101 ways to find off-market real estate deals

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Have you ever felt like everyone is fishing for the same real estate deals in the same pond?

Surely, there must be some secret “sweet spots” that remain undiscovered, right?

Welcome to the world of off-market real estate deals—where the best, biggest fish (or properties) aren’t publicly up for grabs, but if you can find the right people and situations, where sellers have a reason and motivation to sell at a deeply discounted price, you can still find those areas where no one else is looking.

These properties are like the secret gardens of the real estate world: hidden from the public eye and discovered only by those who know where to look or who have been told by those in the know.

Why elbow your way through the real estate crowd when you can dance to your own tune and find the deals others are missing?

If this sounds like your kind of party, I've got 101 tricks to get you there.

Direct Outreach & Visibility

  1. Drive for Dollars: Cruise neighborhoods to spot distressed properties. Jot down addresses and send them personalized letters offering to buy.
  2. Bandit Signs: Place signs in strategic locations advertising “We Buy Houses.” Ensure you're aware of local regulations about signage.
  3. Direct Mail: Send postcards or letters to targeted homeowner lists offering to purchase their property.
  4. Door Knocking: Directly approach homeowners. While it's bold, face-to-face interaction can yield genuine connections.
  5. Networking: Attend events and join clubs or associations related to real estate. Mingling can lead to unexpected deal referrals.
  6. Referrals: Ask friends, family, or professional contacts if they know anyone looking to sell.
  7. Local Newspapers: Search for distressed sale ads or place your “looking to buy” ad.
  8. Free & Paid Online Marketplaces: Websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace often have properties listed below market value.
  9. Social Media: Post regularly about your interest in buying properties; use targeted ads to reach potential sellers.
  10. Billboards & Public Advertisements: Rent space to advertise your buying service. A constant presence can make you top-of-mind.
  11. Digital Ads: Google and Facebook ads targeting local homeowners can yield leads.
  12. Local Radio/TV: Run ads expressing your interest in buying properties. It reaches a broad audience. While you're at it, you could also try streaming online TV ads!
  13. Walk the Neighborhood: This gives a casual, more personal approach than driving. Engage locals in conversations about the community and any available properties.
  14. Local Festivals: Sponsor or set up a booth. Engage with attendees and spread the word about your buying interest.

Specialized Lists & Databases

  1. Wholesalers: Establish relationships with local wholesalers. They are often the most active local real estate investors and can bring deals directly to you for a fee or markup.
  2. Public Records: Review public property records for liens, divorces, or other indicators that suggest a potential sale. You can easily check for Lien, Bankruptcy and Divorce Status with a data service like PropStream.
  3. Tax Delinquent Lists: Owners owing back taxes are often more motivated to sell at a discounted price, especially if you can make them a cash offer.
  4. Eviction Records: Landlords with recent evictions might be tired and considering selling. Most eviction proceedings are a matter of public record. By visiting your local courthouse or accessing its online portal (if available), you can check for recent eviction filings. This will give you a list of property owners who have initiated the eviction process.
  5. Expired MLS Listings: Approach sellers whose listings expired without a sale; they might still be eager to sell. In most areas, you'll need MLS access to find this information. If you don't have your own real estate license, you can work with a local agent or broker to help you.
  6. Foreclosure Lists: Target homeowners in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure. Offer a solution before the bank takes over.
  7. Abandoned Properties: Research ownership through public records and make an offer. You can also find these properties easily with PropStream. Just filter your list by Occupancy Status > Vacant.
  8. Vacant House Data Feed: Online services can provide lists of vacant homes in your area. Tools like Property Radar and PropStream are perfect for finding houses where the mail is being returned to the sender.
  9. PropTech Platforms: Websites like Mashvisor or BiggerPockets can offer insights or direct listings.
  10. Code Violations: Houses with repeated code violations may have owners ready to sell. Code violations are often in the public records. Depending on the jurisdiction, you can access these records online or at the local city or county office. Most cities and municipalities have a building or code enforcement department that keeps track of properties with violations. Some jurisdictions might have this information available online, while for others, you might need to visit in person.
  11. Quit Claim Deeds: These can indicate family transfers or problematic properties. Investigate further for potential deals. You can use a data service like DataTree to identify recent transactions with quit claim deeds. Just navigate down to Sale Information > Transaction Deed Type > Quit Claim Deed.
  12. Reverse Mortgage Lists: Owners with reverse mortgages might be open to discussions about selling. Many jurisdictions require mortgage transactions, including reverse mortgages, to be recorded in public records. By checking these records, you might identify properties with reverse mortgages. You'll typically be searching for HUD's Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs), which comprise most reverse mortgages.

