Another day, another unsolicited offer to buy property. Maybe it’s a postcard in the mail. Sometimes it’s a letter. Or an unsolicited phone call or text. Why are they bothering you, and what can you do about it?
It’s a little bit easier to block the phone calls than to stop the junk mail. But until the real estate market cools down, investors will keep calling you if you match the profile of someone they think might be willing to sell. There’s very little you can do about the junk mail except recycle it. You’ll learn to recognize its hallmarks pretty quickly so you don’t have to waste time opening it.
Why send an unsolicited offer to buy property?
The motivation behind an unsolicited offer to buy property is always to get property cheap. A few years ago, cheap property was plentiful, so you didn’t see very many unsolicited offers, at least not on houses that someone’s clearly living in and keeping up. I’d get offers on a dilapidated property while I was fixing it up, but that’s fairly normal.
These buyers aren’t looking to make a purchase through a realtor like most people. They’re fishing for a desperate situation. And I guess they find one often enough to keep doing it, because I’ve been getting postcards from the same person for a couple of years. He wouldn’t still be doing it if he wasn’t making money. At least I assume he wouldn’t.
I find it insulting that these guys think my house is distressed property, but there isn’t much I can do about that. Well, I once saw a house where the owner spray painted “NOT FOR SALE” on his garage door, but that’s a bit extreme.
COVID-19 definitely seems to have had an effect on unsolicited property offers. Initially it seemed to slow them down, at least in some areas. But within a few months, the combination of low interest rates and the possibility of people having financial hardship accelerated it. That combined with the perception that you can’t sell a house through a realtor during COVID-19 means the cheap deal seekers are pushing hard.
Did someone drive past my house? Is this guy stalking me?
The postcard may include a photograph of your house. The photograph is always from Google Street View or another similar source. They pulled your house up in Google Street View to make sure the house fit the profile of what they’re looking for, and they included it on the postcard. I guess someone at some real estate seminar they paid too much money to attend said that sends the signal that you’re really interested. Or something.
How did they find me?
My wife flat out asked one of these people that question. They said they check public records. Now, I’ve gotten calls from these people at phone numbers that aren’t a matter of public record, so some of them are doing some fairly serious digging. Obviously, someone sold their information on me, and someone else cross-referenced it, thus associating the phone number with the property.
One thing you can do to make it harder is to clean up your Linkedin privacy settings and delete information like your phone number from it. This has the side effect of cutting down on Linkedin spam too.
But it’s not just you or me. They’re scouring the area, contacting hundreds of people. I don’t think it’s a great business model (I’m a landlord myself), but they get enough yes answers they keep doing it.
Are these unsolicited offers to buy property a scam?
Unsolicited offers to buy property usually aren’t a scam. These people have money and they really do want to buy a property. They don’t care if it ends up being yours, or one of the 999 other people they contacted this month. If you were looking to sell your house, they’d make you an offer, and if you accepted, they’d actually get you money.
But they probably aren’t your best option. You and I both know about these people called realtors, who make a career out of selling houses. These investors are looking for someone who can’t sell the house the normal way. They’re the same types of people who hang signs offering to buy property for cash.
If your house doesn’t have major problems, you can wait longer than 7-10 days to get your money, and you actually are interested in selling, you’re better off working with a realtor. You’ll pay a commission, sure, but the realtor will help you get more for your house, so you’ll get more money in your pocket in the end. Unless your house needs several major repairs and you absolutely can’t afford to make them up front, it’s worth paying the commission.
I’m serious. I want these letters to stop.
There’s a trick that landlords use. You can register an LLC, then put your house in the LLC’s name. It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth after the fact. But when a house is in the name of a company that’s literally the same name as the house’s address, investors tend to stay away. It’s an indicator that one of their competitors already owns that property.
I could do it. I actually have LLCs I could use to do it. But it’s not worth the trouble or expense. There will be some expense, and if I ever need to use the equity in the house for something, it’ll complicate that. I never plan on using the equity in my house for anything, but having been in a medical emergency during the past year, I’m glad I didn’t have that complication in the way. Life happens.
And the letters will probably stop, or at least slow considerably, once the real estate market cools down. The reason they’re bugging me instead of asking the neighbor down the street whose house really is for sale is the price. They want a discount, and my neighbor wants fair market value.
What’s their motivation
Understanding the business model helps explain why you get these calls. They’re looking to buy a house at a steep discount, make any necessary repairs, update the kitchen and bathrooms, install hardwood floors or refinish whatever hardwood floors are there, knock down a couple of walls to make the shared living area open concept (it’s an HGTV thing), slap a couple coats of neutral paint on the walls they don’t knock down, and flip the house for $50,000-$100,000 more than they have in it.
