How to Locate Sellers – Skip Tracing

locating-sellersMy direct mail has been on auto-pilot since I began outsourcing it several months ago.  I sent first class postcards for the first mailer in order to keep the cost as low as possible because I knew that I would have a bunch of “return to senders”.  And I used first class postage because I wanted to get the bad addresses back so I could remove or research them before sending out future mailings.  All subsequent mailings will take advantage of the standard class mail rates.

Wondering what the differences are between first class mail and standard mail? Here are the 4 main differences: 1) standard mail can take up to one month to reach the recipient while first class mail will take under a week.  I’ve found, however, that the standard mail I’ve sent in the past has actually taken about 1-1.5 weeks to get to my prospects so that’s not too bad; 2) you will pay extra to have returned services added to standard mail and you need to write “Address Service Requested” on the mailer, while it’s included in the price for first class mail.  I used first class postage on my first mailing because the price difference was negligible and I wanted my mailers to get to the prospects ASAP; 3) standard mail is cheaper than first class mail; and 4) you need to send a minimum of 200 pieces out to get the standard mail rate.

I received about 100 returned mailers out of 3,600 postcards.  Now, instead of removing these prospects from future mailings like most investors do, I wanted to do some research to see if I could locate these owners.  I figured that if I took this extra step, I would be mailing to prospects with very little competition.

The type of service that allows you to locate a person’s whereabouts is called a Skip Trace service.  There are several resources ranging from public, free websites to private, paid subscription websites.  Here are the services that I’ve come across.

  1. White Pages (http://www.whitepages.com/person) – This is a free service and one of the most basic people search websites.  You can locate a person using their name and city.  The results are not always accurate and may require use of their premium service, which costs money, to find certain people.  I usually start with the free service before I move on to a paid service.
  2. US Search (http://www.ussearch.com/consumer/index.jsp)– This costs $2.45 to run a basic search on a person and will provide the person’s current address, address history, phone numbers, and death records.  I was using this service when I couldn’t find a person through the white pages and it worked pretty well.
  3. TLO (http://www.tlo.com/) – This costs $1 to run a search and is very powerful.  They use government and credit bureau databases to gather information about a person, so they restrict access to business owners only.  TLO is not only good for address lookups but it can also tell you what assets the person owns, if they are deceased and who their closest relatives are, email addresses, phone numbers, social network accounts, if they were ever evicted, etc.
  4. Microbilt (http://microbilt.com/) – This company charges by the month (I believe around $30/month) for unlimited searches but, similar to TLO, it requires that you own a business.  I’ve heard this is a great service but haven’t used it.

 

Obviously, TLO and Microbilt are the best services to use and while they are difficult to get access to, they are very cost effective.  I decided to contact TLO because I knew I wouldn’t be running more than 30 searches on a month basis and I personally don’t like monthly services that automatically charge me because I tend to forget about canceling them.

When I called TLO, I was directed to an account manager.  After answering a few questions (do I have a business? What will I be using the service for?, etc), he emailed me a contract stating that I will not use the information for illegal purposes and that my business is in good standing.  In addition, because I work out of my home, they had to schedule an inspection of my work space.  Seriously, someone had to come out to my house and make sure I had a safe, locking file cabinets, a lock on my office door and security codes to get on my computers.  After 20 minutes of answering questions and picture taking, the inspector left and I got access to the database 3 days later.

The database is pretty amazing.  It has a ton of features and I know if I play around with it enough I’ll be able to find ways to locate people in untouched niches.  It took me about 2 hours to go through the list of 100 names and update my marketing list.  There were several people I couldn’t locate current addresses for but was able to obtain their email addresses.  So with all that work done, I sent my updated marketing list to my yellow letter service on Friday.  Finally, I’m back in business!  I have about 5,500 mailers going out in the next 9 weeks which will take me to the end of the year.

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  • Awesome article.
    Good information about the Skip Tracing services.

  • Definitely good information as I really only knew about Whitepages.com. What are your sources for your direct mailers? Are you buying lists?

    • I’m using the MLS (free) and Listsource (paid) to generate my lists. I’ll have a future post on how I’m pulling the lists.

  • Great information! Thank you for sharing.

  • Denisha

    thank you Justin. extremely helpful

  • Noel Lumbo

    How is TLO in comparison to Accurint?

    • Noel – I haven’t used Accurint before and I’m not sure what they charge. I continue to use TLO and really like the service. I just started using their bulk service which allows you to email TLO multiple names and they will do the search for you at the same cost. Saves a lot of time.

  • Dean Eng

    Hi Justin, I know this post is old but are you still using tlo.com? I just started using intellius.com and am getting lots of info for unlimited searches but wondering if there is better sources out there. Might try tlo.com or microbilt.com although I too don’t like the monthly charge.

    • Dean – Yes, I’m still using TLO. I’m still paying $1/search but they just switched their cost structure so it’s a monthly fee instead of a per search fee. It’s still relatively low though.

  • Raymond Betancourt

    Hi Justin,

    When you called TLO what did you tell them you were using the site for? I think If you tell TLO it’s for marketing purposes they will not work with you.

    • Raymond – I believe I told them it was for locating people for real estate purposes. It’s been a long time so I don’t remember what the actual wording was.