Purchasing a run-down property: An Ultimate Guide

To buy a derelict house, follow these steps:

1. Find available abandoned properties: Search for abandoned houses on real estate websites and property databases. Look for listings with keywords like “immediate possession,” “must sell,” “below market value,” or “under appraisal”. You can also drive through neighborhoods and look for signs of abandonment, such as overgrown yards or boarded-up windows. Additionally, you can check with local government offices, banks, and online forums or websites that cover abandoned properties in your area.

2. Assess the derelict property: Before purchasing a derelict property, it’s essential to evaluate its condition and potential hazards. Conduct a thorough inspection of the exterior and interior of the property, paying careful attention to damages. You can also consult with professionals who are experienced in evaluating abandoned and vacant properties. This assessment will help you understand the extent of the work required and the potential costs involved in renovating the property.

3. Contact the property owner: Once you’ve identified an abandoned property you’re interested in, you’ll need to find out who owns it. You can check your county’s tax assessor website or visit the county clerk’s office to obtain property ownership information. Contact the owner to express your interest in purchasing the property and negotiate a price.

4. Secure financing: If you need financing to purchase the derelict property, consider applying for a fixer-upper loan or a renovation loan from a specialist lender. These loans can help you finance the cost of purchasing the property as well as the necessary renovations. Keep in mind that obtaining financing for a derelict property may be more challenging than for a regular property, so be prepared to explore alternative financing options if needed.

5. Make a bid or an offer: After conducting your research, assessing the property, contacting the owner, and securing financing, you can make a bid or an place offer on the derelict property. Be prepared to negotiate the price and terms of the sale with the property owner.

6. Complete the purchase: Once your offer is accepted, work with a real estate attorney to ensure all legal requirements are met and complete the purchase process. This may include signing a purchase agreement, obtaining title insurance, and closing the transaction.

7. Renovate the property: After purchasing the derelict property, you can begin the process of renovating it. This may involve obtaining necessary permits, hiring contractors, and overseeing the renovation work. Be prepared for potential challenges and setbacks during the renovation process, as derelict properties often require extensive repairs and updates.

Remember that buying and renovating a derelict property can be a complex and time-consuming process, so it’s essential to conduct thorough research, plan carefully, and seek professional advice when needed.

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George Nicola

George is a seasoned interior designer and property marketing strategist with over 13 years of experience. He specializes in transforming properties into visually stunning spaces, helping clients recognize the potential and beauty in each property. With an impressive international client base of exciting projects throughout Europe and America.

Is buying a deteriorated home a good idea?

Purchasing an abandoned or deteriorated property can be a smart investment if you’re willing to put in the hard work. A derelict house is a property that has been left vacant and fallen into extreme disrepair.

While daunting, acquiring one of these deteriorated dwellings also presents unique opportunities. With proper planning and restoration, you can transform a decrepit eyesore into a beautiful home and profitable asset.

Buy a derelict house with shutters on the side.
Play Video about Buy a derelict house with shutters on the side.
  • A derelict property often costs much less than a move-in ready home. You can sometimes buy one for as little as the price of the land. This allows more room in your budget for needed renovations.
  • Abandoned homes may qualify for special renovation loans and financing options that standard mortgages don’t offer. This can make an otherwise unaffordable project possible to take on.
  • There is great satisfaction in single-handedly rehabilitating an old, abandoned building. Bringing a ramshackle residence back to its former glory allows you to put your creativity and hard work on full display.
  • You get to control the entire remodel and design process when revitalizing a dilapidated dwelling. The house can be customized to match your tastes and needs.
  • Incertain neighborhoods, fixing up one rundown property can increase the value of the entire area. This improves your own home’s value and also helps the local community.

However, buying a derelict home has risks. It may require extensive repairs that go over budget. Hidden issues like asbestos and structural damage can also arise. Securing a property with unclear title or liens can lead to legal headaches. And you may face delays in obtaining permits or financing for restorations.

If you have the time, skills, and persistence, rehabilitating an abandoned home can be a fulfilling and financially-wise decision. But you must enter the process with eyes wide open to the challenges.

With proper planning and preparation, you can turn the neglected eyesore on the block into a beautiful home to be proud of.

How to find abandoned properties

Searching for an abandoned or condemned home to purchase takes effort, but many resources are available to aid your hunt.

