Vacant House Gold: How To Find Motivated Sellers

Today’s post is about the second step in my 5-step process for quickly turning an abandoned property into BIG paychecks–Finding motivated sellers. I like to think of these types of deals as gold mines that are simply disguised as vacant homes or abandoned property.

This is mainly because there’s not a lot of competition for them. Not only is it challenging to find vacant properties, but it can be even more challenging to find the owners or motivated sellers of these vacant houses. Oftentimes, because it is indeed more challenging, fewer investors will actually spend the time and effort searching for them (which is why this is a GREAT opportunity for you).

In my last post, we covered several ways that you can spot those gold mines disguised as vacant houses FAST. Before that, I hit on the basic fundamentals of vacant houses or abandoned property, which (I hope) allowed you to open your eyes to the beauty (and profits) that vacant houses ultimately have to offer.

So, now that we know how to spot vacant properties FAST, the next logical step is to learn how to quickly find the owners or motivated sellers of these vacant houses.

So let’s get to it…

The Hunt For Motivated Sellers Is On

Instantly, your initial reaction to trying to find these motivated sellers might be to talk to the neighbors in that specific area, by the good old-fashioned way of knocking on their door. But… then you quickly learn that maybe this isn’t the best idea…

…And you’re right. Actually, it’s a HUGE waste of your time (your bird dog will agree). And you know that your time is much more valuable (and much better spent) negotiating with motivated sellers and finalizing deals.

So think about it this way… if you were to get sucked into a long and drawn-out conversation with ‘Mr. Neighbor’, who is lonely and doesn’t have people to talk to on a regular basis (until you show up). Well…. let’s just say that you’re about to become ‘Mr. Neighbor’s’ best friend and learn every little detail about him over the next 2-3 hours (sad but true). Believe it or not, I’ve tried this tactic. And yes, although it might help you get the information that you’re looking for on the motivated seller, there’s a great chance that you just simply end up wasting your time.

And more often than not, this is how you fall into the typical ‘not worth your time’ category of neighborhood watch groups. (Yes, they do exist).

Furthermore, if you do talk with people in a neighborhood watch group, you’ll most likely find out that (a) they don’t know that a house in their neighborhood is even vacant, or (b) they don’t seem to care too much. Either way, you end up getting no useful information out of them.

So let me further explain some valuable options for locating these motivated sellers…

Give These a Chance

Today, I have several tactics to share with you (and I will admit that some are better than others). But… I’m sharing all of them with you so that you’re fully armed with the information, and can then decide what strategy works best for you.

Tax Rolls

To start your search off right, you can begin with the Tax Rolls–which is a list of taxable property either by township, city or county. Tax Rolls contain the name and address of the person (or entity) that is paying the taxes on the property. In other words, you’ll learn where the tax bill is mailed.

You’ll also be able to see the square footage of the house, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the assessed value, the most recent purchase price (in most states), etc. This is all of the data that the tax assessor maintains in order to assess and collect property taxes.

Here are a couple of ways to access them…

..First, you could march over to the Tax Assessor’s office and look up the details using the property’s address (which you probably got from your bird dog) or you’ll likely be able to find it easily on the Tax Assessor’s website for your area.

But… here’s where it may become a little challenging. If the owner or motivated seller’s address is listed as that of the vacant house–this could be a dead end, simply because we know that no one lives there.  I refer to this “dead end” situation as “matching address”.

This isn’t the end of the world, so don’t let it get you discouraged. In fact, you should actually get excited! I know what you’re probably thinking, “Why should I get excited Cam?” Well…because, once again, this reduces your competition!

Remember – the harder it is to find the seller, the better the deal.

So now we’re going to dig a little deeper, and if that means putting on your Sherlock Holmes’ hat or any other clichés that you can think of, then let’s get to it 🙂

You may be thinking… “But Cam, this means more work and time on our part.” Yes, it does mean a little more work for us, but it will be worth it. So on that note, let’s dig deeper and get ahead of our competition (this is where everyone else usually gives up–but not you).

Tax Rolls really are a great source of information.

*Pro TipNot every tax assessment is accurate. (Keep this in mind as you’re pulling that information and data.)

Here’s another search suggestion…but I share it with a caveat…

Find motivated sellers

Online Name Search

If you have the owner or motivated seller’s name of the vacant house, then you can search for more information about them online (by Googling their name and city).

But…by doing this, it’s important for you to keep in mind that you could either come up empty-handed or, in some cases, (if they have a common name) the search could bring up too many results to comb through, thus leaving you uncertain of where to even start. No one likes dealing with uncertainty, which is why I consider this tactic a waste of time.

