When you’ve been in real estate for more than six months, you gain a superpower. There is no fanfare, no announcement or email from your local superhero association. You may not even realize it at first. It’s not x-ray vision or time travel or super strength. It’s the seemingly boring ability to spot an abandoned house just by driving by.
It isn’t the last house on the left, some dark vacant haunted house, or the falling-down house from the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s subtle clues that tell your brain, “This house is empty and nobody has lived there for a while.”
Case in point, my neighbors moved when I was away from home last week. When I drove up to my house, I could instantly tell their house was empty. Their personal items were removed from the porch, planters empty. It just felt different from every other house in the neighborhood. They were gone; they had moved out earlier that day.
The signs range from what I mentioned above to the more obvious: an overgrown yard, mail or newspapers piling up, blinds left open with no furniture or decorations inside, or everything shut with no lights on ever.
But what’s important is less about spotting abandoned properties and much more about what do you, as an investor, do now? How do you find the owners of that abandoned property so you can help them by buying the now-vacant and forgotten house?
I have five strategies you can use to find those owners.
Most counties have this available online, but some more rural counties might require you to visit in person for this data. A quick search for the property address can lead you to the owner’s name and tell you whether their mailing address is different from the property address.
Keep in mind, there are some counties where this information is hard to find or unavailable for the general public, but the extra work is worth the reward. Also, this information might be outdated or not updated at all; if the owner never notified the county of their new address, you are working off of old or bad data.