A derelict house sits in the middle of a field, offering a potential opportunity for those interested in buying and renovating.
A derelict house sits in the middle of a field, offering a potential opportunity for those interested in buying and renovating.

Here are some top ways to locate available derelict houses:

  • Peruse online real estate sites like Zillow and Realtor.com for listings of foreclosures, fixer-uppers, and bank-owned properties. Enable filters for homes below market value to surface distressed and deteriorated dwellings.
  • Drive or walk around target neighborhoods to spot vacant homes that may not be listed online. Look for signs like overgrown landscaping, broken windows, or boarded entryways. Jot down addresses to research further.
  • Contact lenders directly about their foreclosure and REO (real estate owned) inventory. Banks like Chase and Bank of America sell off properties they’ve foreclosed on at auction or through buyer programs.
  • Check county and municipal registers of condemned buildings and housing code violations. Local authorities are often eager to unload unsafe abandoned structures they’ve cited as uninhabitable.
  • Visit town halls in person to check property records and inquire about vacant homes the city has seized due to tax defaults. Staff can point you toward seizures available for auction.
  • Search probate court records for estate sales of derelict inherited properties, often offered below market price for a quick sale. Obituaries may also list dilapidated homes of the deceased entering the market.
  • Look up listings of historic homes requiring rehabilitation. Preservation societies promote incentives to restore abandoned antique dwellings to their former glory.
  • Network with knowledgeable real estate agents who can keep an eye out for unlisted opportunities. Well-connected professionals may get tips on undocumented properties before they hit the open market.
  • Read local newspapers for news of fires, floods or financial troubles that may force owners to abruptly sell damaged, now-dilapidated dwellings at reduced cost.
  • Connect with contractors, handymen and tradespeople who may have inside information on deteriorated homes potentially entering the market soon.

With diligence and creativity, you can uncover hidden gem derelict properties not widely promoted. Combining online listings with boots-on-the-ground sleuthing and networking provides the best chance of finding available diamonds in the rough.

Researching to buy abandoned house

Before making an offer on a derelict home, extensive research is crucial.

Follow these tips to fully investigate a run-down dwelling and uncover any red flags before you decide to buy an abandoned house:

  • Verify ownership and availability. Check public records to see who holds the title. Contact them to ask if it’s for sale and get details on its status. Occupied properties may require evicting tenants before purchasing.
  • Interview neighbors to get the inside scoop. Ask about the previous owners, how long it’s been vacant, and any known issues. They may reveal unadvertised defects like persistent flooding.
  • Hire a title company to search county records and confirm there are no hidden liens, back taxes or legal encumbrances on the property. This prevents buying a home that’s saddled with undisclosed debts.
  • Request an escrow statement if currently bank-owned, showing payments still owed. Lenders may not disclose remaining balances until closing. Examine the figures carefully before moving forward.
  • Work with a real estate lawyer to review the sales contract and ensure your rights are protected in case of issues down the line. They can spot red flags like tax bills not properly credited to the seller.
  • Hire a professional home inspector, not just a general contractor. They will conduct a thorough technical assessment most renovators lack expertise for. If possible, inspect before making an offer to inform your bid price.
  • Ask inspectors to pay special attention to the roof, foundation, electrical, HVAC and plumbing systems. These are the most expensive elements to replace in a renovation. Their findings will shape your repair budget and plans.
  • Request quotes from contractors to fix any deficiencies found. They can provide market-rate estimates for the degree of rehabilitation needed, important for budgeting renovations.
  • Check with the local zoning office that your intended use aligns with codes. For commercial conversions or multi-family units, a use variance may be required.

Proper due diligence takes time but saves much grief later. Don’t rely solely on cosmetic impressions – dig deep to uncover derelict home realities that may not be apparent on the surface.

How do you know if house is abandoned?

Look for visual signs of abandonment like overgrown lawns, piles of mail, broken windows, etc. Drive around neighborhoods to spot vacant homes.

– Check public records like the county assessor’s website to see if the owner’s mailing address matches the property address.

– Talk to neighbors, postal workers, etc to find out info about the property and its occupancy status.

– Contact the local government or clerk’s office to inquire about the property. They often have records on vacant and abandoned homes.

– Look for listings of foreclosed, auctioned, and bank-owned properties which may be abandoned. 

