Finding just the right seller sometimes feels like the never-ending blind date of real estate investing. And so often it’s a painful experience… although you always wind up with a few good stories.
What if you could find a goldmine of highly motivated sellers and take some of the pain out of that search for your next deal? That’s this post is all about. I’m going to walk you through how to find homeowners who might not want to be found—at least until they hear your offer. If you can find these sellers, you won’t have any competition, and the seller will probably give you that property for a song.
The seller I’m talking about is the owner of the vacant property.
Finding Vacant Properties
You might hear about a vacant property in a few different ways:
- driving through your farm area
- ads through a wholesaler
- direct mail campaign
- opt-in on your website
The first thing you should do when you get a lead like this is to get the property data from that tax assessor’s website or www.acceleratedinvestoroffice.com (AI Office). Learn about the property and then add the owner’s information to your vacant house list.
And don’t forget that searching for this property info is a great project to outsource. I like to keep a list of vacant property addresses and send it to my virtual assistant monthly.
Learn More on Your County’s Tax Assessor’s Website
County tax assessor websites are key because they have forwarding information for vacant properties. You can find your county’s tax assessors website with a quick google search. In my area, it’s called the auditor’s website.
Once you find the website, locate the online property search option. Using that search, you will be able to find all of your county’s property owners by parcel and address. Type in the address of a property you want to buy and the search will return all kinds of information about the property:
- property description
- transaction history
- loan amounts
- transfer value
- value of the property
- proposed values
- property taxes
Most important, this information includes the property owner, with the owner’s phone number and mailing address.
Bank-Owned Properties and Properties Owned by HUD
To check on properties you think might be bank owned or owned by HUD, look up the property on www.realtor.com, www.zillow.com, or in AI Office. If the property is bank owned or HUD owned, look for a listing agent and contact the agent directly to see if the property is available for sale. If it is, make an offer directly to the listing agent.
Properties Owned by a Trust
If you look up a property and the owner is listed as a trust, such as Cantwell Family Living Trust, that’s a great lead. A lot of people will set up a living trust when they do their estate planning. That just means that they don’t want to list their assets under their personal name because they don’t want their assets going through probate. These trusts are usually named after the owner.
Situations like this typically mean that the owner is still living and is a smart investor. They are probably also the trustee and still control the property. So, you can contact them the way you contact a regular homeowner. Send a letter to the property of record, and if there is a forwarding address, send your mailing to the trust at that address as well.
Sometimes I send two letters, one addressed to the trust and one in the owner’s name because I’m assuming the owner is still alive and healthy, and they’ve just done some smart estate planning.
Properties You Can’t Find on the Assessor’s Website
Let’s say you drive by a house and write down the address, but when you search online the address doesn’t come up. Give the local tax assessor’s office a call and let them know that you drove by the property and are doing some due diligence, but you don’t see the property on the tax assessor’s website. Just ask them what’s going on with this property.
Marketing for Vacant Homeowners
So, once you’ve accumulated your list of vacant properties, it’s time to start your marketing. Remember, marketing is key in real estate.
Leads = Deals = $
But your leads are only going to turn into profits if you’re consistent. Don’t just send out 500 postcards and sit around waiting to see if the postcards work.
Set aside a monthly marketing budget and then use it every month, no matter what. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to do effective marketing, but you do need to spend something.
So what kind of marketing should you do? Direct mail has always worked well for me. And my favorite list is vacant properties with absentee owners that are also free and clear or are also probates. Why? That gives the owner multiple layers of motivation. The property is vacant, so it’s not being used and it’s not making money. The owner might not even be in the city or the state. And if the property is free and clear, the owner has lots of equity. If the property is probate, the heirs are going to want to sell. So even though these properties might be a little more work to find, they are goldmines.
Now the easiest thing to do if you have a small list, let’s say it’s 100–300 properties, is to set up a five-touch campaign over the next five months. Send out one mailing each month, so that at the end the owners have heard from you five times. If you want to keep the campaign cheap, send out postcards. Just send that same postcard repeatedly. If you do that, you might only spend $20/month.
