Have you ever driven past an abandoned property and wanted to get the back story on that vacant house? Who is the owner? Why did they let it go? Could it be a good deal to buy it? Even if you could figure out who owns it, how would you get a hold of the owner? In this training, you're going to discover how to uncover a tremendous amount of information on any house, for free, using public records. You'll learn how to go in depth into the records maintained by the tax collector, property appraiser, recorder's office and zoning commission to discover just about everything you'd ever want to know about a vacant house. Plus, you'll learn how to quickly and easily access the information as well as how to use it once you find it. Here's how to get the back story on a vacant house:
Getting the Back Story on a Vacant House
Have you ever driven past a vacant house and thought to yourself, "What's going on with that property? Who owns it? What got them into the position they're in now? What are they going to do with the property?
Looking up public records is the first step to finding out the status of a vacant house. They are absolutely free and help give an indication of who the owner probably is and provide basic information to help you draw some conclusions on the property. Public records can be broken up into four departments.
1. Tax collector
Every local government has departments at a county level. The tax collector might be called something else; depending on your state, but it is essentially the department that collects property taxes. When property taxes are unpaid they eventually become tax liens, and then after a certain amount of years as a tax lien, it can become a tax dead sale or get a quiet title in some states.
2. Property appraiser
A property appraiser is someone who determines the value of a property. They work hand in hand with the tax collecting department, because in order to determine what the property taxes are going to be, you need to know what the property is worth. There's a department that puts a value on every single piece of real estate in their jurisdiction. This includes: vacant land, commercial buildings, houses, businesses, and any other sort of real estate.
3. Recorded records
Recorded records is also called the clerk of court or register of deeds, depending on where you are located. This department keeps a recorded document against every piece of real estate, so every deed, mortgage, and deed of trust is kept on record. Each county will have a recorded records office with information on all of their local real estate.
4. Planning department
This department is also known as the planning/zoning department. They are responsible for all of the records of zoning for each individual property in their county.
How Each Department Can Help You
- Tax Collector
There are two ways to track down and find the tax collector website for your jurisdiction. The first is Google. The problem is it's not always called the tax collector. The best way to get access to this information is to go to http://NETRonline.com and then click "public records online" and choose your state and County. You can view the tax collector page and input the vacant house address for specific tax information on the property. The property tax page will show you who the current owner of the property is, which is important because real estate investors will want the house to be owned by a homeowner not by a bank.
It also gives you some other information like the legal description of the property, whether they are current on taxes or not, and a parcel ID. All of this information is crucial to understanding whether a vacant house could be a good investment deal or not.
- Property Appraiser
The second public record is the property appraiser. You can find a direct link to the property appraiser from the NETR website. All you have to do is search by owner name or parcel ID, which is why it is helpful to look up the tax collector website first. Once you pull up the property appraiser information you can find out what type of ownership the property is under, sales history of the property, and any transfers or ownership. You can look up what the sales price was each time the property was sold, which tells you what the value of the property was at the time it was purchased.
Other Useful Data From the Property Appraiser:
- Electro heat source, dry walls
- the floor plan measurements
The property appraiser doesn't tell you the exact market value, but it tells you the value that they're basing it on. Property appraisers have their own set of rules when they assess the value. If you learn the rules for a specific jurisdiction, it can help you get a better understanding of how a property appraiser determines value. For example, in the State of Michigan, they had SEV, state equalized values. They are typically, half of what the true value is so you can just double the SEV value and get really close to what the market value might be.
Do not base a property's values on the property appraiser alone. I have a great video on how to determine property value, which can teach you exactly how to value a property.
The recorder's records provides all of the real estate documents pertaining to a particular piece of real estate. It can be used to find out if a property has a judgment against it such as foreclosure. This tells you that the owner is in pre-foreclosure so they haven't foreclosed yet but are at risk of foreclosing in the near future. Furthermore, you can find out who the owner is and what the latest deed of record on the property is.
This is big information to have, because it tells you what needs to happen to the property. If it is owned by a bank then you know it is gong to be difficult to make something happen, than if it was owned by an actual home owner.
Planning and Zoning becomes very important if a property is located near a major intersection with commercial zoning all around it. This could mean that the zoning has changed to commercial and the property will be torn down and replaced with a commercial building. The planning and zoning information is called the GIS map. You can Google "GIS map" for whatever jurisdiction the property is located in to find this information. It will also include any recent sales in the vicinity of the property, which is helpful for valuation purposes.
Between a tax collector, property appraiser, recorded records and the planning and zoning maps, you can learn a tremendous amount about that property.
Paying for a Service
Many people choose to pay for a service as a shortcut to property research. There are companies you can pay to compile all of the public record data on a property into one easy to view format. The largest, most well known property record service company is CoreLogic with a product called RealQuest.
If you're a licensed real estate agent, the listing version of this is called RealList. RealList is typically only accessible through the local MLS. Some MLSs don't use RealList, but they might use a system called CRS a similar property research tool. If you have access to your local MLS you will instantly have access to whichever version your jurisdiction uses. These programs provide you with tons of data and information on a particular property and it is absolutely free if you have access to your local MLS.
Getting in Touch With the Owner
After you have accessed all of the useful information provided by the public records, you can consider contacting the property owner. The mailing addresses and property addresses of the owners will be listed on some of the public record platforms, so you can use them to mail out a handwritten letter. A handwritten letter can work well, because even if it doesn't go directly to the owner, it might be forwarded to them.
The next step is skip tracing, which is like a private detective's database used to look up people's information. The service I typically use is called peoplesearchnow.com. I am not sure if it is any better than other services, because there are so many of them, but it's the one I use.
I like peoplesearchnow.com because it provides a list of family members and their phone numbers. You can use it when you are having a difficult time tacking down a vacant house owner.
My top secret way to track down an owner of a vacant house:
Talk to the neighbors. You'd be surprised how often neighbors can get a hold of the person that moved out, of whoever owned the property next door. This can be a great way to track down who the owner is.