Engaging with Professionals & Institutions

  1. Local Auctions: Attend and bid on properties. Auctions can sometimes provide properties at below-market values.
  2. Banks (including REOs): Contact local banks to inquire about properties they've taken back, known as Real Estate Owned (REO) properties.
  3. Bankruptcy Lawyers: Google your local area for bankruptcy attorneys and make connections with them. They often know clients who need to liquidate their assets. You can also find properties with owners going through bankruptcy through websites like Foreclosure.com.
  4. Title Companies: They can provide insights on properties with cloudy titles that might be up for grabs soon.
  5. Builders & Developers: Sometimes, they're willing to offload properties they purchased that no longer fit their immediate plans.
  6. Pension Managers: These professionals are responsible for ensuring pension funds are appropriately invested and generate adequate returns for their members. They often have properties as part of larger portfolios and might sell some occasionally. LinkedIn is a valuable tool for identifying and connecting with pension managers. Use specific keywords related to pension management in your search.
  7. Real Estate Agents: A good relationship can lead to first dibs on pocket listings.
  8. Home Inspectors: They can tip you off on homes with issues that sellers might want to offload quickly.
  9. Divorce Attorneys: Sadly, property sales often accompany separations. Attorneys can be a source of referrals.

Community & Social Engagements

  1. Estate Sales: Approach families selling off assets of their deceased loved ones. They might be considering selling the property, too.
  2. Local Real Estate Investor Associations: Join and network at your local REIA. Other investors might have overflow or properties they wish to offload.
  3. Homeowners Associations: Find and engage board members. They often know about properties in distress or potential sales. Many states and municipalities have organizations or directories that list HOAs. An online search with your state or city name followed by “HOA directory” or “HOA association” can lead you to relevant platforms.
  4. Public Speaking: Offer to speak at events on real estate topics. It establishes authority and attracts potential sellers.
  5. Libraries: Offer free seminars on real estate topics. Engage with attendees and discuss potential deals.
  6. Community Centers: Attend meetings and events. Engage with locals and subtly express interest in buying properties.
  7. Historical Societies: Older homes might need too much upkeep for current owners. Websites like the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) or PreservationDirectory.com list historical societies by state and region.
  8. Local Charities: Donate or volunteer. Networking here can also yield unexpected leads. Housing and homelessness charities (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, local homeless shelters, housing coalitions) address housing insecurity or homelessness and often have insights into properties that may be available for sale or at risk of foreclosure.
  9. Blogger Outreach: Collaborate with bloggers to write guest posts for them. It's a subtle way to advertise your interest in buying properties.
  10. Trade Shows: Attend or exhibit. Network with attendees, gather leads or even find direct opportunities. Real estate investor expos, conferences, and conventions cater specifically to real estate investors. They are prime networking venues where you can connect with other investors, wholesalers, and industry professionals. Some examples are the BiggerPocket Conference, Best Ever Conference, the National Real Estate Investors Association Conference.
  11. Home Shows: Similar to trade shows but specific to home products. Owners considering renovations might also consider selling.