– Try knocking on the door or looking inside to confirm no one is living there. But exercise caution when accessing private property. 

– Signs like overgrown lawns, accumulated mail and packages, no window coverings or lights on can indicate a home is unoccupied. 

– Absence of vehicles, footprints or tire tracks, especially after snowfall, can also signify a vacant house. 

So in summary, a combination of visual inspection, public records search, talking to people knowledgeable about the property, and contacting local authorities can help determine if a house has been abandoned or left vacant.

Proceed with care when dealing with private property.

Financing and Purchasing when derelict / buying an abandoned home

With proper financing, purchasing a derelict dwelling is possible even on a budget.

Consider these tips for funding and negotiating the sale:

  • Get pre-qualified for a mortgage based on the expected post-renovation value, not the current dilapidated state. This allows you to make a competitive offer at market rates.
  • Consider FHA 203(k) and other renovation loans that roll purchase price and repairs into one loan. Government programs offer advantages like low down payments.
  • Research local and state rehabilitation grants and tax credits. For historic homes, major incentives may be available for restoring original features.
  • Explore private financing options like hard money loans and private lenders if you can’t qualify for typical bank financing. Rates are higher but requirements are less strict.
  • Calculate the total costs for materials, labor, permits, fees, taxes, financing costs and your own project management time. Budgeting 20% over your best estimate guards against surprises.
  • Make sure you have access to enough capital to cover unexpected overages. Purchasing a fixer-upper with no renovation experience can easily soar beyond your projections.
Buying a derelict house in the woods with a large yard.
Buying a derelict house in the woods with a large yard.
  • Hire a real estate attorney to review any bank-offered purchase contract. As a distressed property, standard protections may be denied to the buyer so extra care is needed.
  • Negotiate credits at closing for big-ticket repairs like a new roof or HVAC system. This reduces your cash outlay for the most urgent upgrades.
  • Offer lower than list price since extensive repairs are required. But don’t go too low or the bank may opt to just demolish and sell the land.
  • For estate sales, highlight how you’ll restore the home with respect, which may appeal more to sellers than opportunistic investors.
  • If vacant, request funds to cover utilities, security and maintenance during your ownership and renovation. This offsets costs incurred while making it habitable.
  • Close only once inspections and financing are fully approved. Don’t waive contingencies that protect you if serious undisclosed issues are found later.

With smart budgeting, firm negotiation and the right financing mix, an unattainable derelict home purchase can become feasible. Just ensure your eyes are wide open to the full expenditures involved.

Planning and Permits for abandoned or derelict house

Before starting renovations, create a detailed plan and secure all required permissions. This critical upfront work prevents delays and headaches:

  • Consult zoning regulations and codes to understand limitations and requirements for your intended property use. Non-conforming dwellings may need zoning variances or board approvals.
  • Hire an architect to create professional conceptual plans and renderings. Many permits require submission of detailed technical drawings and specifications.
  • If doing major structural changes, have an engineer assess feasibility and provide recommended designs. Additions and demolitions require expert plans to meet safety codes.
  • Develop a room-by-room renovation plan itemizing all fixes and upgrades needed in each space. This allows creating an accurate budget and schedule.
  • Get quotes from multiple licensed contractors for each aspect of the work, like plumbing, electrical and HVAC. Compare costs to inform budgeting.
  • Create a milestones schedule detailing the order and timeframe for completing each task, from permitting to final inspections. Build in cushions for inevitable delays.
  • Apply early for all required permits for building, electrical, plumbing, and zoning compliance. Historic homes often require extra reviews.
  • If doing exterior work, check if design review board approval is needed, common in historic districts. Their aesthetic scrutiny can slow the process.
  • Contact the local gas, electric, and water utilities to arrange for re-establishment of service in your name as the new owner.
  • If renovating a historic property, get guidance from preservation experts on standards and potential tax credits or grants available. There are strict rules for the work.
  • Talk to neighbors to give them a heads up on your plans and timeline. They’ll appreciate transparency about construction impacts.
  • In areas with a home owners association, ensure your designs and plans conform to HOA guidelines and are formally approved.

Thorough planning and securing permits early provides a blueprint for smooth renovations. Don’t underestimate this prep work.