FSBO (not for the faint of heart)

Then there’s this one (that takes a lot of boldness, folks). You place an FSBO sign with your phone number in the yard of the vacant home.

By doing this, the motivated seller will most likely hear about this and call. If and when they do call, you have to be prepared with a good and viable reason for why you put that sign there. Of course, it was accidental. 🙂 This will be a great time to ask if you were to pay all cash and close on the date of their choice, what would be the least they could accept.

Send a Letter

You also have the option to send a letter to the owner. (Remember from my previous post, we talked about how adding the Return Service Requested is super helpful.) Personally, I use the automated mail manager that’s built into iFlip Real Estate– my business automation CRM (and it works great for this)! Click here to try it out risk-free if you haven’t yet.

Okay, so let’s say that the Tax Roll address of the owner or motivated seller matches the address of the vacant house. Well, by mailing a letter to that address with “Address Service Requested” on it, you would be sent that forwarding address from the USPS and your letter would then be forwarded to the owner.

This is a good strategy.

But – if you’re like me and you prefer the ‘straight-forward method’ – just go directly to skip tracing.

Why Skip Tracing Is The Best

Plain and simple, skip tracing is the heavy hitter’s method of locating missing, motivated sellers.

All that you need for a skip trace is the owner’s first and last name (and remember, you can get this info from the Tax Rolls) and the vacant home address. Yes, that’s all you need.

In reality, skip tracing is actually an elaborate way of saying, “the process of locating someone”. Historically, the word originated from an old term, which related to landlords that were tracking down a ‘skipped tenant’ who ran off and missed a rent payment or didn’t pay for damages.

Initially, when I first acknowledged the significant amount of value that skip tracing had to offer to real estate investors, I immediately knew that I had to create the fastest (and easiest) way to cash in on deals that your competition couldn’t touch. So it was then that I decided to create a skip-tracing business called Find the Seller.

Finding motivated sellers is easy with a skip trace

Now, it’s easier than ever to run circles around your competition by finding houses that they can’t touch. Skip tracing is a game-changer. Over the years, I’ve heard from countless students and clients who’ve said how valuable this strategy is.

“The last skip trace got me $7,500 in about a week’s time. Other investors were mad because they had been trying to find the seller and couldn’t.”

Paid skip tracing–is searching for records that are not available to the average Joe (you), that oftentimes produce the results you’re looking for (In our case– the phone number and other vital details about the owner or motivated seller of the vacant house.)

Because the fees for skip tracing vary, I humbly suggest that you check out where you’ll find the industry’s most competitive pricing. Then consider that was founded by and caters specifically to Real Estate Investors.

Hide & Seek Revealed

Let me explain why it’s usually super difficult to locate motivated sellers…

As investors, oftentimes, the motivated sellers that we’re searching for aren’t leaving any kind of trail (or bread crumbs) behind to help us locate them. Or perhaps they’ve recently moved out and the new trail hasn’t been made public just yet.

Investor or not, we are all human, and as we progress through our daily lives, we leave a trail of where we are and what we’re doing. And that trail, folks, is relatively available to professional skip tracing services.

Here are some common ways people create trails:

  • Buying gas
  • Applying for a new credit card
  • Initiating a new insurance policy
  • Paying for a doctor’s appointment
  • Registering a vehicle
  • Turning on utilities
  • Getting internet service

There are often times when people don’t do any of that and stop leaving a trail. (This is a pretty common scenario.)

What do I mean?

Well, let’s say that there’s a seller who’s behind on their mortgage and they know that the bank is coming after them because the Notice of Default has been recorded. Indeed, it’s no surprise that they’re going to lose their house. But rather than staying and fighting, their pride and dignity tell them to move on because there’s no fixing this situation. Ultimately, they decide to move in with mom, albeit temporality.

So now you must ask yourself the following questions, “Does that person need to turn on phone service with mom’s address? Would (s)he register a car with mom’s address? Would (s)he apply for a new insurance policy with mom’s address?” In all of these cases, the answer is probably, “no”.

After all, it’s a temporary situation and when that happens, the clues just cease.

Why Skip Tracing Is Worth It To Find Motivated Sellers

The reality is–quality skip tracing really ‘digs’ in for you, primarily searching for those hard-to-find details and clues that will ultimately help locate the motivated vacant house owners.

Oftentimes, skip tracing will search for other properties (past and present) that may be in the seller’s name. Then, it’ll provide the data on the neighbors of that property, and neighbors from previously owned properties who may have info about the former owner.

A skip trace can help determine if the seller is actually deceased. If this is the case, then the house is most likely in probate and a skip trace could help find the seller’s heirs.

