How Has Driving for Dollars Changed Since 1975?

When I started investing in real estate in 1975 one of the only ways to find motivated sellers was to drive neighborhoods and look for them (what I call driving for dollars). Obviously they weren’t in their front yards waiving red flags. Instead their yards were overgrown, often cluttered with trash and mail had been overflowing their mail box for weeks or months. United States Postal Service (USPS) has since stopped this practice of delivering to vacant properties over and over again a few years ago.

In addition to unkempt properties, we would look for For Sale By Owner (FSBO) signs and listed properties but were always drawn to these abandoned properties. We have an axiom that seems to always be true, “The smaller the FSBO sign the bigger the profit!” Ironically this is true because many sellers will stubbornly not pay a Realtor® a commission but will sell to an investor at 30% below market value.

What has not changed as we drive for dollars is the way we call listing agents and negotiate what the seller will take over the phone. Especially where properties have been listed for a long time, the agent is usually cooperative in giving us hints about what the seller will take. This is simply because he doesn’t want to lose the listing and his commission.

It wasn’t easy to find the names of homeowners in 1975 as you had to go to the courthouse to research them. The MLS® was published as a weekly newspaper, boy things have really changed. But driving for dollars remains one of the most powerful ways to find deals today for any investor anywhere in the country.

What has changed is our ability to find information in the public record and online even as we sit in front of a property. We can tell if the owner has left a forwarding address, if he passed away or simply vanished with a trace. Most importantly we can tell who the owner is currently. For example, if it is now a probate property, was the title transferred by Quitclaim Deed or was it taken by foreclosure?

What still works is asking neighbors what happened to the owner of the property. There is seemingly always one neighbor who knows what happened and where the owner moved. He may not tell you but always leave a business card with everyone you speak to and don’t assume the neighbor has to be next door or even on the same block. Frankly, it is a great opportunity to door knock and let everyone know you are looking for a property to rehab in the neighborhood. If you tell them you are an investor, they may immediately think less of you so say you are always a rehabber.

In the good old days, we used the mail to find them. Even if the letter was returned we could pay extra to get a forwarding address. However, because of stalkers, the USPS changed this practice so it won’t work these days. However, it is always a cheap method of trying to find the owner. Whatever you say in the letter, you need to make it answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” because nothing else matters to the owner.

Nowadays the internet has exploded our options to track down owners who simply walked away from their homes. The usual method is what is known as “skip tracking” which is an electronic search for the traceable information of the owner such as social security number (hard to get), last known address (you have this!), relatives, former mailing address and on and on. Probably the newest way to find them is by searching for their Facebook® account or LinkedIn® accounts.

What has also changed is your ability to look people up online using websites like www.WhitePages.com to get their phone numbers. I have been told that cell numbers are available from other online services. If you have any inkling of where the owner moved to or he has an unusual name, these online phone directories are a great help in finding them.

In summary, what has changed since 1975 with the prospecting method of driving for dollars is very little and very much. What has changed very little in the fact that there are great deals everywhere out there that are not listed on the MLS®, Craigslist, FSBO sites or the MLS® and they are waiting for investors to find them. What has changed a great deal is the ease in finding the missing owners information from the comfort of your home or iPad.

I wish you limitless success,

Dave Dinkel

Real Estate Mentor Program Founder

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