You can also send a yellow letter (handwritten letter on a legal pad). This is the best letter I’ve ever sent. But remember, you don’t have to do all this work yourself. Outsource that. Use a yellow letter service like yellowletters.com, yellowlettersHQ.com, yellowletterscomplete.com, or AI Office.
My process is to print out these letters with a font that looks hand-written and hire someone to stuff the envelopes, hand address the envelopes, and stamp them. Taking the time to do that gets an even better response.
Sample Marketing Letter
Here’s a simple letter I get such a great response from when I send it as a handwritten letter:
Hi, my name is NAME, and I would like to purchase your vacant house at ADDRESS.
Please call PHONE NUMBER.
Here’s a longer letter with some key features I love:
WARNING: Reading this immediately because it directly affects your property at ADDRESS
Renting houses can be a big pain in the neck (especially if you are out of state).
What if you could simply snap your finders and make your rental disappear (along with all your obligations to it)? Imagine receiving a cashier’s check in the next few days, along with a notice that your rental is sold. NO MORE dealing with crappy renters, NO MORE mortgage payments, and you’re free to move on.
My name is NAME, and I am going to buy a rental property in the area you own a property. Are you looking to sell?
I’ll give you a fair cash offer, plus pay all of your closing fees, and the best part is that you don’t have to fix up a thing.
You have nothing to lose by calling me at NUMBER. I’m easy to deal with, and I’m confident that we can come up with a win-win scenario that will make us both happy and allow you to go on your way to bigger and better things in life. Just think how nice it will be to not have to worry about that house anymore.
Talk to you soon!
PS This postcard is going out to several people in the area and I am only looking to buy one more property at this time. So, if you’re interested in a quick sale with no hassles, call me now at NUMBER.
What I love about this letter is that it includes emotional mental triggers like “imagine receiving a cashier’s check,” “you’re free to move on,” and “we’re creating win-win scenarios.”
I use both of these types of direct mail messages. But don’t mix the two of them in the same campaign. That causes a very low response rate. You decide which message you want to try and stick with that theme of either no-nonsense or emotional. Both get results.
Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Keep track of the date of each mailing and when homeowners will receive the mailing. One easy way to do that is to add yourself to the mailing. You’ll get your postcard in your own mailbox and be reminded that all those other homeowners just got their postcards too.
Keep track of your returned mail. And don’t just pile it up in a corner. Use a system so you don’t lose any of that information. If your postcards are returned, that information is gold. It means the homeowner has disappeared and, if you can find them, you’re looking at a highly motivated seller. All you need to put in is a bit of sweat equity to track down that owner. And when you find them, you’re not going to have any competition.
How do you find those people? Go to that property and talk to the neighbors. They almost always know what happened to the homeowner, and they often have that person’s phone number.
If you can’t find the owner’s number that way, try one of these skip tracing sites:
- Google (use the search people finder, search for an obituary)
- Yellow pages
- TLO.com (paid service)
- Accurint,com (paid service)
- Intelius.com (paid service)
Why is it worth your time to try to find the owner? You might make a $100,000 profit if you buy that property. What other thing can you do to make $100,000 in one deal this year? Or even $30,000 or $40,000?
It’s worth the extra effort. I recommend TLO.com because it will give you personal contact information that comes from credit bureaus. It’s information that is not in the public record. But using a free site is also worthwhile.
Once you find that owner’s number, call them. Your call should go something like this:
“Hey, this is [NAME]. I’ve been sending you some mailers about your property. I’m looking to buy another rental property in your zip code and I noticed that your property might be vacant. I was just calling to see if you’re interested in selling.”
So, what are you waiting for? Start collecting those vacant property addresses and planning your next marketing campaign today.
P.S. - to learn more about strategies to find motivated sellers, vacant houses and how to simplify, automate and accelerate your business, join us on this new webclass.