Where should I get my lists from and why?

Hello RE Tipster community!

I’m a new member from Los Angeles, CA. I learned about RE Tipster from @Jessey (Thank you!)

I’ve blown through the first 4 modules in just a couple of days and am starting to get the hang of what all is involved in the process.

To be honest, it’s a little bit overwhelming. However, I have been self-employed for the past 6 years, and for the past 3 years, I’ve been running an e-commerce brand. So a lot of the marketing and research is somewhat familiar.

I started looking into different methods of investment because of the sheer amount of time and effort I put into my e-commerce brand. I (and the people around me) began to think that if I put just some of that time and energy into something more profitable, I might actually do a lot better, financially.

I absolutely love learning new processes and how things work, so taking this class has been really fun so far. In a lot of ways, it’s been useful for my existing business, too.

Here are my current bottlenecks:
•Finding a county to work in
•Limited cash supply

Finding a county to work in: OK… this is the toughest part for me right now. I have a lot of ideas for areas to work in as I’ve done a fair amount of driving around the western USA and have watched areas develop over time. I am honestly not sure if knowing all these places is a benefit or just irrelevant information floating around in my brain.

How do you all narrow down the list of viable counties to work in? And as a beginner, would you rather start with counties that are more remote and may have less competition or counties that you know are popular but have more competition?

Limited cash supply: Having been self employed as a freelancer and running an ecommerce company hasn’t been incredibly lucrative for me, so I don’t have a ton of cash to work with. But, I do have funds saved up from when I used to work full-time. I obviously don’t want to drain my savings, but am willing to set aside some amount to experiment with.

Do you have any suggestions for a newbie who is trying to narrow down which counties to work in with a limited cash supply?

Thanks everyone, and very happy to meet you all!

Hi @lesliesamkim - welcome to the community! Glad to have you here.

I’m glad to hear the information is making sense. I know what you mean… it is a little overwhelming to take it all in (kind of like drinking from a fire hose), but with some time to mentally digest it, it’ll get easier.

As for the county selection and your first mail campaign - the hard truth is, the uncertainty you’re feeling right now is probably the most difficult it will ever be because you don’t have the benefit of any prior experience. The feeling of analysis paralysis and fear of the unknown is totally understandable right now, but just realize, it will only get easier after you push through this stage.

Whatever criteria you’re using to zero in on a state/county, you might find it helpful to figure out your top 10, then narrow it down to your top 5 from those, then your top 3, and then send mail to all 3 of them (at that point, it doesn’t matter which one comes first, provided you plan to mail them all).

Even if your first campaign bombs (hopefully it won’t, but success is never guaranteed), that’s still valuable experience, because you’ll be armed with some information about what didn’t work, and you’ll understand what it takes to get mail out the door the next time (it always gets easier the next time).

If you want to be super careful about what you’re doing, you could use something like Pebble (I’m sure @Jessey can fill you in on how it works), which allows you to send out drip campaigns on a daily basis (say, 50 or 100 mailers per day). This can allow you to course-correct sooner in the process if you realize something is wrong (the list, your offers, your mail piece, etc), as opposed to sending out thousands of mailers at once and getting them all wrong.

Thanks @retipsterseth,

Yes, definitely still getting my bearings.

I’m still a little confused about the use cases for some of the different list-generating methods: agentpro247 vs datatree vs tax delinquent list.

The way I am understanding it is that in the research phase, agentpro247 and datatree are used for seeing how current the county info is, and for a general overview of how many properties are available in that area.

Then, if it looks like a good prospect, the next step would be to call the county and see if I can get a tax delinquent list. If I can’t get one but still want to work in that county, I could mail the list from datatree or ap247, but it’s not ideal compared to the tax list.

Am I understanding this correctly?

Thanks so much for your help. Appreciate all the amazing info you put out there!

I’m also curious about the “tax distressed - yes” function in agentpro247. Does that mean the owner has not paid their property taxes?

@lesliesamkim great questions. Let me try and clarify this for you…

There are basically two different paths you can take when getting your list. Neither path is “better” than the other, there are just a different set of pros and cons with each.

Path 1: Delinquent Tax List
The people on this list tend to have a much higher sense of motivation because for one reason or another, they’re all delinquent. This is often an indication that they don’t want the property, can’t afford it, aren’t interested in it, or perhaps they forgot they own it. Many of these owners see their property as a liability, not an asset, and because of this, it’s much more feasible to make low offers and get some of them accept it (because in their eyes, you really are doing them a favor).

Since you’re getting the data directly from the county (not through some third party data service), the information you’ll have is as current and updated as possible. This doesn’t mean it will be perfect, but sometimes it will be better than what you’ll get through a data service.

This list is harder to get and is usually more difficult to sort through because every county uses a different system. Things like customer service and “ease of use” are not the county’s primary concern. You’ll also find that some counties will charge a small fortune for the list, and others simply won’t give it to you at all (and in either case, I don’t bother to fight them for it, I just move on to a different county until I find one that makes it easier).

Depending on how you scrub a delinquent tax list, you may also find there are more “junk” properties on this list (oddly shaped, inaccessible or unusable for some reason) and the property isn’t worth much. Sometimes you can find hidden opportunities here (I’ve found landlocked properties can be bought VERY cheap, and often sold for higher enough to make a profit - so sometimes you have to see past the initial issues that come up).

Path 2: Data Service (DataTree, PropStream, etc)
These lists are much easier to get and easier to sort through. The filtering options in a data service will give you a lot more flexibility to decide who should be on your list before you even get it. However, there can be a lot of gaps and missing data in some counties, because the county simply doesn’t report all the information and the data service won’t always spell out which information is available and which isn’t.

