8 No-Fail Strategies to Find Vacant Houses

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When people ask me, “What’s your favorite type of property to invest in?” my go-to response is always “Vacant homes.” Why? Well, real estate investing is all about finding the best deals so you can build a positive cash flow and long-term equity. And buying vacant properties is one of the most strategic ways to do this.

So today, I want to share 8 surefire ways to find vacant houses in your market quickly and easily. Because—as we all know—time is money, and the less time it takes you to find these vacant property leads, the better.

Now, most of these 8 strategies will require a little bit of sweat equity (with the exception of #8). And what I mean is: sitting in front of your computer, browsing the MLS or looking properties up on Zillow is just a really, really easy way to find deals. But it's also a method that involves a lot of competition . Plus, deals online go fast... very fast.

The beautiful thing about the deals that are off-market, vacant properties is that you’ll very rarely face any competition when it comes to buying them. When I make an offer to a motivated seller who has an off-market property, very rarely has that person said, “You know, I’ve got four other offers on this property.” That almost never happens, people.

It’s true that these off-market strategies will require more legwork, research, and marketing—but once they are implemented, they can help you save time. To help you figure out this whole process, I want to cover a few things:

  • Why vacant houses are a good source of deals
  • How to spot a vacant house
  • How to find the owners of vacant homes
  • And so much more

First of all, let me tell you why this is my favorite source of finding deals: the main reason is that vacant properties are very profitable. It’s easier for investors to sell vacant houses—the owners typically don’t want them, and the properties usually need work (which means you can snag a better deal).

Another important thing to remember: the seller isn’t usually doing a lot of research about how to sell their property, and they most likely don’t have a commission-hungry real estate agent who is inflating the price for their own gain.

So, when a house is off-market, we don’t have artificially inflated prices and misinformed homeowners to work with. Oftentimes, if we—as investors—become a homeowner’s trusted source of information, they’re going to sell the property to us. They don’t usually seek out information from other people.

Now, without wasting any more time, let’s take a look at the 8 strategies for finding vacant houses in your area.

#1: Driving for Dollars

Driving for dollars is the old-school but tried and true method for spotting empty houses.

Now, recognizing a vacant home is easy. These are the pretty straightforward signs (there’s nothing earth-shattering about these, so don’t get too excited yet):

  • Weeds/grass are tall and dead
  • Vacant slip in the mailbox
  • No cars
  • If there’s snow, no footprints or car tracks are visible
  • Notices on the door
  • Nothing inside the house
  • House in disrepair
  • Utility shut off notices
  • Boarded up windows or doors
  • Broken windows
  • Missing power meter and/or gas meter

There are several ways to find a vacant house. When you’re looking for these properties, you need to work smarter, not harder. This is what I call... wait for it... “smart equity.”

The best way to do this is to simply get out in the field and physically search for vacant properties. You can even do this while running your errands—kill two birds with one stone. Try driving different routes to and from places.

Before you get in the car, determine 4-5 different “sections” of your market area that you want to cover. Head to Google Maps and print out a map of each section. As you’re out and about, use a pen or marker to mark off the routes that you’ve covered, so you don’t waste any time driving down the same streets.

Always be searching! This is where the “smart equity” comes into play. Search for vacant homes on your way to work, the grocery store, appointments, your kids’ games... you get the picture.

When you see a vacant house, write down the address. Then, put a post-it note on the front door. It can simply say, “Hi, my name is John Smith, and I would like to buy your property at 123 Main Street.” And be sure to include your name and contact info.

Next, put a bandit sign (“I buy houses—all cash!”) in the front yard. So, when the owner stops by, they’ll see it. Or, maybe a neighbor will see it, call the owner, and tell them about it (because, you know, neighbors never want to see a property next to theirs sit empty.)

When you’re done driving for dollars, add all of your addresses to an Excel spreadsheet or Google doc.

Then, search for each address online. Now, if you have a software system like Accelerated Investor Office (more on this in strategy #8), this process will be much easier. Otherwise, a simple Google search may give you some details on the property, which can help you find the owner.

#2: Estate Sales and Probates

When a house is vacant, the heirs typically want to sell the property. The good news? You can probably easily find companies in your area that will help you find estate sales and get in touch with these heirs.

So, with a simple internet search (“Estate sales, Cleveland”), you can find some information. (EstateSales.net, for example, can be a great resource. This site is used to sell the stuff inside the vacant houses, but you can use the contact information to find and connect with the owner and express your interest in buying the actual property.)

If you can’t find estate sales listed online, call all of the estate sales companies in your area and see if you can get a list of upcoming sales.

 #3: Postal Workers

Think about it... these guys and gals know the properties that have non-deliverable addresses or that get “return to sender” mail. Plus, they drive around the neighborhoods every day, so they know which houses are vacant.