Skip tracing will often provide the seller’s “associates”. This can be anything from a colleague, or business partner, to a co-borrower, to a co-insurer to an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. In other words–people who are somehow tied to the person that you want to find.

Consider this…

If you did a skip trace on yourself, you might be surprised at the information that you would find. In fact, people that you haven’t even thought about in years may pop up. Needless to say, the results would be pretty interesting.

We can gather a lot of clues from associates that lead to the person you’re looking for.

Pro Tip: When speaking with the missing homeowner’s family, associates, neighbors, etc., you need to have a certain approach. If you give off even the tiniest of hints that make you seem like a creditor, that associate will most likely send you packing. They’ll likely guide you away from the seller if you sound like someone who is owed money by the seller.

For instance, this is what you might say:

“I may have money for Mr. Smith for his house at 123 Main St. He doesn’t owe me money – please make no mistake about it. I may have money for him. Do you have any idea where I can find him?”

A skip trace may also turn up details about a past or current incarceration. Could you do a deal with a person in jail?


It might be through a wall of glass, but you sure could. Surprisingly, someone who’s in jail actually might have great urgency to sell. This is because while they’re in jail, they have no income, which means that there may be no payments being made on their house, leaving them willing to unload it to you–the investor.

Skip tracing might also provide AKA names. These may include past married names, maiden names or the misspelling of a name on a credit application. Whatever it may be, skip tracing can cut through all ambiguities like that.

For example, my last name is Dunlap, but a common misspelling is Dunlop. At some point, I have filled out paperwork and the person typing it into their electronic system misspelled it – and boom! – I have an alias. It happens a lot. No matter what the instance is, a good skip tracing service will be able to detect this, instantly clearing it up.

Also, skip tracing should be able to tell you if the seller has filed for bankruptcy – and let me tell you, buying houses from people in bankruptcy is a phenomenal strategy. Think about how motivated that seller might be!

A Final Note

One last important note! In regard to unlisted phone numbers, periodically, when people are filling out the applications, they’ll write their cell phone number on it… but the question is…Why?

Many people don’t even have a landline home phone anymore. Instead, they just use a cell phone as their primary source of contact. So… even if their phone numbers are technically unlisted, (yes, the White Pages are still around in digital versions) when they enter their cell phone number on an application, that instantly gets saved into a database (that a good skip tracing company can access) and BOOM! There you have it.

I honestly can’t say enough about how effective and powerful skip tracing can be for finding motivated sellers of vacant house deals.

We’ve been providing skip trace services for Real Estate Investors at since 2002 and we are VERY good at it.

Still Sooo Much More To Learn…

Today I’ve shown you several methods for finding the owners or motivated sellers of vacant homes.

Once you’ve found the owner or motivated seller of the vacant house, the next step in my 5-step process is to make a deal with that motivated seller and then quickly sell it off to another investor. But don’t worry, I’ll go into depth and explain exactly how to do all of that in my next post.

Until then…

If you have any questions or comments about locating motivated sellers and skip tracing, please leave a note below. I personally monitor and respond to them.

Best Regards,

Cameron Dunlap

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11 thoughts on “Vacant House Gold: How To Find Motivated Sellers

What do you do when the skip trace yields a deceased homeowner with no relatives?

I would look for a will that’s been recorded on the public record and in the absence of that watch the public record and in particular the house. If there is every anyone there, ask who is handling the probate/estate.

I am interested in finding abandoned houses and selling them to motivated wholesalers. I hope we can work together and I am impressed with your experience and proven track record of success in real estate.

Can skip tracing be used to screen people that want to rent or buy your property to qualify them ? Thanks.

What happens if you are not able to locate the individual?

Assuming you’ve done a skip trace and called every number in the report, I suggest you wait 30 – 45 days and skip trace him/her again because things change, clues are left and people come back on the grid.

Be sure you don’t sound (or even smell) like a creditor when you’re calling people in and effort to find the property owner. If you do, you’ll be misdirected at best.

How i can find people when I only have there name? when i try to find by name only your system didn’t let me Because city and state is required field to search. I don’t know which city they live.

Name and last known address is what we need to do a skip trace. If you’re looking for the owner of a vacant house it, or the tax address is their last known.

How much does this service cost …. skip tracing ? If I’m looking to find 10-20 persons per month, what can it cost me ? Thanks

Our basic search is as little as $0.25 and our Premium (full dossier style) search, which goes MUCH deeper is $9.97. Many of our clients subscribe to the basic search service and then use the premium search when it’s necessary. This is a very cost effective approach.

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