If you are either broke, or just want something for nothing, then I have to tell you that “FREE” houses rarely come cheap. What I mean by this is that that folks always say that it’s not the cost of a boat, but the cost to maintain that you really have to consider. The same holds true for “FREE” and SHORT $ houses (I’ll discuss SHORT $ houses later). After acquiring the house for “FREE”, the pre-existing liens and the cost of renovation can quickly add up. The Free house that was recently deeded to me for nothing, had plenty of cost. You can read about it in “The Free House”. But, it was still a great deal 🙂
A “FREE” house can be a fantastic way to build your real estate portfolio. Finding a good one requires diligence and perseverance. Here are 5 ways to get a “FREE” house.
- Check with your local city Real Estate Division – Homes are taken by the city for unpaid taxes. Homeowners abandon them and they end up auctioned at a sherriff’s sale. If no one bids at the auction then the city will move them to the real estate sales division. If they sit unsold for long enough, the city will sometimes give them away. If you find one of these properties, be sure to run a title exam to check for liens. There may be back taxes owed on the property when you take possession, but there may also may be outstanding mortgages and other liens. In some locations, the city will erase all prior liens before the property is auctioned. In this case, you will have a clear title to the house, but, will still need to make significant repairs.
- Just ask – I don’t know how many times I have contacted the owner of an abandoned property that I was interested in owning, asking them if I could have it, and they have said, “sure”. Often, owners don’t know what to do with a house that they no longer find valuable, especially when it needs lots of work (and they usually do). The owner thinks that because they no longer want the house, no one else will either, so they don’t bother trying to sell it. When I call or send them a letter, requesting that the give me the property, they are actually relieved to get it off their hands. If your lucky, you might get one that has been kept current with taxes and the mortgage paid off. But, surely you will have to do work to the property. You can check with your local county registry of deeds or assessment office to find the name of the owner and where the tax bills are being mailed. Then, look them up in the phonebook or send them a letter. At times, I have been known to drive to their address and knock on the door.
- Wait for the mail– If you own several properties in depressed areas, the chance that someone will contact you, requesting that you take their neighboring house that they no longer want is very probable. Owners become desperate when the city begins hounding them to make repairs that they can’t afford. They panic and often times call a lawyer or try to find someone to take the property themselves. I have had about 3 of these requests, but only pursued one of them. The lawyer of the owner will send out bulk mail to everyone in the neighborhood, in search of someone who will bite, and take the property.
- Network with a good REO realtor– This is by far the most important. If you are already in, or trying to jump into the real estate investment business, than you should already have a good REO realtor, if not, find one. REO is short for Real Estate Owned, which basically is bank forclosed property. A good agent will get hundreds of listings directly from the bank or finance company every year. Often times, after a property has sat on the market unsold for a long time, and had many price reductions, the lending institution will want to cut its losses and just give the property away for “FREE”. You may still have to pay closing costs, but the house will generally come without liens. The other benefit of having a good REO agent, is that sometimes an owner will contact a real estate agent. After learning that their house has little to no value, will then discover that it will actually cost them money to unload, because of commissions and fees. A good REO agent will offer to find them a buyer free of charge, that will take the property, costing the owner nothing. This is what happened when I was deeded, “The Free house”. These properties will usually have tax and/or water liens. It is best to run a title search to check for liens before agreeing to take the property. If the liens are minimal it might be worthwhile to take take the house and pay them. It depends on the amount of the liens and how much work is needed.
- Adverse Possession– I wouldn’t be a Real Estate Junkie, if I didn’t at least mention this controversial way to acquire a “FREE” house. Adverse possession boils down to squatting in a property, until such time that you can claim legal ownership. I have never done this, nor would I ever recommend anyone ever try. We have all seen the media reports on Kenneth Robinson who moved into, and tried to claim ownership of a $330,000 home in Texas. There is even a blogger, Steven, who has dedicated his entire blog, Adverse Possession, “to explore the possibilities of and strategies relevant to squatting”.
When considering a “Free” house you have to look closely. Just because the house is FREE doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t cost you. Look at the amount of work needed. Also look for tax liens, mortgage liens, mechanic liens, and water liens. It is best to run a full title search and purchase title insurance on the house.
“FREE” houses can be quite the bargain if you get the right one. Ask yourself how much money you will have to spend to pay off any liens and complete the work needed. If that amount is significantly less than what the house will be worth when it is completed, than you may have found yourself a…
What are your thoughts? Have you ever been deeded a “FREE” house? How did you get it? Leave a comment and your 2 cents!
Disclosure: I am not, never have been, and never will be a lawyer. Nothing here should EVER be taken as legal advice 🙂