Since you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you want to save time, energy, and money, and get on the fast track to making some money as a bird dog (aka property scout).
Am I right?
So here are some tips that can help you learn how to bird dog real estate.
Keep Your Eyes Open
The beautiful thing about real estate, is that it’s all around you.
Keeping that in mind, you can save time, energy and (last but not least) gas money as a bird dog, by paying more attention to the houses you pass by during your normal day-to-day activities.
I found quite a few deals for my investors this way. I just kept my “head on a swivel” as I drove around and looked for distressed properties, and houses that looked like they were vacant.
Place “We Buy Houses” Ads
These kinds of ads can make your life a little easier by getting people to call you about their properties, which definitely saves you a little time.
You can place these ads for free using online platforms like Craigslist, Kijiji, and Backpage. You can even place a “We Buy Houses Cash” ad in the newspaper, if you want.
Placing ads in the newspaper costs money, though, so I’d suggest that you only go that route if it’s in your budget.
You can just post a simple ad that says something like:
WE BUY HOUSES CASH (<— thats your headline)
The body of your ad would say something like…
We are investors that buy houses cash in any condition.
Please call for more details.
I’ve found that people on Craigslist will “flag” ads that are posted repeatedly with the exact same message.
When your ads get flagged, they might get removed, so be sure to switch up your wording.
I’ve found that ads with pictures tend to get better responses, so you might want to add an image of a house to the ad.
You can find tons of pictures of houses by Googling “(Your city name) single family house,” and other similar variations.
Adding your city’s name to your search will help you find pictures that look like typical homes in your area.
I also found that I got the most responses when I posted these ads twice a day; once around noon, and again in the evening. I assume this is because people tend to scan through Craigslist ads the most during their lunch breaks and after they get off from work.
How to Find the Owner of a Vacant House
So let’s say you find a vacant house, what do you do next?
You want to find the owner. One of the most effective ways to do so is to talk to the neighbors of the property.
I used to just knock on the neighbor’s door, and let them know that I work for a real estate investment company (it makes you sound more official), and that we were wondering if they could give us some information on the house next door.
If no one answered, I’d leave my business card on their door, with a little yellow Post-it note letting them know who I am, and that we’re seeking information on the house next door.
And speaking of business cards, you want to have a business card to give them, even if they open the door and talk to you.
It just makes you look more professional.
If they answered the door and agreed to talk to me, I’d take notes on what they told me. To keep from forgetting valuable information, I kept a notepad and and a pen on me so that I could jot down what they told me so I could review the information later.
Check Mail Envelopes
If there’s mail laying around on the vacant property, take a glance at the name of the person addressed on the mail to see if you can get any clues as to the name of the person who owns the property.
Whenever I found mail laying around, it either revealed the name of the owner, or the most recent tenant; either lead is good.
Just jot down the name and search online directories like WhitePages.com to see if you can find a phone number for the owner or previous tenant.
Caution: Whatever you do, don’t take any mail, and don’t open it and read it. That’s against the law.
When you call the ex-tenant, how you talk to them is critical.
You can let them know that you’re an investor, but to make yourself sound more official, use the word “we” instead of “I.”
For example, when you call the ex-tenant, let them know that you’re trying to gather more information on the property before “we” contact the owner.
That little tip helped me sound more professional, and helped me get more information out of the ex-tenant. The more information you can get, the better, because your buyers can use that information to negotiate with the owner of the house, so that they can buy the house at a good price.
This was crucial, because the better of a deal my end buyer was able to get, the better my chances were that they were going to buy the property…
And the better the chances that they buy the property, the higher the chances were that I was going to get paid.
I found that ex-tenants are valuable contacts, because they would tell me every little thing that was wrong with the property. Because they don’t have a vested interest in the house, they will tell you every little thing that’s wrong with the house. They will tell you stuff that the owner might not be willing to reveal.