Alternative & Niche Opportunities

  1. FSBO (For Sale By Owner): Find and engage directly with owners who are avoiding realtors.
  2. HUD Homes: Check listings of government-seized properties. They're often listed below market value.
  3. Bird Dogs: Hire individuals to scout out potential deals and pay them a finder's fee.
  4. Farm & Rural Listings: Sometimes overlooked by urban-focused investors. Rural properties can be slower to sell and may have motivated sellers.
  5. Absentee Owners: Identify non-local property owners who might be tired of remotely managing a property. Absentee owners are easy to identify with online research tools like DataTree, PropStream, and Property Radar.
  6. Flea Markets: Engage stall owners. Some may have or know of real estate for sale. Some vendors at flea markets are selling items from estate sales. If you come across sellers getting rid of a large number of household items, it might indicate financial distress, which could mean a potential off-market deal opportunity.
  7. Utility Companies: Check for homes with long-term service cut-offs, which might indicate an abandoned or sellable property. While utility companies won't typically share specific addresses due to privacy rules, they might share aggregated data or general areas with a high number of service cut-offs. This can be a starting point for your research. In some areas, data related to water shut-offs or delinquencies might be accessible through public records. However, you'll likely need a valid reason for the request, and not all jurisdictions will make this data easily available.
  8. Self-Storage Facilities: Owners might be storing after downsizing and could consider selling their former home. Local storage facility owners or managers might be willing to pass along your contact details to their clients. Regularly visit storage facilities, get to know the staff, and express your interest without being pushy. With permission, place flyers, business cards, or ads on bulletin boards in storage facilities. Your advertisement can focus on helping people sell their homes quickly or assisting with downsizing.
  9. Residence Halls: Find student housing units within college and university campuses. Due to their close connections with faculty and community, university housing administrators might be privy to upcoming housing sales, especially as faculty retire or relocate. To find them, visit university websites for contact details, offer real estate workshops for staff or network at university events, and always prioritize relationship-building and respect in your interactions.
  10. Local Art Galleries and Auction Houses: These venues frequently interact with estate sales, especially when artwork or valuable items are being sold off. The individuals handling these sales might be aware of properties that are being, or soon to be, listed, particularly if the sale of assets is related to downsizing, moving, or settling an estate. Engaging with gallery owners, auctioneers, or staff can provide leads about families or individuals looking to sell properties. Networking at gallery openings, art events, or auctions can be an avenue to establish these connections.
  11. Surrounding Property Owners: If a property is of interest, contact neighboring owners. They might be willing to sell or know more about the target property.
  12. Outreach to Former Clients: If you've been in business for a while, reach out to past clients. They might be ready for another transaction even if you haven't communicated recently. Especially if they had a good experience with you in the past, they may have an opportunity and would be happy to work with you again!
  13. Virtual Assistants: Hire online assistants to scout platforms, listings, and forums for potential leads while you're working the other side of your business.

Engagement with Business & Commerce

  1. Bill Collectors: Identify relevant collection agencies, focusing on agencies that handle significant debts, like mortgage companies, banks, or larger financial institutions, as these are more likely to be dealing with individuals who have real estate assets. Due to strict privacy laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and regulations that protect consumer information, bill collectors won't divulge specific debtor details. Rather than asking for specific leads, build a relationship, let them know what you offer, and see if they'd be willing to pass along your contact information to those who might benefit.
  2. Local Chamber of Commerce: Network with local business owners. They might have leads on commercial or residential properties.
  3. Affordable Housing Programs: There are multiple affordable housing programs at the federal and state/local levels in the US (Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), HUD Public Housing Program, etc.). These programs often have online directories where you can find contact details for administrators by state or city. They might know of properties being offloaded or coming up for sale.
  4. Funeral Homes: Sensitive but potentially useful. Surviving executors of the deceased's estate might be looking to sell estate properties.
  5. Neighbor Referrals: Using data services like DataTree or PropStream, find the contact information of owners in targeted areas, skip trace them to find their phone numbers and email addresses, and contact them to offer incentives for working with you.
  6. REO Asset Managers: Engage those managing bank-owned properties. They often want to clear out inventory.
  7. Property Management Companies: They might know landlords wanting to sell. You can find local property managers with a simple Google search and by networking at local real estate meetups and association meetings.
  8. Small Local Banks and Credit Unions: Engage their property departments for leads on repossessions or unwanted assets.
  9. Building Inspectors: Local building inspectors are aware of properties that might be facing code violations or might have structural issues. Owners of these properties might be more motivated to sell rather than deal with repairs or legal issues, especially if they lack the funds or interest to resolve the problems. Building strong relationships with inspectors can give you an advantage in finding these properties before they're widely known.

