You’re looking for an investment property. You’ve spotted the perfect fixer-upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood. It would be perfect to rent out for short or long term while you’re waiting until just the right time to sell it. The only problem? You have no idea how to buy it because you don’t know who owns it.
Finding out who actually owns a house can be challenging. The people living there might already be renters. It could be owned by several investors. The number on the listing might be incorrect. There might not even be a listing.
When you see a house that you want to buy because it might offer a good cap rate or ROI when rehabbed and sold, it is crucial to know who owns it. It’s not just talking to someone to purchase it; it’s being able to avoid a situation with absentee owners coming back, with liens, and with other legal and logistical headaches.
That’s why we want to teach you how to find out who owns a house so that you can contact the owner and discuss a purchase. There are hard ways, easier ways, and, one incredibly efficient way.
Want to know how to find out who owns a house you want to buy? Start here.
The Benefits of Knowing Who Owns a Home You Want to Buy
It might seem pretty clear and obvious why you need to know who owns a home, but there are some reasons that might surprise you.
- Know who you are dealing with. Believe it or not, sometimes people will try to sell you a house that they don’t actually own. Perhaps the property was inherited and one beneficiary wants to sell while the other doesn’t. Well, the one who wants to sell may accept your offer to try to push the issue. Then, you are caught up in a legal problem that could last a while. You need to know everyone on the title before you get involved.
- Auctions don’t always sell clear titles. Let’s say you are buying your property through a sheriff sale. It’s foreclosed upon, so you think you just have to make the purchase. That’s not really the case, though. In many sheriff sales, you are on the hook for all liens, encumbrances, and unpaid real estate taxes. It’s possible to find out what is owed, but you have to start by knowing who the owner is.
- Not all houses are—or will be—for sale. But, if you’ve been in this business long enough, you can start to recognize houses that may be for sale soon. You can do this by looking up information on liens, unpaid taxes, assessor reports, and more. Then, if you learn the owner, you can contact them and make an offer. If they are in financial distress, they might be looking for a break. Be the first person to offer it to them. That might help the sale.
In this business, information is power. Access is key. Knowing the name of the owner gives you information and access. So, how do you go about getting that?
Traditional Ways Of Finding Out Who Owns a House
When trying to find the owner of a house, there are a couple of different traditional routes. Let’s break them into three main approaches—though each one may only give you a piece of the puzzle. Let’s take a look at each of these.
Ways To Find a Homeowner
|Researching Government Data||Asking Around||Using Online Search Tools|
|PRO:||It’s free!||Potential for ‘insider’ information||Lots of seemingly cheap options|
|CON:||Records are not in one place||Get treated with suspicion||Be prepared for an upsell|
|CON:||Limited accessibility||Um, AWKWARD!||The ‘sunk cost’ trap|
|CON:||Incomplete information||More incomplete information||The most unreliable information|
Researching Government Data: Free But Hard
The most traditional way to do find out who owns a house you want to buy is to march down to a government office and find out information on the address. What government office? A lot of that depends on your jurisdiction, but the most likely one is the Recorder or Registrar of Deeds.
This is usually a county-wide office that holds up-to-date information about any given address. This information can include property deeds or transfer notices indicating the most recent owner. Where are these? Usually in a city hall or county administration office.
That’s not the only place you can look, of course. There are also many areas where the information is at a City Hall, with local records. They also might be at the county courthouse.
If the owner is not an individual, but a corporation, your best bet would be the Secretary of State office, which is more likely to hold information on businesses.
A great place to start while doing this is the local library. Sometimes the library itself has information, depending on your locality. But many librarians are experts at gathering the information and can help point you in the right direction.
Honestly, this is kind of fun. It’s fun to be a sleuth. It’s fun to find a house and then get the information about it. That is, if you have the time.
Knowing where to start.
While you can find a lot of information, it’s hard to find where you can find it. There are a lot of different places you can look. While some larger counties have an online platform to access this information, not every place does.
Short hours of opportunity.
As you know, government operations tend to keep pretty strict and regular hours. That means going down there during the day when you would like to be working. And, if you have to go to the county seat when you don’t live close? That could eat up an entire day just to get the name of a person whose house you might not even buy.