If you fail to get contact information for the owner from the neighbors, ex-tenants, or mail, you can always contact city hall or your county building to try to locate the person.
I’ve found that the tax office is usually a good starting point.
What If You Can’t Find the Owner?
There will be times that the tactics used above won’t work in helping you find the owner.
What I would do, is place a hand-written “For Sale By Owner” sign in the yard of the property that had my number on it.
This can entice people that know the owner (or the owner themselves) to call you, which is what you want.
I would get calls asking “what was up” with the sign, and who I was.
All I’d say was “Hey, I’m sorry, one of my assistants might’ve done that by accident, I’ll make sure it’s removed asap… But since I have you on the line, what do you plan on doing with the property?”
Get Around Investors
In this business, you can never have too many contacts.
I’ve met most of my real estate contacts from going to local real estate investor (REI) meetings. What you’ll find, is that deals come down the pipeline in ways that you might not imagine, or be able to predict.
When you meet investors, let them know what you do, and let them know the criteria of the houses you’re looking for.
The goal is to have deals coming at you from a multitude of sources. The more properties you come across, the better your chances of coming across a “steal” of a deal that your buyers will salivate over.
And obviously, that’s going to lead to more money in your pocket.
On a few occasions, my investor friends came across properties that met my buyer’s criteria. In these situations, the properties either didn’t fit my friend’s criteria, or their money was tied-up, so they couldn’t personally take advantage of the deal.
You just never know. Bottom line, the more investors you know and have a good rapport with, the better.
You want them to say, “I’m not interested in this property, but [insert your name here] might be… lemme give him a call.”
To find out where a meeting might be taking place in your neck of the woods, go to reiclub.com, and click on the “Real Estate Clubs” link in the left panel.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to have time to speak to each investor individually. To get your information out to everyone at once, ask the leaders of the meeting if they’ll let you go up to the front of the room.
If they’ll let you, announce that you’re a bird dog (or an investor), and let them know the areas, prices, etc., your buyers are looking for.
You just never know what deals the investors at the meetings might know about (or “own”, for that matter) that could fit your criteria.
Know What Your Buyers are Looking For
…and I mean to a “t.”
When I first started as a bird dog, I wasted a lot of time sending my buyers leads to properties that they weren’t interested in.
Don’t make that mistake.
If you’re working with an investor, and you have any bit of doubt regarding what they’re looking for, ASK. Don’t waste your valuable time and energy looking for stuff if you don’t know exactly what they’re looking for.
It’s in everybody’s best interest that you’re absolutely clear on what you should be looking for.
Free/Cheap Ways to Find Leads
Online Ad Websites
There are a lot of resources you can use on the Internet for free to get leads on properties. If you’re working with a wholesaler, one thing you can do is build relationships with wholesalers.
Sometimes they have properties that they’re trying to sell that might fit the criteria of your buyers, or the wholesaler that you’re working with.
You can meet them using online sites like Craigslist, Kijiji, and Backpage, and even Yahoo! Homes.
What I would do on Craigslist, is search the “For Sale by Owner” section and run searches for the keywords “rehabbed”, “must sell”, “motivated seller,” and stuff like that.
Most of the people I found this way that had properties at the prices my buyers were looking for were wholesalers, but every now and then I came across a home owner who’s desperate to get rid of their property.
Caution: Even though you’re meeting other wholesalers, always try to give your “main” investor the first dibs on a property. It may not seem like it, but there are very few “serious” buyers in your marketplace, and if your main wholesaler (or buyer) finds out that you’re giving their leads to other investors, it can burn a bridge. Real estate is a very relationship-oriented business, and a burned bridge can cost you in the long run.
Post Signs in Businesses
You can also post “I Buy Houses” signs in supermarkets, laundry mats, liquor stores, bowling alleys, and any other establishment in your target neighborhoods and zip codes that have a bulletin board.
This saved me a ton of time and money, and brought deals to “me,” which was great.
