walk neighborhoods. And, approaching distressed homeowners and buying from them directly is usually easier than trying to win an auction or buy an REO.

The problem is that locating the owners of these homes can be just as time-consuming as searching for the properties themselves. Although you can look up tax records, check with the county courthouse, or pay an online service to help you, finding the homeowner won’t guarantee that they’ll want to sell. It also won’t guarantee that you’ll want to buy—especially if you have to handle an eviction for a tenant-occupied home or pay off any liens or other encumbrances.

Pore Endlessly Over Zillow

Homeowners list their homes on Zillow in droves. Searching listings in your area may help identify several homes that look like good real estate deals. For sale by owner listings offer the opportunity to close on a deal without paying an agent’s commission. The platform offers the chance to get in touch directly with owners or agents. 

However, listings on Zillow are nonbinding, meaning they aren’t required to be accurate. Often, they can be out of date or out of touch. Owners and agents may be over-value properties to test what the market will bear. And, making direct contact is only a prelude to making a visit, and doesn’t guarantee the owner will sell, or that you’ll want to buy. Homes that look great online may reveal serious issues, like mold or foundation damage, when visited in person. 

As a public website, Zillow is also crawling with competition trawling the same listings as you. They’re contacting the same owners, bidding up prices, and extending the negotiating process. With so many listings on the website, and a low probability of a profitable investment on each one, Zillow can take more time than it’s worth. 

Scrape Through Craigslist Listings 

Like Zillow, Craigslist allows owners and agents to list properties online. In every area in the country, dozens to hundreds of properties can be searched. Also like Zillow, Craigslist allows direct contact, and postings are nonbinding. It suffers from the same issues as well, if not more so. 

Craigslist does not fact check its postings. Any properties listed may or may not be as advertised. Houses can be overvalued, already sold, or falling apart. Owners may not be interested in selling, and are under no burden to do sell, or even to respond. The time it takes to find, contact, wait for a response, and assess a property before making a deal can be counterproductive. 

Another popular Craigslist strategy is to post advertisements, hoping motivated sellers will contact you. Posting ads at volume requires paying fees, as well as upkeep. Consistently fresh copy is needed to stand out against the other investors also posting, as well as to earn the trust of sellers. This trust can be hard-earned, due to the frantic tone of many of these posts. 

Cast a Wide Net with Direct Mail

Direct mail is a tried and true means of generating real estate leads, as you know, if you own a house with a mailbox. Colorful postcards and brochures can be sent repeatedly across entire zip codes, hoping to connect with just the right homeowner. It gives homeowners some agency, as they’re the ones “initiating” contact, which may help put them at ease. Repeated campaigns over years can build name recognition, so owners think of your business first when they think of selling. 

But, direct mail has a very low conversion rate and does require repeated saturation. The costs of mailing campaign after mailing campaign can add up and a certain amount of business is mandatory to generate a worthwhile return. The upfront investment does not guarantee results, which can take years to accumulate. Safer strategies may be wiser for first-time investors. 

Circle Obituaries

Real estate investors can provide a service to families who have recently suffered the loss of a loved one. Sometimes, when a loved one passes away, the remaining family members inherit a house they don’t want to hold onto. This can help ease inheritance, by dividing the value of a house between siblings, for instance. 

To do this correctly takes tact. Grieving family members should only be approached respectfully and at a graceful time. Some investors write hand-written letters, while others introduce themselves over the phone. Pushing too hard or too fast can create feelings of resentment and cause family members to seek other options. Many feel more comfortable dealing with a buyer they’ve contacted, not one who’s contacted them. 

Obviously, as popular as these lead-generating strategies are, they’re hit or miss when it comes to consistently finding good real estate deals. The best real estate investor lead generation system I’ve ever used is one that helps me navigate even the most unpredictable markets by bringing motivated sellers of distressed properties directly to me. Sam uses it too. So, we never miss out on getting the best leads for our businesses—and you don’t have to either.

Letting the Best Real Estate Deals Come to You

Why try so hard? Just let the leads come to you. People need to sell properties and are looking for buyers. If you make yourself known as a buyer, they’ll sell their property to you. Especially in an unpredictable market, homeowners facing distress look for cash sales. They get hard value for their property—you get a new investment house. So how does it work to find real estate deals? 

Most of these approaches can be lumped together under a single title: marketing. If you market yourself consistently and correctly, homeowners will seek you out. Put yourself in their shoes—if you wanted to quickly sell a distressed property, you’d call someone with an established brand reputation, right? 

Marketing costs, fortunately, are not deal-specific. Your yearly marketing spend brings in deals all year, so it’s only a portion of each successful deal that gets eaten up for billboards and radio ads. The more deals you make, the smaller a portion from each you’ll need to take. Marketing provides long-term equity, too, especially if you keep your campaigns recognizable. That’s a perfect antidote for unpredictable markets, as it provides steady, long-term value. 

There’s only one problem—marketing is expensive. Unless you’re taping handwritten notes to light poles—which neither Sam nor I recommend—you’re going to pay a significant amount out of pocket to cover marketing costs. That’s great for established investors with deep pockets, but it doesn’t do much if you’re looking to get started with a professional real estate investing business

How do you get access to the leads marketing provides without spending years developing name recognition? Turns out there’s a simple answer, and it works anywhere in the U.S. 

Never Miss Out on Finding the Best Real Estate Deals

If you listen to the radio, like I do, you’ve probably heard one of the “We Buy Ugly Houses®” ads by HomeVestors®. It was over a decade ago when I first heard one. But, when I did, it changed how I thought about finding leads on the best real estate deals. After all, if I was hearing the ads, then distressed homeowners were, too. So, I gave the HomeVestors® team a call to ask about the advertising campaign—which also includes television, billboards, and print—and how effective it was at drumming up leads.

It turns out that it’s so effective that over 140,000 houses have been bought by independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisees since 1996. So I signed right up. Shortly after, Sam did too. It didn’t matter that we were investing in different regional markets. We both got access to qualified leads from local homeowners in distress who need to sell fast. So, even when our respective markets turn unpredictable, we’ve got the best leads from the best, and only, real estate investing franchise.

Don’t take a hit-or-miss strategy for finding real estate deals. Call HomeVestors® to become a part of the “We Buy Ugly Houses®” team today!


Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.



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