How to Use Public Records for Real Estate Investing Success

Here’s a sneak-peek into the mind of the average beginning real estate investor.

Most would-be investors out there are looking for that perfect property to invest in. When I say perfect, I mean perfect! They have their noses in the classified ads section of the newspaper looking for ads that read something like this:

“I need to get rid of my house fast! I own the home free and clear and will give it away for half of what it’s worth. I’m more than willing to do owner-financing and lease to own. Please come, I’m desperate!”

As we know, these deals don’t come around very often! But this isn’t a reason to feel down and think there’s no chance to get amazing real estate investment deals. There is! You just have to know where to look – and most importantly – how to look.

The top 20% of real estate investors always run circles around the other 80% of wanna-be real estate investors that keep doing the same tired investing techniques. If you’re a true top 20% real estate investor, you’ll have your hands full with investment opportunities while the rest of the competition is eating the top-ramen noodles they bought for 50 cents at the supermarket and doing the same-old, same-old tactics.

These 20-percenters, the top real estate investors,  know how to use public records. They know how to use property-tax records. They know how to use freely available information to make huge profits in real estate investing while other investors are just scrounging by.

I want to talk to you about using public records to your advantage in real estate investing. It’s a skill that anyone can use, but few know how to use effectively. In fact, most would-be investors don’t even bother to learn about how to use public records effectively!

You’re going to want to be very familiar with records from the tax assessor’s office, probate court and record room.

The tax assessor is responsible for knowing who is paying the taxes on a particular piece of real estate. Here’s a tip: the person paying the taxes is usually the owner. One option is to look up the prospective property at the tax assessor, get the owner’s name and mailing address, and send out a marketing letter. This could be what it takes to start a deal. Here’s another tip about the tax assessor – you can usually tell when a home is owner-occupied compared to properties that are rentals. A rental will usually have the tax bill going to a different address than the actual address of the property. The reason for this is that the landlord wants to get the tax paperwork, not the tenant. This means that the tax bill is going to get mailed to the landlord’s home address. Another key to notice to see if a property is a rental is to see if there’s a homestead exception – rentals are not eligible for homestead exceptions, thus if the property has one, then it probably means the property is a rental.

Another detail to look at when looking at tax records is that you may see something like this:

Michael Emilio c/o Miami Property Management

This may mean that the owner owns this company, but probably not. This usually means that there is a property management company that’s handling the management of this property for the owner, in this case Michael Emilio, and paying the taxes. In this case, if you send a letter to this address, you’ll just be sending it to the property management firm and they will most likely not bother to forward your letter to the actual property owner. The reason why they won’t forward the letter is simple – if the owner sells, then the property management firm won’t be getting their monthly fee for managing the property!

The typical 80-percenter (meaning the average investor out there that doesn’t use advanced techniques) just mails a letter to the property management firm (in this case, Miami Property Management), they don’t get a response, and they just cross the property off their list. This is great for you because this means that very few investors, if any, have even contacted the owner, which may mean big discounts for you! Many times, but not always, if a owner isn’t interested in managing a piece of real estate, then often times they aren’t interested in owning it either.

When a property management company is involved, you could be able to find the owner’s real mailing address by taking a look at any properties this person may own where the property address matches the mailing address – this means this is the person’s actual home. You may also look in the white pages to find a match for this person’s name with an address.An owner occupant will almost always have tax records with the billing address for the tax bill matching the property address – those that have the bill going somewhere else means that the bill is going to the private home of the landlord.

The real property record room (also known as the recorders office or clerk of court, depending on where you live) can be helpful if you’re not having luck at looking at the tax records. Take a look at the property deed files to see who holds title. Take a look at the three most recent deeds in the chain of title – these are the last three deeds transferring title. Let’s say you see someone in the chain of title who seems to be a family member (same last name). Write down the names of these family members and do a search for any property records of these people. If you find a record, this will include an address, and you can then send this person a letter.

For last ditch cases, you can send a letter to the tenants asking for help to find the landlord. You could also send a letter to the surrounding houses asking for their help in finding this person. Make sure to state that this is a personal matter and you’re not trying to collect money or sell anything. Yet another option is to contact the property management company to see if they’ll give you any tips on how to find the property owner.

Using public record searches is a great tool to use when you want to get to those properties that are relatively untouched by other more amateur investors. This means you’ll be putting in less time and effort for more money – all you’re using is a little extra knowledge that the typical investor doesn’t have. There are so many abandoned properties out there, with absentee landlords, that this could be a potential investment goldmine for you. Apart from what I’ve talked to you about in this article, public records can also be used to find out how long a person has owned a piece of property, what a person paid for a property, any liens against them, and insight into someone’s financial situation. This is valuable information – you just need to know how to take advantage of it!