I would get some really loud colored paper, maybe a neon green or bright orange, and just put on there something like:
I Buy Houses CASH, in ANY condition. (313)123-4567
I got quite a few leads this way. If you’re going to do this, you want to make sure you cover as many places in the area as possible.
What I would do, is take a few hours over a weekend, and drive through the areas where my investors are looking for properties, and jot down all of the liquor stores, laundromats, bowling alleys, supermarkets, etc., that have these types of boards I could post at.
Some places will even let you put business cards on the counters. I would get some business cards or post card-sized flyers printed up with that same message (nothing more) and leave them on the counters at dry cleaners, and other establishments in the areas that my buyers were looking for.
A good place to get cards printed up for cheap is Vistaprint.com.
Newspapers are another good place for finding properties. Just look through the “for sale by owner” section of your local newspaper.
One of the keys to making a lot of money bird dogging, is finding properties that others haven’t.
What I would do is look through the obituaries in the paper (or even online), jot down the name of the deceased person, and send post cards to the property.
Now obviously the previous owner is no longer with us, but their family members are.
I’d just do a reverse-lookup online using an online directory like whitepages.com, and search for the name of the person that just passed away. Then I’d send a simple postcard that says something like:
I’m Interested in Buying Your Home AS IS
If you need to sell your home quickly,
Please Call us for the BEST OFFER AVAILABLE!
This is not only a way to find properties others haven’t, but it’s also yet another way to have people call you, to help you save time.
What I really like about this tactic, is that when they call you, you know they’re motivated. And the name of the game is finding “motivated” sellers.
It only makes sense to leverage realtors, who’s whole job is to deal with the buying and selling of properties.
Try calling some realtors in your area. Let them know what you do, and the criteria of the properties that you’re looking for. Ask them to call or email you when they come across deals that meet your criteria.
Let them know that you have some end buyers that can close with cash. That’s music to their ears, because buyers with cash can close faster, which means that they’ll get their commissions faster.
Mass Mail Campaigns to Realtors
I was able to save some time by typing up a professional-looking letter that I sent out to all of the real estate agents in the area.
This way, you can have a whole army of agents out there working for you for free.
In the letter, you want to include the criteria of the homes you’re looking for.
This is awesome, because it’s a cheap way to save time and effort. All it takes is some time, and the price of envelopes and stamps.
As if that wasn’t good enough, if they’re the listing agent, the seller has to pay them their commission, so neither you nor your buyers have to worry about compensating the agent.
I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure your letter looks professional. Adding some type of professional looking letter head to the top of the letter can give it a more polished and professional look.
Property managers work for investors, so chances are good that they will know investors that have properties that they want to get rid of.
You can do a Google search for property managers in your area, and send them professional-looking letters like I mentioned above regarding Realtors.
City Code Enforcement
I used to go to City Code Enforcement hearings and network with people there.
A lot of times, people are called to come down to the Code Enforcement department because neighbors of the properties they own have complained about anything from the grass being too tall, to concerns about neighborhood kids hanging around (or in) the vacant property.
If you choose to try this method, make sure you have some business cards on you, and just hang out around the hearings and introduce yourself to the owners that show up for their hearings.
I found that most of these people don’t live in the properties, and they are often extremely motivated to get rid of the properties at good prices, because they are headaches for them.
I found about five deals for my buyers this way. The key, of course, is to find someone that has a property that meets your investor’s criteria.
I’m going to warn you that this method is going to take some patience and persistence.
It might take you a while before you find someone that has a property that matches what your investors are looking for, but all it takes are a couple deals to make it all worth your time financially.
This is another source that I found a couple good deals using. When a loved one passes away, their family are left with the property.
What I found, was that a lot of these homes were owned free and clear since the owners were older and lived in the property long enough to pay off the mortgage.
Quite often, family members were willing to sell the property at great prices, because they had a lot going on in their own lives, and just wanted to get rid of the headache of having to deal with the house.
