My parents played a game when I was growing up, usually on Sunday afternoons. We’d go out for a drive and they’d point at houses they liked. One house, they’d say they loved the trim. But, the house down there—yikes, that roof, those weeds! Sometimes dad would say: “I wonder who owns that house. Maybe we could buy it.” It was something they used to do together, back when they were renting.
I still play that game. But, unlike my parents, I do buy these houses. Also, while they disliked the weeds, I look for them. As a professional real estate investor, I seek out homeowners who may be in financial distress and need to sell. There are many ways to find houses for real estate investing, but my favorite remains to drive down the street and to look out the window. Fortunately, unlike my parents way back when, I know several ways to discover how to find the owner of a distressed house and make an offer to buy.
How to Find Potentially Distressed Homeowners
Finding a potentially distressed homeowner isn’t always simple or easy. This goes double for houses in clear disrepair, particularly when they’re unoccupied. Sometimes, the first method you try works—sometimes you have to move on to the next. Here are some of the most useful methods for how to go about finding the owner of a house you are interested in buying.
Tax Records and Deeds
Both the title deed and the property’s tax assessment records are available for the public to view. Both documents can be found by searching for the property’s address. All you have to do to find the owner is find the documents. These documents are typically processed and stored at the county level, and every county has its own storage method. Some may offer electronic records retrieval but others require an analog approach. You’ll have to go down to the archives and find the records yourself.
This can be easier said than done, however. This can be highly time-consuming, to say the least. And, it will take twice as long if you’re unfamiliar with the process. It’s best to draw up a list of houses you want to look up before making the trip, so you can make the most of your time.
Title Search Companies
Instead of going down to the archives yourself, you can hire a title search company to do the work for you. These companies have access to databases of real estate information, including property deeds. So, there’s a good chance they will have info on the property you’re looking for. Title search companies can be much faster than taking a trip to the county tax assessor’s office.
But, the downside is that you’ll have to pay, either a fee per title or a subscription if you intend to use the service often. The cost isn’t so high that it should prevent you from using it, but it does increase your overhead—raising the price of each property before you even know if the owner wants to sell.
Get Gum on Your Shoes
It doesn’t cost anything to ask a question or two. If you want to know who owns a house, ask the people who live next to it. They may be able to provide you with far more information than you’d glean from title searches, such as the owner’s temperament. They might even be able to provide an introduction, so you don’t have to cold call or rely on postcards. When I can’t find the owner of a house, sometimes it’s the neighbors who solve my problem.
However, a high ratio of renters to owners in the neighborhood will diminish your chances of finding useful information. So, asking around is truly hit or miss, especially as it takes almost as much time as wrangling your local bureaucracy. I rate this method as useful when the opportunity presents itself, but not worth a systematic approach.
Any of these methods can work, and often enough, they will. When one doesn’t, simply try another. But, if I’m being honest, I don’t often use any of these methods myself. It’s not that they don’t work—they’re just not the most convenient or time-efficient.
An Easier Way to Find the Owner of a House You Want to Buy
What I do is the same thing my parents did: I drive down the street looking at houses. When I find one I want to buy, I ask who owns it. Who do I ask? The Lead Dog app. It’s simply the easiest way to get real estate investing leads.
Since I became an independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisee, I’ve had access to the proprietary Lead Dog app. I park in front of a distressed-looking house, push a couple of buttons on my iPad, and the app searches the address in multiple databases to find ownership records. Even better, after looking at the property history, I have the option of setting up an automatic direct mail campaign—even targeting distressed homeowners who may actually live out of state.
Do you want to instantly be able to find the owner of a house you hope to invest in? Request information from HomeVestors® today to learn how!
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