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Who Owns That Ugly House? Using Skip Trace to Track Down Your Next Deal



Front yards overrun with weeds or brown, dry grass. Screen door handles filled with multiple advertising flyers that no one has bothered to remove in months. Unraked leaves in the fall. Unshoveled driveways in the winter.

For the average person, these are signs of disrepair or neglect—an ugly property in an otherwise charming community. For REI professionals, these scream opportunity!

Not every distressed property is the result of negligent people living there. In fact, the owners often are absent altogether, either not dwelling in the home or not upkeeping it for renters (if any) living there. Such owners may be ready to sell, but don’t want the hassle of preparing their properties for sale, working with a real estate agent, and all the other extreme inconveniences that go into actively selling a home. This is a prime opportunity for an REI specialist to swoop in for a deal that could be the difference between a Caribbean vacation or just a weekend down the shore.

The challenge, however, lies in discovering who owns the ugly house. And not just the identity of the owner—finding out details such as phone numbers, social media postings, bankruptcy filings, and the property’s financial information (e.g., liens, loan info) is essential for not only securing a deal, but also arriving at a transaction that nets you the best profit and leaves the owner happy, too.

And while it may not be obvious why you need this information—let me ask you, if you are in the middle of a negotiation, do you want too much or too little information? The tech savvy marketers that you compete against have this information at their fingertips; you should as well.

An ideal method to obtain this data is a skip trace—where real estate investing meets 2018 technology. Read on for some advice on using a skip trace to locate an individual connected to an ugly house and maximizing the tools at your fingertips to tracking down your next insanely profitable deal.

Skip Trace, Defined

A skip trace is a trace on someone who has skipped town. Of course, not every owner who is neglecting an ugly house has fled, but the idea is the same: They aren’t around to upkeep the property. Therefore, a skip trace attempts to locate that individual even though their information might not be readily available—and often, those details are difficult to find.

DIY Skip Tracing

With a little research, REI professionals can discover basic information about a property and its owner. This is a potential goldmine for real estate investors. The county tax assessor’s office is a great place to start (and this website links to every such office in the U.S.). You usually will be able to find the owner’s name as well as property tax assessments. From there, a simple Google search can yield more information, as can searches on social media networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn. However, don’t expect too much with these do-it-yourself efforts. For example, if you find out the owner of a property you are interested in is named John Smith, tracking down an address for him might be difficult, to say the least. To truly get the data you seek, you will likely need to turn to a third-party skip trace.

Paid Services

Several paid services have emerged that perform skip traces for you and deliver the data you want. Many of these tools, while helpful, come with drawbacks you should consider:

  • Some services require background checks and a physical inspection of your office, thus making the solutions inaccessible to REI newbies.
  • The data you get back might be institutional-grade, meaning it’s so technical that you spend too much time deciphering the simplest of details.
  • On the other side of the spectrum, the data may be so poor that it doesn’t get you any closer to locating the individual property owner.
  • Some services require you to pay for hundreds of skip traces at a time, and the data is returned in an enormous spreadsheet. Not only are you committed to paying for more searches than you may have needed, but all that data will also take time to sift through.

Intelligent Skip Trace

Beyond the common paid services is a solution that ties your skip trace into all of your other REI efforts. The best REI tools offer intelligent skip trace, which digs deeper into the critical information you need to make make revenue faster. The data is comprehensive without being complex, delivering contact info and the additional details about the property owner.

This solution offers something other tools don’t: When a property owner calls you, it can automatically run a skip trace on that individual—with no effort from you—so that you are instantly an expert for whatever conversation takes place. From the start, you can build a rapport that improves the odds that the property owner will want to reach a deal with you. This layer of pre-intelligence is the difference between you grinding through hours of calls, scrambling for information, or easily finding the gems that lead to financial freedom or early retirement.

Finally, if property owners land on your website looking for information, they may fill out a form requesting it, but not be ready to provide more details, such as a phone number or property info. Just from an email address, dynamic skip trace solutions can find that data for you so that when owners are ready for you, you will be more than ready for them.