If you can locate where these hearings are taking place, you can kind of hangout around there and follow the same philosophy mentioned above with the City Code Enforcement section.
“For Rent” Signs and Ads
I found a few deals for my investors this way too. I’d just call “For Rent” ads from the newspaper, or even online ads for properties for rent. You can even call the numbers on “For Rent” signs that you see when you’re driving through neighborhoods.
I’d just call them, and say, “Hey, I’m calling about the house on 123 Main St. for sale?” Of course, they’d respond and say, “It’s not for sale, it’s for rent.” I’d then come back with something like, “Oh, I’m sorry. But while I have you on the line, would you be interested in selling that property by any chance?”
Most of the time, they’ll say no, but every so often, I’d find owners that were willing to sell their properties.
One of the easiest things to do as a bird dog is to get frustrated and want to quit.
There will be times when you’ll find what you think is a great deal, and your investor doesn’t close on it for whatever reason.
It was a tough lesson for me to learn, but the truth of the matter is that deals fall through for various reasons. It happens.
Sometimes, the property that I had scouted out for my investor had things wrong with the property that I might’ve overlooked when I submitted the property to them.
Sometimes, the seller might even back out of the deal.
All I could do is make sure that I was smart when it came to how I allocated my time, and found as many deals as I could.
Just like anything else, it’s a numbers game. The more deals you find that meet your end buyers criteria, the more money you’re going to make. It’s that simple, really.
Make Sure The Seller Is Motivated
Get Face-to-Face with Potential Sellers
You’re looking for motivated sellers. You know that much. But what you may not know, is that you’ll have a way better chance of finding a truly motivated seller that’s ready to sell if you meet them face-to-face, with what many call a “kitchen table meeting.”
People make business decisions at the kitchen table. My mentor taught me this early-on, and it’s absolutely critical. If I were you, I’d never talk business with a potential seller on their couch.
The Internet and the phone are great ways to find leads on properties, but there’s nothing like the rapport and connection you can make with someone in a face-to-face meeting.
BUT, before you waste your time and meet with someone, there are some things you can do to sniff-out whether they’re motivated or not over the phone.
Chances are, you have a full time job and other obligations, so you really want to do your best to pre-qualify sellers before you spend time going to meet with them.
Here’s an excerpt from an article at creonline that you can use to pre-qualify a potential seller:
[Note: This script assumes that you already have spoken to the sellers on an earlier phone call, talked with them for at least three to five minutes, and set up an appointment to meet with them.]
Hi, this is ____, I was just calling back to double-check my directions to meeting with you tomorrow. It sounds like I caught you in the middle of something?
Oh, okay, well if you can just give me the zip code of the property, I am sure I’ll be able to look it up in my map book.
While I have you on the phone may I ask you a couple of questions?
What’s the square footage of the house [or some other harmless question that gets the seller comfortable answering questions and warmed up to talking with you about the house.] How many bathrooms did it have again?
And what was it that you owed against the house, roughly?
And your payments are? Best guess?
Does that include the real estate taxes and insurance?
Now I know you told me on the phone before, but why was it again that you were selling the property? [scrunching up your face over your brow and under the inside corner under your eyes to get the right tonality–called “scrunchy face”]
And when did you want the property handled, six months? Twelve months? Ideally when did you want the property handled?
Oh Okay, that makes sense. A question for you [scrunchy face and softer voice] what were you planning to do if you didn’t sell the house right away? What was your back-up plan?
Had you ever thought about just renting it out?
If they answer yes–
What do you think it would rent for?
If they answer no–
I know you don’t plan on renting it out, but if you did rent it what do you think it would rent for? This just gives me a better idea of the value of the property.
[At this point go back and make sure you build some more rapport with the sellers. Ask them about their families or hobbies or anything else you can get them to talk about that they genuinely enjoy and you can sincerely be interested in them for.]
