wikiHow to Find Abandoned Houses

Two Methods:Finding a Property and its OwnerMaking the Best out of a Bad Property

Abandoned land is a public nuisance that reduces the property values of a neighborhood, wastes potentially useful space, and creates an eyesore. If handled property, you can make the best of the situation by acquiring and reselling these properties, squatting on them, or at least having them cleaned up. The first step, however, is researching who owns the property and what sort of condition that it is in.[1]

Method 1
Finding a Property and its Owner

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    Search for properties. Abandoned properties are often in default or near foreclosure. Sometimes you can find them on online databases like For Sale by Owner, Zillow, Trulia, or MLS. Advertisements for recently abandoned properties are likely to have key words like “immediate possession,” “must sell, “below market value,” or “under appraisal.”[2]
    • Alternatively, you can drive around looking for houses that show signs of disrepair. You will, however, need to do additional legwork to find the owner, including going to city hall and talking to neighbors.
    • You can also scan a neighborhood on google maps, searching for signs that an area is abandoned. However, this can be a difficult way to get a truly accurate assessment of the situation.
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    Talk to neighbors. Neighbors are likely to know something about who the owner is or was and might be aggravated enough to talk about it at some length. They could also be able to tell you something about the condition of the house, which could be useful if you are considering a purchase. They might even be able to direct you to recent tenants.
    • If you have information about the condition of the home you can use it to negotiate a lower price.
    • Past tenants can be a particularly useful resource, because they have intimate knowledge of any problems with the property that could bring down its price.[3]
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    Inspect the property. Without entering the property, walk around and see what condition it is in. Untended, overgrown gardens and lawns are the obvious signs the property is abandoned. Grass that is a foot deep would indicate that it has not been mowed in six months or so. Check if the path to the front door is blocked by branches or other debris. It is illegal to take mail out of the mailbox. But if you see any packages out, you can write down the name of the recipients and contact them to see if they know anything about the property or the owner.[4]
    • When the mailbox is full, mail might be piled around the base of the mailbox. Checking the date on the paper at the bottom of the mailbox may give you an indication of the last time the mail was picked up.
    • Weeds growing out of driveway cracks will be trampled and crushed by repeated vehicle use. If weeds on driveways are present, then the driveway hasn't been used.
    • In the power meter box by the front door, there is normally a master switch that controls all power to the house. If it is switched off, then the house is not permanently occupied. Similarly, the water meter tap may also have been turned off.
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    Go to city hall or the county building. Ask to speak to whoever can help you find the owner of a piece of property.[5] Typically you will want to check with the probate court and the tax commissioner.[6] You should try to collect as much information as possible, including the name of title owner, the name of the person who pays property taxes, and a full list of liens on the property.[7]
    • If you have trouble finding the owner, you can contact the person who pays taxes on the house. She probably know something about the whereabouts of the owner.
    • Unpaid taxes and liens can be used in negotiations to demand a lower price.
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    Locate the owner and other key individuals. Begin by searching “social security death record” to see if the owner is still alive. If the owner has passed away, find the next of kin.[8] Use online databases to find contact information for the owner and any past tenants you have discovered.[9]

Method 2
Making the Best out of a Bad Property

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    Get a lawn cleared. If you live next to an abandoned house with a lawn that has gotten out of control, don’t try to mow it yourself. This could be considered trespassing. Instead call the local municipality or county. If notified, they should clean up the lawn for you.[10]
    • This contact information should be available on the town’s website.
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    Squat. The doctrine of “adverse possession” allows you to take ownership of a property after occupying it for an extended period of time.[11] This, however, is extremely difficult legally and requires that the owner be all but entirely absent. That is because, to be legally valid, you must occupy the property in a way that is public and noticeable, but, should the owner discover you, she has a clear right to have you removed.[12]
    • Research local and state laws. In some places, five years of squatting is sufficient to establish ownership, in others thirty years is required.[13] Detroit now bans it altogether, even though the state of Michigan permits it.[14] In short, the law varies considerably depending upon where you are.
    • Although many specifics vary from place to place, everywhere exercising the right of adverse possession requires that your ownership be continuous, hostile, open, notorious, actual, and exclusive. That means that you cannot leave the property or permit access to the owner and other squatters. You must also be public in your claim of ownership, making your presence noticeable to the community.[15]
    • In order to publicly occupy a property, you will probably need to take steps like having mail sent to the property, making physical improvements, and paying property taxes. Unfortunately, you will generally not be able to claim any of your investments in the property, though some municipalities might be willing to pay back property taxes.[16]
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    Purchase an abandoned property. Because of property damage and the distressed financial status of the owners, you can often purchase abandoned properties for very low rates and make a good profit off of the deal. To do this successfully you will need to collect information about the property. When contacting the owner, sound confident that you know how dire her situation is and cite some of the facts you have found in your research
    • If, for example, you found that property taxes have gone unpaid, you can tell the owner that she is bound to lose the property shortly and by paying off the property taxes and debts you can save her from going into bankruptcy. Instead of paying a fair market price, you will only need to pay what is necessary to save the place.
    • Alternatively, emphasize that you know that the house needs serious repairs and no one else will want to take the risk of buying such a dilapidated property. You are willing to step in, however, and save them the expense of a property that will otherwise cost them money in property taxes, debt, and upkeep.
    • To emphasize that you hold all the cards, mention the neighbors or the tenant by name to convince her that you have the inside scoop. Furthermore, cite exact figures about taxes or liens as well as specific repairs that are required.[17]
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    Look for special legal maneuvers. Some cities, including Detroit, Atlanta, and Cleveland, have passed laws making it easy for owners to acquire abandoned property adjacent to their own for a low price.[18] Similarly, is a website on which the city of Detroit auctions off abandoned properties at very low rates.[19] If you live in an area where abandoned properties are common, it is more likely that you will be able to find special legal provisions that make their acquisition easier.

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