A friend of mine was recently visiting to do some fishing and stayed at my Wisconsin cabin north of Wausau. Being a good friend, I decided to take a few days off and do some fishing, too. The fish weren’t biting, so we got to talking about business and buying investment homes here in Marathon County. He said it’s probably pretty easy since it’s such a small county. The only thing more ridiculous was his casting technique.
For one thing, this isn’t a small county, as anyone from here knows. By size, we’re the largest county in Wisconsin. Its size alone poses challenges. But more to the point, there are no easy places for the real estate investor. No matter where you are, it requires hard work, perseverance, dedication, and the ability to find the right leads.
The last one is especially tricky here in Marathon County. There are a lot of ways to find leads in Wisconsin, and some of them are better than others. A lot of people new to the business rely heavily on the Marathon County Sheriff Sales, but to me, that can be more trouble than it is worth.
There are some things unique to the area that makes Marathon County sheriff sales less than optimal for finding the right house to fix and flip. There are a lot of other ways that I use to make finding leads more efficient. It’s never going to be easy, and it will always take hard work, but like fishing, the work is worth it.
The Challenges of Marathon County Sheriff Sales
I love this area—I love the hills, the small towns, the friendly people, and the rolling Wisconsin River. What I don’t love are the sheriff sales. Here’s a few reasons why, to me, they can waste my two most valuable assets: time and money.
Narrow Window for Sales
Every Tuesday, at 9:00 AM, the Sheriff’s office in Wausau has an auction on a foreclosed house. That’s great if you are planning out your week, but not ideal if you have something to do that day. And when don’t you have something to do? There might be a house to inspect in Marathon City, or you have contractors coming to your property in Schofield. Or, maybe you just have something at your kid’s school.
It’s nice to know when the sales are, but not as helpful if that one tiny window is your only option. After all, if you miss it, the house may be gone.
Small Number of Houses
But let’s say you do manage to make it on Tuesday. What will you find? Well, on any given week there are only about three houses for sale—and sometimes less. Remember, you’re not bidding on every house for sale: you’re only looking at houses that have been foreclosed on. And, in Marathon County, there just aren’t that many.
And, while that is great for Marathon County, that’s not great for you. That means there is less opportunity to find the investment house you want. So, you either will walk away with a wasted hour, or, worse, you’ll bid on something that isn’t quite right.
To me, that’s the biggest risk of this business. Wanting to bid on a house just because it feels wrong not to do so or because you are too eager for the action. That’s the danger when there are so few houses: making a decision that isn’t in your best interest.
Competition and High Prices
There is a two-fold effect to there being so few houses.
1. Everyone in the fix-and flip business is there.
2. The prices start to get too high.
I know it doesn’t seem like prices should get high on a foreclosed property, but the banks aren’t interested in giving it away for free. So to start, you’re paying what the bank wants to get out of it because they get the opening bid. And, then, your bidding begins.
So now, you have everyone in the business bidding against each other, including a lot of people who are eager to make a move. The bidding can get intense, and if you’re not careful, you can pay a lot for a house that might not be ideal.
Lack of Information
I want to make it clear, of course, that our Sheriff’s office is fantastic. The website alone is filled with great information. But where there is a lack of information is in the sales. Go to the website and click on any link—you get the rules, you get an address, and that’s it. Well, you also get a line that reads: “The property is sold ‘as is’, is not available to view.”
That’s not a lot to go on when buying a house. Maybe go and check the house out, but that’s just a drive-by. There are ways to do research, but you’re not going to be able to do an inspection. I love reading about a house, but unless I do a walk-through, I don’t feel comfortable bidding. A house that looks great from the inside could have a rotten foundation or worse.
You’re Responsible for Everything
In the same sentence that says the property isn’t available to view, it also says that the buyer is “subject to all liens, encumbrances, and unpaid real estate taxes.” That means you’re on the hook for everything that comes with the house.
That might be a little. It might be a lot! And, while it is sometimes possible to find out, it isn’t always the case. You could owe so much it will cut into your returns.
So, let’s look at the upshot of all of this. In the most common scenario, you might pay too much for a house you haven’t inspected and that might, in turn, cost you more to rehab than you bargained for. If you are short on cash due to unpaid taxes or liens, you might not be able to do as much as you’d like in the way of renovations, which lowers what you can sell it for.
Or, maybe you didn’t buy a house at all. In that case, you wasted an hour—plus however long it took you to get there. That’s an hour that could be spent more valuably.
I admit these upshots aren’t very uplifting. Luckily, there’s a better way.
A Better Way To Get Real Estate Investing Leads in Marathon County
I certainly did my share of sheriff sales. I did my share of walking the streets. I did my share of poring over foreclosure notices and real estate listings in the Wausau Daily Herald. But, I found a much better way to get leads.
The best decision I ever made was to become an independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisee. You know the business from the “We Buy Ugly Houses®” ads. Everybody has. So, when someone in Marathon needs to sell fast, they know we provide “solutions for ugly situations®” and they contact a local HomeVestors® franchisee, like me.
This gets rid of all the problems I have with Sheriff sales. A distressed seller lead can come directly to me at any time. I get to inspect the house and talk to the seller face-to-face. And, I get to make them a fair offer.
Obviously, being a HomeVestor® franchisee doesn’t mean you don’t have to work. You still have to close the deal and buy the house. But, you have your foot literally in the door at this point. It makes the whole process smarter and more efficient.
Real estate investing isn’t fish in a barrel. But, if you want a better way to avoid sheriff sales and get qualified leads in Marathon County, request information about becoming a franchisee today. Then, you just have to reel the qualified leads in.
Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.