Find Information About a Home / Property Being Auctioned

How can you find out more information about a home/property that is being auctioned prior to the auction?

1 Answer

Data is held differently in different regions of the country, but my first "stop", either in person or online would be the registry of deeds. (Some counties are avalable for free online: search for your local registry in your favorite search engine.)

The registry will tell you the price point at which the property has changed hands before (deeds), the former encumbrances (mortgages, tax liens, water / sewer liens, etc), the current owner of the property (lender or otherwise), the foreclosure timeline /schedule (which is helpful in determining if and when the property was left vacant - especially important in assessing the chance of freeze damage in cold or seasonal climates), etc.

The assessor's office may have field cards with information about square footage, age of systems, tax info, a plot plan (for easements, etc).

Next stop would be the local building/zoning office - were permits pulled for repairs or additions to this property? When? Does it look like the work was begun . . . or completed? (Drive by the property for this as well, if it is local).

Next step, in my opinion - get friendly with a real estate agent of appraiser that has access to the MLS. Not just the online access of current listings that you can get from any agency. . . the FULL membership that would allow you to see PAST listings and a history of attempted marketing for the property. These older listings (and most homes are listed for sale before they are auctioned or foreclosed) often include details that are left out of an auction listing - information about easements, disclosures about lead paint or asbestos, interior photos, etc. VERY helpful to see how a property was marketed previously - and how many times, and at what price. Even if you have to pay a little for this relationship - (find a realtor that isn't moving a lot of property and pay him or her hourly for the research - it doesnt take long - or, if you plan to resell the property, enlist the future list agent for a little down and dirty pre-marketing research).

Drive by the property at several times of day, different days of the week. Is it occupied? Is it being cared for? How is the neighborhood? Are there neighbors that might offer some insight?

Finally - if there are residents in the home, there is no law against approaching them by mail, telephone, in person. Sometimes they are amendable to your research - sometimes they are not. If you are local - ask. Be polite, do not intrude at odd hours, but explain that you are aware of the upcoming auction and you are interested in seeing the home. If the residents are tenants, they will often have no issue with this - they may even want to discuss the possibility of continued tenancy.

As a final bit of research, I generally run the address through the local police logs - perhaps the neighboring addresses as well. Helps to get a sense of the recent goings on.

If you do all of the above, you will be ahead of 90% of the competing bidders and will be able to make as sound a bid on the property as is possible.