Hiring Professionals after the purchase of an abandoned property

Completing a quality derelict home restoration requires assembling a skilled team of design and construction experts. Here’s how to build your professional squad:

  • Ask neighbors, friends and realtors to recommend contractors who have successfully completed local renovations. A proven track record is invaluable.
  • Verify licenses are up to date and proper insurance is in place, like workers comp and liability coverage. Uninsured crews can expose you to major risks.
  • Hire only lead-certified contractors for homes built before 1978 due to lead paint concerns. Improper remediation can severely compound dangers.
  • Request at least five project references from each contractor and actually call them. Ask about work quality, timeline adherence and post-project issues.
  • Clearly explain your expectations and project scope, then invite bids from several certified contractors in each trade, like electricians, plumbers and finish carpenters.
  • Compare bids in detail – the cheapest often omits key work or uses lower quality materials. Be wary of bids well below others.
  • Ask how long contractors have been in business and who the direct supervisors will be. Longevity and leadership matters.
  • For your architect, hire someone experienced specifically in restoration projects, not just new construction. Derelict rehabs require specialized expertise.
  • Ask architects to provide rendered designs to help you visualize the property once rehabbed. This aids decision making.
  • Develop detailed contracts with completion timelines and progress payment schedules tied to milestones. Never pay fully upfront.
  • Check contractor availability to ensure they can dedicate staff for your on-schedule project completion. Rushed contractors cut corners.
  • Make sure you provide permits, project plans, and purchase materials to avoid delays. Disorganization wastes time and money.
  • Maintain open communication with on-site foremen and quickly address any emerging issues or changes. Surprises help no one.

Vetting and hiring reputable rehab professionals takes diligence but pays off enormously in the long run. Don’t underestimate their impact on your derelict home’s revival.

Renovating a deteriorated property

The renovation process requires careful prioritization, vigilant safety protections, and active project management. Follow these tips for smooth execution:

  • Focus first on critical structural, roof and weatherproofing repairs to stop further deterioration. Patching holes, securing entrances, and fixing leaks takes priority.
  • Next tackle safety hazards like exposed wiring, unstable stairs, broken railings or steps. Ensure the site is secured from unauthorized access.
  • Upgrade essential systems early like electrical, plumbing, HVAC and water heaters. Restore power and water access as soon as feasible.
  • Remove health dangers like asbestos, lead pipes or mold using certified professionals. Follow all hazardous material disposal regulations.
  • Create a room-by-room plan for interior renovations scheduling demolition, repairs, painting, flooring, trim work and fixture updates in a logical order.

How Do You Know Your Home Needs a Makeover project? You can find out in Home Makeover Guide.

A derelict house with snow on the roof in the woods.
A derelict house with snow on the roof in the woods.
  • Repair sagging or damaged ceilings and water-stained areas before new drywall. Match existing wall footprints unless widening rooms.
  • Refinish original wood floors if possible rather than replacing. Sand and refinish provides a vintage look new flooring lacks.
  • Salvage and restore vintage light fixtures, hardware, doors and trims. Vintage touches maintain unique character.
  • Visit the property often to check progress and immediately address any emerging issues. Don’t rely on contractor photos alone.
  • Maintain a renovation log tracking delays, changes, expenditures and issues. Create a paper trail to backup invoices and receipts.
  • Do final walkthroughs room-by-room upon completion to catch and correct defects before making final payments.
  • Hire cleaners to provide deep cleaning prior to moving in. Renovations leave behind layers of dust and debris.
  • Plan a careful final punch list for contractors to address before releasing final payment. Don’t accept subpar finished work.

Meticulous planning, safety protections and diligent oversight is crucial during the renovation rollercoaster. Stay nimble to keep the project on track.

When deciding whether to live in or sell a renovated derelict property, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Here are some key points to consider:

Pros of Living in the Renovated Property

1. Customization: Renovating a derelict property allows you to tailor the space to your specific needs and preferences, creating a personalized living environment.
2. Emotional attachment: Many homeowners develop emotional attachments to their homes, making it difficult to leave.
3. Stability: Living in the renovated property provides stability and allows you to maintain connections with neighbors and the local community.

Cons of Living in the Renovated Property

1. Ongoing maintenance: Older properties may require ongoing maintenance and repairs, even after renovation.
2. Limited return on investment: By living in the property, you may not realize the full return on investment from the renovation.