Trust me, these postal workers are bored out of their minds. They have the same exact route, every single day. All you have to approach their truck and say, “I’m actually looking to buy a property in this market, and I just wondered if you’re aware of any houses in this area that are for sale or that are vacant.”

Some of the postal workers I’ve talked to have been very open. I ask if they can give me a list of for sale/vacant properties, and let them know that I’ll pay them $5 per lead.

#4: Foreclosure Inspectors

Another smart equity strategy is to read the notices on vacant properties’ front doors. Sometimes, you’ll see a bright yellow or orange notice from the bank—usually, it includes the foreclosure inspector’s name and phone number.

Pick up the phone, call that person, and ask them if they’re aware of what’s going on with the property. You can also pay these guys $5 per lead.

Most of these people are independent contractors who work for the banks, and there’s no conflict of interest here. It’s not like they’re giving away private information—there’s a freakin’ notice posted on the front door for crying out loud!

#5: Fire Department

Next, get a list of vacant, fire-damaged houses. Normally, the building department keeps this list, and it’s public information – because the building department is a public entity. You might have to sign out a “request for public record,” but then they’ll give you the list.

#6: Landlord Evictions

This is another easy one. If you have a relationship with any real estate attorney, they can get regular lists of all the filed eviction notices in your area. Either contact them directly, or send a mailing out to several real estate attorneys in your area.

Also, take a look at Craigslist. All of the “for rent” properties listed there are technically vacant. So, if you can find the address, search for it online and find the owner’s contact info. Call them up and say, “I saw that your property is vacant. Are you interested in selling?” This could open the door to some promising leads.

#7: Acquisitions Manager/Property Scouts

Your acquisitions manager or property scout could literally be a high school kid or college student that you hire to drive for dollars for you. This would be a great summer job for them.

You can tell them, “I’ll pay you $10 an hour to drive around. And I’ll pay you an extra $5 per lead. When you find a vacant property, take pictures and write down the address.”

Be sure to have them take pics of:

  • Front of the house
  • Back of the house
  • Side of the house
  • Foreclosure notice or any notices on the door

Again, guys, it’s all about smart equity. Always be thinking: What can I do to find properties that nobody else knows about?

#8: Accelerated Investor Office

One final tactic is to search property records. You can usually figure out which owners have multiple vacant properties in your city or area, and you want to focus on mailing to these people.

The easiest way to do this is to use a system like Accelerated Investor Office. ( I know, I know, but it’s really such a great resource that I just couldn’t resist tooting my own horn.)

In AI Office, you’ll be able to find 2 types of property records. Let me explain...

If I search my market’s zip code, for instance, I’ll find 16,000+ property records. From there, I can narrow the list down by “lead type.” These are:

  • Upside down
  • High equity
  • Low equity
  • Free and clear
  • Cash buyer
  • Absentee owner

Now, these lists above are all included with an AI Pro or AI Immersion membership. For a separate one-time fee of $1,000, you can purchase what’s called “Lead Pipes Premium,” which unlocks these additional lists:

  • Active listing
  • Bored investor
  • Foreclosures
  • Long-term owner
  • Potentially inherited
  • Pre-foreclosure
  • Vacant property
  • Zombie properties

The reason that Lead Pipes Premium can only be accessed when you pay a separate fee is because we have to pay a lot of money to acquire these lists.

Now, with most databases, you have to pay per record that you want to access. But, AI allows you to export your list of leads for free – which can save you a ton of cash, in the long run.

Using the exported list, you can sort by owner/company to see if there’s anyone who has multiple vacant properties.

The other awesome thing you can do with this technology is overlay lists. So, for example, you could overlay “absentee,” “vacant,” and “free and clear.” When I do this for my targeted zip code, this brings me down from 16,000 results to 179 results, which is a much more manageable number.

And—keep in mind—the database is updated daily. It’s an organic database that is designed to mirror what’s happening in the real estate market—in real time.

This is the most automated (and fastest) way to build a current list of vacant properties in your area. If you have the financial means to invest in an AI account, this can be a game-changer for your real estate investing business.

From Vacant to Vibrant

So there you have it! By using these 8 strategies, you should develop a streamlined approach to finding vacant properties in no time. Again, these are great business opportunities, because you’re typically working with highly-motivated sellers who don’t have agents and are looking for someone to put their trust in. If you can come to a mutual agreement on price, the sale of vacant property is usually a win-win for both the seller and the investor. Plus, when you think about it, you’re also benefiting your community by taking an empty house and giving it a second chance. What could be better?

Be Daring,

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One comment on “8 No-Fail Strategies to Find Vacant Houses”

  1. Yes, this is awesome! A great list that I hope will catapult me into my first fix-and-flip deal! Thank you!