Online Platforms & Technology

  1. Craigslist: Regularly check property listings and also post your own “Want to Buy” ads.
  2. Virtual Real Estate Investment Groups & Forums: In the digital age, several online platforms allow real estate investors to discuss, share, and discover off-market deals. Websites like BiggerPockets, real estate sections of Reddit, or even specialized Facebook groups can be a goldmine for potential off-market opportunities. Investors, homeowners, or real estate professionals might often share listings, seek advice, or discuss potential sales before they hit the broader market.
  3. Nextdoor: Engage with neighborhood-specific posts or listings.
  4. Property Investment Forums: Participate in discussions. Often, members post properties or leads.
  5. Mobile Apps for Investors: Platforms like DealMachine allow you to scout and contact owners directly.
  6. Online Auction Websites: Websites like Auction.com, Bid4Assets, and even eBay will list properties for sale.

Networking & Personal Connections

  1. Alumni Networks: If you attended a university, engage with your fellow alumni. Conversations can lead to property leads.
  2. Retirement Homes: Engage administrators or residents at local retirement homes. They might know of properties recently vacated and up for sale.
  3. Landlords: Attend landlord meetings or associations. Some might be tired and considering selling.
  4. Co-working Spaces: Engage with startups or individuals at co-working spaces near you. They might have leads or direct opportunities.
  5. Friends & Family: Always let them know what you do. Personal connections often yield the best referrals.
  6. Sporting Clubs & Local Teams: Sponsor local teams and engage with members. Networking here can lead to unexpected opportunities.
  7. Meetups or Investor Groups: Whether the local meetups are directly related to real estate or some ancillary interest, find ones you are interested in and attend regularly. Engage with fellow attendees for joint ventures or leads.

Leads through Services & Rentals

  1. Rental Listings: Find local rental listings and contact the owner or property manager. Those property owners might be open to selling.
  2. AirBnB or VRBO: Find and contract hosts. Some might be considering transitioning out of short-term rentals and selling.
  3. Moving Companies: Local movers are aware of who is relocating and might have leads on homes to be sold.
  4. Carpet Cleaners or Home Repair Personnel: These professionals are frequently contacted during the transition phase when houses are being bought and sold. They are often aware of homes being prepped for sale.

Local Government & Public Services

  1. Planning & Zoning Department: Engage with staff about upcoming zoning changes, which might result in property sales.
  2. Post Offices: They're privy to change-of-address forms and might have leads on vacated properties.
  3. City Planning Office: Engage on information about future developments or neighborhoods seeing changes.
  4. Fire Departments: They can provide information on
  5. Public Utility Offices: Engage staff for data on properties with long-term utility non-usage.

Advertisements & Outreach

  1. Local Magazines and Newspapers: Place ads to let people know you're looking to buy.
  2. Community Newsletters: Sponsor or place ads. Localized outreach can yield great leads.
  3. Church or Community Bulletins: Engage and advertise. Community members might approach with leads.
  4. Local TV & Radio: Advertise during slots targeting homeowners.
  5. SEO & Blogging: Optimize your website to attract sellers searching online for buyers.
  6. Google AdWords: Run targeted ads for terms like “sell my house fast.”
  7. YouTube Channel: Create content about buying properties. Interested sellers might engage directly.
  8. Podcasting: Host or guest on real estate podcasts. Share contact details and buying interests.

Market Research & Analysis

  1. MLS Alerts: Set alerts for specific property criteria. This helps in acting fast on potential deals.
  2. Local Market Reports: Stay updated. Distressed markets can yield motivated sellers.
  3. Property Listing Websites: Websites like Redfin or Trulia can offer insights on potential below-market deals.

Unearthing off-market real estate deals is both an art and a science. While the strategies mentioned above can significantly broaden your horizons, the key to success lies in your consistent effort, building relationships, and always approaching potential deals with integrity and the aim to create win-win scenarios.

Remember, the real estate industry thrives on trust and reputation. By treating each potential seller with respect and transparency, you not only secure a deal today but lay the groundwork for more opportunities in the future. Happy hunting!

About the author

Seth Williams is the Founder of REtipster.com - an online community that offers real-world guidance for real estate investors.

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