They need to find 2-3 people who say yes to make a nice living doing this. And if they time it right, they won’t have to pay regular income tax on all of it, they may be able to make it a capital gain. Capital gains get a lower rate. They may even outsource all the work to offshore “virtual assistants” and maintain a regular day job. That’s why so many of these calls come from people who sound like English isn’t their first language.
If your house profiles as something they can run through that formula, you’re going to get these calls. At least until the real estate market cools down a bit.
What can I do about unsolicited calls to buy my house?
Letters are one thing. Phone calls are another. The best thing to do is not pick up on those calls, but sometimes that’s unavoidable. Sometimes I get phone calls from strange numbers as part of my day job, so sometimes I do pick up on them.
Since I’m both a homeowner and I moonlight as a landlord, I get quite a few of these calls. I get calls both about the house I live in and the properties we rent out. Regardless, they’re just hoping to find someone with some property they want out from under, so they call me. Sometimes I get calls about property I don’t even own, which is kind of hilarious. If you’re looking for the owner of a condo in Florida and happen to be reading this, that’s a different guy.
Some of these people are pretty incessant. I’ve had some call me a day or two after I talked to them and said no. I’ve also noticed many of them start out with, “I know this is out of the blue, but I’m looking to buy your property at…”
Actually no, it’s not out of the blue, the last call like that I got was someone else reading from the same stupid script…
Keep in mind the person calling you may not be the person with the money. They may be getting $10 an hour to make these calls. What I do is tell them I don’t own whatever property they’re asking about, I get calls about it all the time, and ask for them to remove my profile from their database. And since I actually do get a fair number of calls about places I don’t own and have no connection to, I’m not necessarily lying. It sends the message that they’re wasting their time calling you. And it does so without being abusive.
Blocking unsolicited calls to buy property on a cell phone
The apps I use to block robocalls won’t do much to stop these guys, because they aren’t calling in a high enough volume to get on most of the robocaller lists. So I pull up the call in my call history and select the block caller option. Unfortunately on some phones this sends them to voicemail, instead of rejecting the call. So you may still have to deal with the message. But that’s better than getting interrupted.
Text messages can be a little different. More on those in a second.
Blocking unsolicited calls to buy property on a landline
On my home phone, I can use my V5000 Call Blocker to block them. All I have to do is pull the number up on the V5000’s caller ID list, then push the big red Block Caller button. The V5000+ is great, because when a number on its block list calls, it picks up the phone right on the first ring and hangs up. I usually don’t even hear the phone ring.
The V5000 costs $55, so it’s not cheap, but it can block a lot of other undesirable calls too. I bought mine a few weeks before the 2018 election and it was worth every penny to me just from cutting down on the barrage of political calls.
If your landline has call block service, you can use that, but if you have to pay for the service, the device is cheaper in the long run. I don’t have to pay extra for call block, but my block list is limited. Buying the device made more sense for me, because it blocks tons of other undesirable calls as well, like health insurance spam and computer scams.
But I do get a lot more unsolicited calls on my cell phone than my landline, even though it’s usually my landline that’s the matter of public record. I think these people want to catch me at work, and they’re more likely to do that by calling my cell phone.
Prior to 2020, I probably got more unsolicited offers by phone or mail. That started changing early in 2020. At first there were few good options for dealing with this but that situation is starting to improve.
Some phones allow you to block messages from people who aren’t in you contacts. That will almost assuredly stop these kinds of unsolicited offers from coming in over text. But it’s also a lot of work. If you do that, make sure you go through your texts and make sure everyone you want to receive texts from is in your contacts. There may be more of those than you think. I got texts from my dentist’s office, doctor’s office, and my kids’ schools just this week so those are fresh in my mind, but if I went through a year’s worth of texts, I’d find others. You also have to be religious about maintaining your contact list. Otherwise, you will block texts you want and need to receive. I already have a religion and don’t need another one, so I use a different method.
Recent Android phones have the ability to report spam. Who they report it to depends on your carrier and your phone, but it’s also training your filter. The spam filter helps more than the reporting. In my case it took 2-3 months to train my filter to the point where it helps. The irony that a Google product is helping to improve my privacy isn’t lost on me.
As tempting as it is to respond before blocking with the message “reported and blocked,” I don’t think it helps. Whatever seminar the person behind this attended probably taught them about burner phones. And if you scare the virtual assistant into quitting, the person who hired them will just hire another one.