Not too long ago, while walking with a friend down 37th street in Bridgeport, near Wallace, I saw a house that had clearly been abandoned and the back of my neck started to tingle. Partly it’s because abandoned houses are always a little spooky. But, really, that’s what happens to a lot of us long-time real estate investors. It was a tingle of recognition—of opportunity, mystery, and excitement. 

See, an abandoned house means the possibility of an investment purchase. And, more than that, it means the possibility of a search. Finding the owner to make an offer is as close as some of us amateur gumshoes come to real detective work. It involves pouring through records and making phone calls—at a bare minimum. 

While I got excited, that feeling quickly passed. Sorting through Chicago real estate ownership records might seem fun, and from a certain angle, it is, but, it is also really time-consuming,  frustrating, and potentially expensive. And, it doesn’t always end with the results you want. 

You might get it done. It is also possible you’ll be chasing a ghost, with the chance at converting the lead as empty as the property. To understand how there are better ways, you have to understand what it entails. 

The Best Real Estate Investing Classes in Illinois

Where to Start Sorting Through Chicago Real Estate Ownership Records

Finding where the owner actually is is the most crucial piece of information you can get. That’s who you need to make the offer to. But, if all you have is an abandoned house address, how do you get rolling?

Well, having the address is a great start to buying an abandoned house in Chicago. Here’s where you go with it.

City of Chicago

The first step would be to plug it into a database of houses owned by the City of Chicago. There are a lot of properties that have been foreclosed upon, seized, or otherwise obtained by the city. So, you should find out if that house is one of them. Start with the City-Owned Historic Buildings for Sale and City-Owned Vacant Land registries. They are city-owned for very different reasons, but the end is the same. 

If the house is listed there, there are ways to buy it. You’ve entered into the Land of Chicago Bureaucracy, granted, but it’s a step. If it isn’t, it is time to go a little further. 

Cook County Assessor 

The next step would be to look at the Cook County Assessor office. There you can enter the address and see if there are any records. The information you get will be with the last known owner. This information is often incomplete, or outdated, and it can be hard to get contact info. 

I know how it feels to hit a dead end, but all is not lost if the records are not all there. 

Door Knocking

I personally used to spend a lot of time tracking down old contact information. I even went so far as to knock on the doors of neighbors asking if they knew anything about the folks who used to live there and where I could find them. This was never fun, even though it seemed like playing detective. You get used to doors being closed in your face, sometimes politely. Sometimes not. 

Public Records Services

One of your last best chances of finding the owner is public record services. These cost money, and most of the time they are looking through the same databases that are publicly available. They just have access to a lot more and, in theory, can look all over the country. You have to ask yourself if that is worth it or not. 

The options get more expensive from here, too. 


Let’s say you have it. You’ve got the owner’s name. You’ve got their last known address. And, it’s…the house on 37th and Wallace. That’s square one, unless you decide to use a skiptracing service but there are some ethical considerations. You don’t have the standing to find someone, other than you want to. 

But, some companies will let you do that. You’ll be paying money to use personal information to find someone who doesn’t necessarily want to be found. Perhaps they wanted to leave that home and even this town behind. They had their reasons. 

And, now? Now you get to call them! You get to say, “Hi, I found you. Can I buy your house?” I’m not saying that is an impossible call. You’re still offering them cash. But, getting your foot in the door, metaphorically speaking, isn’t easy. You have to work to build trust. 

Look, there is an element of fun to the whole thing. But real estate investing rewards efficiency with time and money. Looking through Chicago real estate ownership records is neither. 

A Better Way To Invest More Wisely

I know I downplayed talking to neighbors and to reluctant sellers. But I love talking to people. I love helping them out. And, the best way I’ve found to do it is to become an independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisee. 

Now, I talk to people who have reached out directly to me before they want to abandon their home because of financial distress. They want to sell fast and they are motivated. I get a call or e-mail and text in real time I get an address, I get to work. It’s really simple. 

There’s still a part of me that thrills to see abandoned buildings. But, I thrill a lot more at finding a qualified lead. If you’re interested in moving quicker and not dealing with Chicago or Cook County bureaucracy, request information about becoming a franchisee today. That should send a tingle down the back of your neck. 


Each franchise office is independently owned and operated. 


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