Learn how to get started skip tracing to identify and contact property owners.
What is skip tracing?
In real estate, skip tracing is used to identify and contact property owners, often in relation to properties that are not on the market or are distressed, such as abandoned or rundown homes.
Who can use skip tracing?
Skip tracing can be used by various professionals, including real estate investors, sales agents, debt collectors and private investigators. It’s particularly useful for those searching for off-market properties or owners who might be motivated sellers. By using skip tracing effectively, investors and professionals can expand their access to potential deals and clients beyond the scope of common listings and marketplaces.
Steps to get started with skip tracing
Skip tracing is often employed by private investigators, debt collectors, bail bondsmen, and real estate investors to find people who are not easily found at their last known address or hangouts. The process begins with building a profile of the subject and gradually expands through various investigational methods until the person is located. Here’s how to get started:
1. Build and verify their profile
Begin by compiling as much information as possible. Start with basic details such as full name, date of birth, social security number, previous addresses, known phone numbers, and associated email addresses. Additional useful details might include occupation, known associates, and vehicle information. The accuracy of this starting profile is critical, so verify the information through multiple sources to try and ensure reliability.
2. Expand your search
Once you’ve constructed the initial profile, broaden your search by tapping into various resources. Think about using social media, professional networking websites, online forums, and community databases to gather more clues. Use alternate spellings of names when searching in databases to account for potential input errors or name variations. Monitor the subject’s digital footprint for any recent activity that might indicate their current whereabouts or habits.
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3. Dig through public records
Public records can be a goldmine of information for skip tracers. This exploration might uncover property ownership, court records, marriage and divorce records, business affiliations, and even bankruptcy filings that can tighten the search radius. Many of these records are accessible online, but some might require a visit to local government offices. Investigate different types of databases, including criminal records and professional licensing boards, which can reveal additional layers of the subject’s recent activities.
4. Contact family, friends, and associates
If the trail starts to go cold, reaching out to known contacts of the subject might provide the breakthrough you need. Contacting family, friends, former employers, and associates can yield information about the subject’s last known movements or current contacts. Such interpersonal inquiries should be approached with tact to avoid alerting the subject of your search, especially if they’re actively trying to avoid detection. It’s important to adhere to privacy laws and regulations when engaging with third parties during this part of the investigation.Throughout this process, persistence and a meticulous approach are essential. Each new piece of verified information can be the crucial link that leads you to successfully locate the person you are seeking. Skip tracing requires a balance of analytical skill, perseverance, and creativity to follow leads and create connections that eventually solve the puzzle.
Best skip tracing tools and services
Below are some of the best skip tracing tools and services to use.
Free skip tracing sites
Skip tracing can be an essential activity for various professionals, including real estate investors, debt collectors, and private investigators. Luckily, there are several free tools to help with this type of expedition.
Perhaps the most accessible and widely used search engine, Google can be a starting point for skip tracing. It can unearth a wealth of information, from public records and news articles to white pages listings and local government data.
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Modern skip tracing has evolved with the rise of social media platforms, which have become invaluable tools for those in the skip tracing industry. Social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram provide a wealth of information that can be used to locate individuals.
Facebook offers a broad reach with its extensive user base, allowing skip tracers to mine for personal details, connections, and location check-ins which can reveal a person’s current city or frequent places of visit.
Twitter’s real-time updates can give clues about a person’s whereabouts and activities. Its search functionality allows skip tracers to look up historical tweets that may contain useful information.
LinkedIn is particularly useful for professional skip tracing as it provides employment history and current workplace details, making it easier to track down an individual’s professional contacts or current employer.
Instagram, with its focus on visual content, can be a source of location-tagged photos and stories, offering real-time and historical data about a person’s movements and habits.
Websites that cater to genealogical research, such as FamilySearch or the offerings from the National Archives, can be useful for historical data, which may provide clues to a subject’s family ties and prior residences.
Online obituaries can offer helpful leads in skip tracing, often containing valuable information about familial relations and sometimes even last known addresses or places of employment.
Paid skip tracing sites
For more robust data, paid skip tracing sites often have access to more extensive and detailed databases, offering value-added features beyond what free resources can provide.
People finder sites
Premium people finder sites like BeenVerified and PeopleLooker usually come with a cost but could offer a depth of information such as current contact details, extensive address histories, and more. These sites can be especially useful for professional skip tracers who require current information to try and expedite their searches.
Property intelligence sites
Sites like NeighborWho provide timely real estate insights to property investors and real estate professionals. NeighborWho reports may include deed info, liens, pre-foreclosure data, properties for sale, ownership contact info for off-market properties, and much more for over a hundred million residential properties in the United States.
Multiple Listing Service
An alternative approach for real estate investors who wish to avoid manual skip tracing is to use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The MLS provides comprehensive property information, though it typically lists only properties that are already on the market.
Online databases for reliable information
Technology also provides access to various online databases that compile public and private information critical to the skip tracing process:
Public records databases
Public records databases hold records like birth, death, marriage, and voter registrations that are accessible to the public and can be crucial for identifying connections and verifying identities.
Criminal records databases
Criminal records databases can indicate an individual’s past interactions with the legal system, providing possible location data and personal associations.
Professional and occupational licensing databases
Professional and occupational licensing databases list individuals with professional licenses, which can be invaluable in tracking professionals who may have moved but continue to practice in their chosen fields.
Court databases provide access to civil and criminal case information, which can help locate individuals involved in recent or ongoing legal proceedings.
Credit bureau databases
Credit bureau databases contain credit histories that may include addresses and employer information, offering further avenues for location searches. However, accessing these databases typically requires permissible purpose under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).When used responsibly, each of these technological tools and databases can significantly increase the efficiency and success rate of skip tracing efforts.
The benefits and challenges of skip tracing
The benefits of skip tracing include discovering off-market properties, streamlining lead management by verifying contact information, enhancing data integrity, revitalizing dormant opportunities, and, crucially, saving time. However, skip tracing comes with its challenges. Costs can rapidly escalate, especially if the data fails to deliver the desired results. Sometimes inaccuracies lead to wasted resources. And, notably, skip tracing does not guarantee a sale.