What Is Skip Tracing?
REtipster features products and services we’ve used, tested, and think you’ll find useful. If you buy something featured here, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
Skip Tracing Explained
Skip tracing is commonly used by debt collectors, private investigators, bounty hunters, and real estate investors to locate individuals. By reviewing private and public databases, they can find an individual’s mailing address and other contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses. This information can be used to contact the individual about notices, overdue bills, arrest warrants, or potential offers.
Below are common examples of information found by skip tracing an individual:
- First and Last Names
- Mailing Addresses (Current and Previous)
- Addresses of Owned Properties
- Phone Numbers
- Dates of Birth or Death
Skip tracing can be a useful tool for real estate investors who want to find and contact property owners.
The term skip tracing refers to tracking someone who has “skipped town” by following their traces in public and private records.
Why Real Estate Investors Use Skip Tracing
Many real estate investors want to contact the property owners of distressed and undervalued properties, such as vacant buildings and empty lots. Skip tracing is typically used to find the correct mailing addresses and contact information for these property owners who may not be found at their last known address.
With this information gathered through skip tracing, some real estate investors start or continue direct mail campaigns to send potential offers to property owners. A direct mail campaign is a marketing technique where a person or business sends mail to a number of addresses. Real estate investors can use lists of skip traced property owners and their properties for these mailing campaigns. Skip traced property lists can include specific neighborhoods, zip codes, or even tax delinquent properties.
Real estate investors can evaluate the potential of real estate deals based on the mail or calls they receive from property owners. During a mailing campaign, some of the mail sent to property owners may be returned and labeled as “return to sender” or “undeliverable.” In this case, there may still be potential for a real estate deal. If the property owner is difficult to find and contact, it is possible they are not receiving multiple offers to buy their property. This may lead to an exclusive deal with the real estate investor.
Skip tracing can give real estate investors an advantage in finding and making potentially lucrative real estate deals.
How to Skip Trace
Professional skip tracers have tools at their disposal than the average investor typically doesn’t, but finding information on people can be done even without the help of professional skip tracing services. Using a simple piece of information like a name and the last known address can help uncover more information like a current mailing address or birth date.
Below are examples of resources to use when skip tracing:
- U.S. Postal Service: The post office’s database contains mailing addresses for people who have signed up for the USPS mail forwarding service. USPS may provide a forwarding address for individuals whose mail is labeled as “Do Not Forward, Return Service Requested.” Further investigation may lead to discovering that the individual is deceased or the property is vacant.
- Obituaries: If the post office indicates the owner is deceased, Googling the person’s name, city, and the word “obituary” might surface an obituary with information about survivors. You can then Google those names (or use other skip techniques) to find out who’s in control of the property.
- Google: Using Google to skip trace can help narrow the search for information on a person or property. Searching the property owner’s name with their property address isn’t always fruitful, but it can lead to discoveries about the owner or property. If the specific property address is unknown, it may be helpful to search the person’s name with their last known city or state.
- Social Media: Social media accounts can be useful in finding private or public information about an individual. If the individual has made their profile private, gathering and verifying information about them will be more difficult. Public posts, family pictures, and check-ins can reveal where they live and even their relatives’ names. Depending on the platform and their privacy settings, it is possible to directly message the individual.
- Paid People Finders: Online people finder services simplify skip tracing by compiling people’s information for their customers. Some services require monthly subscriptions, while others offer individual reports. Users can search property, county, and court records depending on the website. Examples of people-finder services include Spokeo, BeenVerified, Whitepages, PeopleLooker, NeighborWho, and Intelius.
These companies have databases built from various sources, including public county records, credit reports, utility bills, and criminal background checks. Instead of searching for themselves, real estate investors can save time by paying for these professional skip-tracing reports or lists.
Here’s an overview of how Direct Skip works.
For more information on skip-tracing techniques, see our comprehensive guide here.
Skip Tracing for Vacant Properties
If a property is vacant and there is no information available about the homeowner’s name (e.g. – if the property is owned in the name of an LLC or a TrusT), you can do some intensive research, by searching the county records, the state business entity records and speaking with their neighbors can yield useful information.
- County Registrar and Assessor Records: County Registrar (i.e. – County Recorder) and Assessor records contain public information on individuals and properties located within their jurisdiction. Birth certificates, foreclosures, property deeds, and property transfers are usually found at the County Registrar’s Office. A property deed can reveal the current and previous owners of the property. Property addresses, property owner names and property tax records are typically found in the Assessor’s database. If a property address differs from the current owner’s mailing address, the property may be an investment property. Both databases can be accessed by visiting their respective county offices or websites.
- Depending on the county, the office names may vary.
- The County Registrar’s Office may be called the County Recorder or County Register of Deeds.
- The Tax Assessor’s Office may be called the Assessor’s Office or County Tax Office.
- Depending on the county, the office names may vary.
- Speaking With Neighbors: Neighbors of a property may have unique information about its property history and the property owner(s). Visiting and talking with neighbors may yield information about the property’s condition, renovation history or vacancy status. They may also know the property owner’s current contact information or the city they are residing in.