If you’re working in a county that maintains good, current data records (most California counties are very good), a data service can be incredibly useful, because the data is actually available. However, if you’re working in a county with spotty or stale data, a data service can steer you wrong or be frustrating in some cases, because it looks like it should work, but it won’t - because the components you need (the data) aren’t available.

If you pull your lists from a data service, you will save yourself a TON of time and mental energy, but if you want a truly exceptional response rate, it’s still going to take a bit more work to scrub the list and eliminate the wrong people from the list. If you aren’t willing to do the additional work, you’ll end up spending a lot more money on mail with a lower response rate (and many people who use data services simply accept this, because their saved time is worth it).

I don’t know of any data services that will give you a consistent, nationwide way to sort by tax delinquent status. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem, it just means you won’t be able to sort lists in a way that points out this helpful “motivation” factor.

Some counties can also be several months outdated (usually the more rural ones), so it’s important to make sure you’re working with current information. DataTree and PropStream will both allow you to see how current the data is, but not all data services will show you this.

There’s also the ongoing cost of your data subscription if you use one. As long as you’re using it consistently, it’s very much worth the cost, but if you’re more of a hobbyist who doesn’t use it often, it’s an additional cost you’ll have to deal with.

Which path should you take?
It depends on what you want to prioritize. If you want to spend less money on mail and if you’re willing to spend several hours sorting each list to maximize your response rate (this can be a very tedious task, but can also pay big dividends), then the delinquent tax list is probably your best bet.

If you’re okay spending more on mail and less time and mental frustration sorting through lists, then a data service is probably your best bet.

When I got started, I had very little money to spare, so I chose to use the delinquent tax list. I spend MANY hours sorting through each list, but it resulted in a great response rate and a lot less wasted money on mail.

I personally think this can be a good way to burn out long term (unless you can find a good VA to do this scrubbing for you), but if you’re looking for some early wins without wasting a ton of money, it could be worth the extra effort in the beginning.


@retipsterseth Oh wow. That’s super helpful. Thanks!

@lesliesamkim I think that’s technically the idea, but the problem is that most counties don’t report this data to data services like AP247 and DataTree (and even when they do, this particular set of information can be up to a year old, even when the rest of the data is current… which makes it a lot less useful).

The takeaway is, if the delinquent tax data really matters to you, get your list from the county. If it doesn’t, get your list from a data service.

@lesliesamkim. You ask several questions…

  1. Find a county to work in. That’s a broader question that Seth’s training will help you with I’m sure. But, accept the fact that this question is one that is never answered, never-ending. There will always be the next mailer, next state, next county, next niche (lake lots, MH lots, etc.) And that’s ok. Don’t over think it and just get your first mailer out. Then, rinse/repeat.

  2. Limited cash supply. There is a saying in commercial real estate, “There are always more dollars than deals”. I finance deals, anything on the buy side from $10k-$500k, with a goal of 2x to 3x return. You can reach out if you like, but this isn’t intended to be a plug. You can find financing in lots of places I’m sure. If you find a good deal, then limited cash supply will be the least of your challenges.

Your headline question is, “Where should I get my lists from and why?”
I can only speak for my business, but I don’t search by delinquent tax lists. I just use lists, which usually will include some delinquent tax properties. Seth has written fantastic blogs about the comparisons between the various data providers and the pros/cons of each. I highly encourage you to read those. But one tip - always work to keep the costs down for your business. If you are paying $0.10 per record, then you are paying way too much. You should be able to get that cost down to between $0.5 - 0.8 / record. That would be a 20%-50% reduction in your data costs.



One correction to this post… it should read $0.05 - $0.08 per record should be your target cost.

@jay-b thanks for your insight. Yeah, it seems like there’s no easy way to know which county to work in. After dipping my toes in the water with research I am getting the hang of what process works for me, and looking for counties is kind of fun now that I have a little more knowledge about what I’m looking for.

Very good to know about financing options. Thanks.

Great tip as well about the data services. I can see how that will add up really quickly. I’m currently on the cheapest plan for datatree, or maybe I should say most expensive if looking at it per listing!

My plan is to start kind of small. I’ll probably do a trial run to two counties with a total of ~500 mailers and see what kind of response I get. I think that’ll give me some room to course-correct if I need to and won’t jack up my budget too far. If I even get a 1% response rate that would still be 5 properties to choose from, and I guess I’ll just see how the rest goes from there.

What kind of prices are generally considered a “good price” for a counties delinquent tax list? I reached out to a handful of counties and got a couple responses saying the delinquent tax list costing upwards of $200.
Seems a bit steep to me.

What price range do you all feel comfortable paying counites for their delinquent tax roll?


@tpr93441 the most I can recall paying for a delinquent tax list is 0.25 cents per parcel.

There isn’t an absolute standard for how much you should be willing to pay… but whenever it feels like I’m being ripped off, I just move on to another county.

I’ve encountered some counties that charge $1.50 per parcel (which is way too much, in my opinion), others will charge 0.05 cents per parcel (which is a great deal), and sometimes they’ll fork it over to you for free (which is the best deal).

Hey there, welcome to the RE Tipster community! It sounds like you’re diving into real estate investing with a solid background. When it comes to finding counties, focus on areas where you have some familiarity or connections. As for your limited cash, consider starting small and gradually expanding as you gain experience.

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You could also check out this video for some more insights on how to determine which counties may or may not be the right fit, depending on the property sizes you’re looking for and what the Sold-to-For-Sale ratio is (not that this ratio is everything, but it gives some clues worth paying attention to).