Now go back and ask the following questions:
Now who else besides you is on title to the property?
[If they are the only ones skip the next questions about getting all the legal decision-makers to the property for the appointment.]
Obviously, we’ll need to have ALL of us meeting ___[day you have appointment]___ at the property just in case we find it’s a fit, and I decide I want it. I just want to make absolutely certain that you and ___[other people on title] are all going to be there. Are you all?
[Ask a few rapport questions again, even trying to include the other owners, so you can gather some information about them that will help you connect faster when you meet with them at the property.]
Great I’ll see you (and ___[other people on title]___) on _____ at _____am/pm. Have a great day.
Is it time to meet the sellers face-to-face?
From the answers to these questions you should be able to determine whether or not the seller is BOTH motivated and has the right situation where you can help them and make a profit.
Motivation means two things:
A compelling reason to sell
Time pressure to do it fast (usually 60 days or less)
Situation means one of two things:
Enough equity for you to get a great cash price
Seller NOT needing their equity (or at least all of it) out when you buy it from them. This means they could be flexible on the TERMS of the sale.
If the seller shows both a fit in motivation and situation, I would recommend that you meet with them. If you are left with a sense that they really aren’t motivated, then either cancel or delay your appointment OR throw them a trial offer right there over the phone to gauge their reaction.
For example say:
Mr. Seller, I don’t know if I could do this, but what if I was able to cover your $1,400 per month payment for a while and down the road I cashed you out of the house at say, $30,000-$40,000 is that something that we should even talk over when I come out to meet with you and see the house, or maybe not?
If the sellers say yes, follow up that question with:
I’m curious. What about me covering your payment of $1,400 per month and cashing you out at the $177,000-178,000. Would that even be a fit for you?
By this point you should know if they are worth investing your time to go and meet with them.”
Good stuff, right?
Online Lead Finder
Here’s a product that I just found out about called Online Lead Finder. This tool will allow you to easily search multiple online resources to locate the kind of deals you’re looking for.
The video below gives you a tutorial on how the product works.
For the record, we have no ties to this company, so I don’t make any money if you buy the software. They have a free version, as well as a $97 and $127 version.
Even though there are a lot of ways to find leads for free, if you’re serious about making money as a bird dog, it might be worth the investment.
Just one deal should more than cover the price you paid for the software.
Other Resources for Properties
Below are some additional sources of properties. A lot of the tactics referenced further up on this page can be applied to tap into these resources, so I won’t go in-depth about how to go about contacting each source:
- Probate, divorce, family law attorneys – Not only do people headed to court often need attorneys, but sometimes they need to sell their houses to pay their lawyer fees, too.
- Carpet Cleaners – A lot of carpet cleaner’s clients are people trying to sell their houses.
- CPA Firms/Accountants – A lot of their clients are in financial trouble, and may need to sell their homes to alleviate some financial burdens.
- Credit repair agencies and counselors – Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
- Moving companies – This one is self explanatory, too.
- Direct Mail – Involves mailing information out to absentee owners, people going through divorces, bankruptcies, pre-foreclosure, probate court, and even owners that are in the military.
- Hair salons – People tell a lot of their business at the salon.
- Private lenders and hard money lenders – Deals fall through sometimes, leaving private and hard money lenders holding onto the collateral (aka “the property”).
- Eviction Court – Hanging out around the court house is a good way to meet landlords that might be interested in selling their homes.
- Funeral homes – Might be able to get leads on properties before the death becomes public notice.
- Section 8 Landlords – Each county maintains a list… Many of them want to get rid of their properties.
- Social Media – Broadcast to everyone in your network that you buy houses. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, all of ’em!
- Title companies – When properties don’t close, you can let them know that you can step in, if the property matches your criteria.
I hope some of these tips help you make money as a bird dog.
Now all you have to do is get out there and make it happen so you can get paid.
By the way, here are some videos that provide some tips that should help you with your bird dogging business:
To your success,