|How To Be in The Top 10% of Real Estate Investors Year In and Year Out
You should know that a lot of people out there in the real world have bought all the same guru courses
that you have seen advertised on TV Ė Carleton Sheets, Russ Whitney, and Wade Cook to name a few. They are
all driving neighborhoods looking for "for sale by owner" signs, and they are all looking for
classified advertisements in the Sunday paper that say: "Needy seller who owns property free and clear
and will let it go for 50 cents on the dollar. Iíll owner finance or lease/purchase to anyone. Please
Unfortunately, these donít come along very often in the real world.
Donít worry. You can run circles around 90% of the other investors out there, and face little competition
doing it. There are more deals for the "top 10 percenters" to take than for the 90% of investors
who rely upon the tired technique of calling sellers from classified advertisements. (I refer to the top
10 percenters as those investors who are in the top 10% of investors in making money. They are in this
position because they understand how to use the public records. This is not a difficult skill to master.
Unfortunately, these skills are just not taught in any of the real estate courses I have purchased or
reviewed.) I want you to become one of us and share in the action.
I have a unique mastery of the public records. This is a skill that can be learned easily by anyone, yet
few people do it. As a real estate attorney, I received extensive training on using public records to perform
my job. I trained both attorneys and non-attorneys to use the public records.
The tax assessorís office, the probate court, and the record room are the key areas that you will want to
focus on. Unfortunately, this article does not allow me to get into the mechanics of mastering these areas
of your local courthouse as my course does, but you should be aware of what they can do for you. You should
also know that I am giving you more content for free on this subject than appears in Carleton Sheetsí
course, which as we know is NOT free!
The tax assessorís office can tell you who is paying the taxes on a piece of property. Usually, whoever is
paying the taxes is the owner. If I were interested in a piece of property, I could look it up at the tax
assessorís office, and it would give me the ownerís name and mailing address. I would then send out one of
my Magnetic Marketing Letters to their tax bill mailing address and prepare to work a deal.
Note that we can usually tell rentals from owner-occupied properties at the tax assessorís office. Rentals
will have the tax bill going to another address than the property address. The landlord wants to receive the
tax information, not the tenant. The tax bill is generally mailed to the landlordís home address. Other
clues to check for are exemptions. A landlord should not have a homestead exemption. Rental properties are
not eligible for homestead exemptions, thus if there isnít one, itís probably a rental. The mailing address
for the tax bill is the primary tool that I use, but you can double-check by looking at exemptions.
Often the tax records will list ownership information in the following manner: Carl Sheets c/o ABC Property
Management. While ABC Property Management may be a company owned by Carl Sheets, it probably isnít. This
probably is a real property management company that is handling the management of the property for Carl
Sheets, including paying the taxes. If I mail something to Carl Sheets at the above address, it will really
go to the property management firm, and they probably will NOT forward it to her. (If she sells, they will
miss out on their management fees.)
Most investors would just mail to ABC, and if no response is received, cross it off their list. This is great
for me, because this type of property is often easy to pick up at a steep discount. If the owner is not
interested in managing the property, they probably arenít all that interested in owning it either. I may be
able to land a great deal with a motivated seller.
Under our example, I could find Carl Sheetsí real mailing address by looking for any property he owns where
the mailing address matches the property address. This would probably be his home. Or, look in the phone
book to see if you can find his name with an address. Remember, owner occupants (people who own and live in
a particular house) will have tax records with the property address matching the billing address for the tax
bill. Rentals will have the bill going somewhere else, usually to the private house of the owner.
It might be helpful to go to the real property record room if we are striking out (recorders office in some
states, or clerk of court.) You want to go to the area of the courthouse where the deeds are filed. You
would pull the most recent deed filed for that piece of property to see who holds title. If the deed is
into Carl Sheets, and we found no clues at the tax assessorís office, you can do one of two things: 1)
Send a letter to the tenants asking for help in finding the owner, or send a letter to all the surrounding
houses asking for their help in finding Carl Sheets. You can tell them that this is a personal matter and
that you are not trying to collect money or sell her anything, or 2) call the property management company
and see if they will give you any clues.
I will usually dig a little deeper at this point before writing or calling anyone. Look at the three most
recent deeds in the chain of title. (These are the last three deeds transferring title). For example, in
January of 1985, Rusty Whitney sold to Wade Cook. In March of 1989, Wade Cook sells to Sheila Sheets, and
in December of 1990, Sheila Sheets sells to Carl Sheets, who is our current owner.
If the property was conveyed from someone who is a family member (same last name), or quit-claimed with no
money being paid to purchase the property, or if there is an executorís deed, you may be in luck. For
example, Sheila Sheets may be related to Carl Sheets, our current owner. (Recall that Sheila sold the
property to Carl in the example above.)
Write down the names of each of these family members (Sheila). Go to the county probate court and see if
you can find any records involving those persons. (Look in the estates indices). If so, the court records
will have an address for each heir, as each heir must be given legal notice of the proceedings. You can now
mail your Magnetic Marketing Letter.
If, on the other hand, you went to the record room and found that title was actually vested in someone named
Sheila Sheets, not Carl Sheets as the tax records stated, there are a couple of options.
Option Number 1:
The tax records are usually not "up to date" in that they are generally updated once a year. Carl
may have in fact sold the property to someone else, who is the new owner of record, but the tax records still
show him as the owner. Eventually, the tax records would be updated (January 1st typically) to reflect the
new owner. Obviously in this situation, Carl couldnít sell the property to us, as he already sold to someone else.
Option Number 2:
Carl Sheets may have recently inherited the property. We might suspect that Sheila Sheets was a deceased
spouse or other relative. The tax records may reflect an order of the probate court, but the deed might not
have been filed in the record room. Go back to the probate court and look for an estate of Sheila Sheets.
This would give us a mailing address for Carl Sheets.
Note that we donít need to scour the public records for every deal we make, but it is a wonderful tool to use
when you want to get past the guru course graduates, and make easier money for less time and effort. While
this may sound hard, it really isnít. Two or three trips to the courthouse should make you familiar enough
with how these records work to satisfy your goals. When you think of all the abandoned property in your
area, rental property with absentee landlords, and other special types of property where finding the owner is
not so easy, you can start to see how many deals are out there for the 10 percent club that are NOT out there
for most other investors. If the above has seemed confusing, it is only because these remarks have been
reduced for space. What I hope you come away with from this article is an understanding of how the public
records can be used to further your career as a real estate investor. In addition, the public records can
show us how long people have owned property, what liens are against them, what they paid for the property,
and give us great insight into their general financial condition. Is this valuable? Would this help you
strike the best deal you can? You bet!
David Whisnant is a licensed real estate attorney in Georgia. He received his B.A. from
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and graduated from Law School at The University of Georgia
School of Law in Athens, Georgia. He is author of the
"The Complete Real Estate Investor
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