Getting the name of a homeowner is just the start of the journey. You still have a lot of work to do. You are rarely able to get information on liens and other judgments. For that, you’d have to go to the tax assessor and get more information. You can start to piece things together, but it takes a lot of time and work.
The problem with the free service is that you’re already doing a ton of work just for the privilege of doing a lot more work. Never undervalue your time. In many ways, that’s your most important asset.
Asking Around: Free But Awkward
This is the oldest of old-fashioned methods. Just knock on the door. Ask the current tenants if they own the house. If they do, you can start the conversation right then and there. If renters answer, they might be able to point you in the right direction as well.
No one answer? Go back. Or, ask neighbors. Hang out at the barbershop and see if anyone knows who owns that house at 3rd and Maple. Ask if people are living there or if it seems abandoned. Do they know if it was foreclosed? You’d be surprised about what people know.
People might not want to talk to you.
The homeowner might not be inclined to even answer the door to a stranger. And, let’s be honest, anyone snooping around a neighborhood asking if a house is abandoned is probably going to be treated with some suspicion.
It’s not the ideal way to introduce yourself to a distressed homeowner. They may be insulted that you believe their house is in such disrepair that they can’t keep up the payments. It can hurt a sale before it even starts.
More incomplete information.
You won’t get any of the tax assessor data. Unless you’re really charming, the complete stranger isn’t going to tell you about their liens.
You’ll need to knock on a lot of doors and talk to a lot of people to get even some basic information about who owns a house you want to buy. In the meantime, you should be prepared to have at least a few doors slammed in your face.
Using Online Search Tools: Easy but Costly
Now, you are probably saying: can’t I just do this online? There are a lot of services that are being offered out there. And they all say “free” or “really cheap” or “the best thing ever!”
And that is right—there are a huge number of online services these days that can help you find out who owns a house you might want to buy. What they do is access the government information for you. The time in which they can do it varies, but they have more rapid access than you might.
These services can be extremely helpful. After all, if all you have to do is enter an address into a search bar and then get results, you’ve cut out hours and hours of work, maybe even saved yourself a whole day. Can you put a price on that?
It turns out, in fact, that you can put a price on that. While there are services that claim to be “free,” those are usually just introductory prices. You might get a name, but that’s it. You won’t have any access to property assessor records and recorded deeds, mortgages, liens, or judgments. You’ll have to go to the tax assessor for that.
The services that do more work go up in price. Usually, you get something like 100 searches a month for a set cost per state. One of the most popular sites for this charges $300 for a limited number of searches a month for one state—but $400 if it is New York—and $600 for all states. That’s the basic plan. To get more information, you’ll need to pay more.
And, while that might not seem like a lot, don’t forget that you are often dealing with liquidity issues. You might suddenly wish you had that money back. There’s also the matter of sunk costs. If you use a cheaper service, you might decide to start paying more for more information, since you’ve already started spending. That’s an easy trap to fall into—and indeed, it happens a lot in this business—not knowing when to cut your losses is one of the biggest reasons distressed real estate investors go under.
So while it is easy, it is a continual cost that doesn’t always work out for you.
A Better Tool For Finding Out Who Owns a House
You want to buy a house for an investment. That means you have something to work for. It means you are thinking ahead and have plans. And, you don’t want your plans hamstrung at the start by frustrating, incomplete, and potentially pretty pricey obstacles.
That’s why there is a better way. a game-changing new tool for finding homeowners: Lead Dog.
Lead Dog is exactly what the name implies: something to sniff out potential leads. It’s a mobile app that makes finding owners a snap. How it works is simple:
- Take a picture of the house via the app
- Get the name and address of the homeowner
- Direct mail them your information so they can contact you about selling
Direct mailing works so much better than junk mail. It’s personal. It gets noticed. And it gets the job done.
That’s what Lead Dog allows you to do. All you have to do is see the house that you are interested in, and take a picture. It is the only tool that lets you upload a picture to identify the house. Then, it does all the work. It gets you the information that other sites do, easily. And, it is available to any independently owned and operated HomeVestors® franchisee. It’s an exclusive tool to give you the edge.
There are a lot of ways to find out who owns a house you want to buy as an investment property, but Lead Dog is easy, reliable, and free to HomeVestors® franchisees. Finding good investment opportunities is important to you, so take the easy way to get the name you need to start building your dream. Contact HomeVestors to request more information today!