I’ve been sending letters to absentee owners since the beginning of 2012 and I like the results I’ve had. Each investor will have his or her own opinion, and I tend to agree with other investors that wholesalers should focus on more targeted absentee owners (like vacant houses, evictions and code violations).
But overall, a general absentee owners list is a great gateway, and you will get deals, especially if you approach them using a drip campaign, one where you plan to contact them every 4-6 weeks at least 8 times, if not perpetually. (My friend Sharon Vornholt says that she keeps mailing to her lists until either 1) she buys the house, 2) someone else buys the house or 3) the seller asks to be removed from the list. )
So how do you find a absentee owners? Below I’ll give you some different ideas, including free or very cheap options.
1) Make friends with a realtor. The MLS is a goldmine of info, and depending on where you live you could get a list of absentee owners with it, but you have to have access. You could agree to send your dead leads to a realtor in exchange for information or lists off the MLS. You could also arrange to be an unlicensed assistant for a realtor: do some administrative tasks for them in exchange for access to the MLS.
2) Ask a title company. This may be a better option if you already have closed deals or happen to know someone, but call around and explain that you’re planning on buying several houses this year and will bring them your business. Then ask if they could prepare a list of absentee-owned properties for you. Title companies have access to this info and they might agree.
3) Listsource.com. I use them and have gotten a list of 250 names for about $60. Not bad. You can customize the list to only include absentee-owned properties, and use other criteria like sales date, equity amount, zip code, and type of property.
4) Drive for Dollars. Not only is this a common sense way to add leads (most of us already drive all the time anyway), but the leads you gather are very targeted, which means they are generally much more motivated than a general list compiled from a database. When you’re out, try going different routes and look for tall grass, closed blinds, lack of personal touches and belongings or notices taped on doors. Go on trash day and make it easy (no trash cart usually = vacant!).
5) Search your county assessor’s page. In a pinch, if you have no money for a list and no other option, you can look up records on your assessor’s page. I don’t personally know of any assessor’s page that includes a search criteria for absentee owners, so you’ll have to look one-by-one, and it will be tedious, time-consuming work. But I’ve gathered leads before while I’m already on the site, researching other properties. I’ll quickly look at each property in that same subdivision and add the absentee-owned houses to my list of leads.
6) Pay a VA. You can hire a virtual assistant to do the research for you. Depending on which country your VA is from, the amount you pay can range from $2-3/hour all the way up to $10/hr. I hired a local person to assist me with my mailings and she’ll do some of the more complicated lead-gathering that I do. But for an absentee-owners list, it’s probably cheaper to just buy a prepared list.
7) Buy a list from your county assessor. If you’re into Excel or programming, this could be an excellent option for you. Thanks to the freedom of information act, we have a right to access public records and most county assessors’/appraisal districts’ offices are happy to oblige. In fact, my county assessor has a ready-made absentee-owners list available for $50. What made it difficult for me to use was the fact that it was 4000 records long and I’m not very Excel-savvy. It would have taken me hours to filter for the criteria I wanted (and I actually did end up giving up after several hours!). Another option to is to buy the list and then hire someone on Fiverr, Elance or Odesk to create Excel macros or create a new spreadsheet based on filtered criteria for you.
This is on my mind because it’s time for me to go through my absentee-owners list and scrub to be sure they’re all still good leads. It’s such a chore to research each lead manually, and I’m debating on just buying a new list (which would automatically clean out my old, dead leads). I’ll probably end up doing it myself (with my assistant’s help), but it’s nice to know about options.
How do you get your absentee owned leads? How do you scrub your lists?