Finding distressed property is a prime tenet of real estate investing. Property owners who need to sell quickly will accept a low-ball offer instead of losing the home to the lender through foreclosure. Many times these properties are in such poor investing in real estatecondition that the owner might want to give the home up altogether through a foreclosure.

You can often find such properties simply by looking at them from the street. They’re run down, needs work and probably vacant. Unoccupied property indicates someone isn’t all that thrilled about owning it. Or can’t afford it. But a problem sometimes occurs when you do find a vacant property; where’s the owner?

Finding the owner of a vacant property might seem easy enough at first, but sometimes the owner is playing a bit of hide-and-seek. Perhaps the property owner passed away recently and is in probate, or the property is tied up in a nasty divorce or some other reason. You can look up the address of the property owner from property tax records but what if you mail a letter and it’s returned “Addressee Unknown?”

Your first step should be a phone call to your real estate attorney. Your attorney can pull up a preliminary title report. This will show the most recent owners according to the county. The title report shows both the current as well as previous owners. If the owner filed for bankruptcy or is in probate, your attorney can help locate the owner as well. If the home was recently sold to a third party, the title report should show the new owner. The local property tax assessor should also show the current owner’s name and location so make sure you research that database. And finally, with the names that you have, do an internet search using the owner’s name and property address. If the owner has sold or transferred the property to a third party, they should be able to point you in the right direction.