Pros of Selling the Renovated Property

1. Profit potential: Renovating and selling a derelict property can result in a significant profit, especially if the renovations increase the property’s value.
2. Quick sale: A renovated property may sell faster than an unrenovated one, as many buyers prefer move-in ready homes.
3. No long-term commitment: Selling the property allows you to move on to other projects or investments without being tied to the property.

Cons of Selling the Renovated Property

1. Selling costs: Selling a property involves various costs, such as real estate agent fees, closing costs, and potential capital gains taxes.
2. Uncertain market conditions: The real estate market can be unpredictable, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll sell the property for the desired price.
3. Potential buyer objections: Some buyers may not appreciate the renovations or have different preferences, which could affect the property’s appeal.

To live in or sell a renovated derelict property depends on your personal preferences, financial goals, and the specific circumstances surrounding the property.

Consider the pros and cons of each option and consult with professionals, such as real estate agents or financial advisors, to make an informed decision.

Living in or Selling the Renovated Property

After putting in the hard work to renovate a derelict dwelling, it’s time to either enjoy the fruits of your labor or market for a new owner. Follow these tips:

  • Obtain a final certificate of occupancy from the city verifying work is complete and codes were met. This reassures buyers of quality and safety.
  • Hire a real estate agent to suggest minor touch-ups to maximize sales appeal and properly price for the market. Curb appeal and staging optimizes value.
  • For historic homes, research tax incentives for preservation easements if planning to sell. This can provide a great perk to buyers.
  • Professionally photograph the remodel to highlight your superb craftsmanship and quality finishes. Great visuals attract buyers.
  • Promote unique vintage touches you restored like hardwood floors, clawfoot tubs and original hardware. Classic details are a major selling point.
  • Play up the home’s resurrection story for press and buyer appeal. Before/after photos dramatically showcase your work.
  • If residing yourself, personalize with paint colors, landscaping and stylish lighting tailored to your tastes, not resale trends.
  • Build out extra spaces like sheds and rec rooms you desire without worrying about ROI. It’s all about your enjoyment now.
  • Incrementally splurge on wishlist upgrades like home theaters or chef’s kitchens over time. With the value boost, go for your dream amenities.
  • Take pride in boosting the neighborhood by eliminating an eyesore vacant home plaguing the block. You’ve improved the whole community.
  • Host a open house unveiling for neighbors to share your renovation journey firsthand. Build goodwill as the newcomer.
  • Get to know locals and area home history. Longtimers provide context and tips about your historic home’s background.

After all the hard work, celebrate your skillful derelict home turnaround. Welcome guests to your showpiece or find buyers eager to continue its legacy.


Transforming a decrepit, abandoned property into a comfortable home or profitable investment takes vision, determination, and a substantial commitment of time and funds. But for the right buyer, revitalizing a derelict dwelling can be immensely rewarding.

  • With careful inspection and planning,hidden structural defects and hazards can be addressed in renovations. What appears an eyesore on the surface can be reconstructed into a beautiful home.
  • Major repairs that would be cost-prohibitive on a move-in ready house become feasible when purchasing an affordable, dilapidated property. Capital freed up can be invested into upgrades.
  • Derelict homes provide a blank canvas to execute your creative renovation dreams. Personalize every detail to your tastes rather than working around previous designs.
  • Bringing an abandoned eyesore back to life improves the entire neighborhood by increasing property values and eliminating a nuisance vacant lot. Beautification benefits all.
  • Thesense of accomplishment in single-handedly resurrecting a decrepit dwelling into a comfortable, modern home is immense. Blood, sweat and tears pay off.
  • Renovating and flipping a derelict property can produce substantial profits if purchased and restored wisely. The market compensates rehabilitation efforts.

While daunting, remember that neighborhood eyesores catching your attention today were once cherished homes brimming with life. With vision and dedication, they can be again.

Hopefully this guide has equipped you to evaluate if a derelict home renovation project fits your budget, skills and goals. The substantial risks and efforts required are outweighed by the rewards for the right person.

If you need any clarification or have additional questions on evaluating and purchasing a dilapidated property, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to provide personalized guidance so you can make the most informed decision.

Q: How can I buy an abandoned house?

A: To buy an abandoned house, you can start by researching properties for sale in your area.

You can check with local real estate agents or browse online listings to find abandoned properties that are available for purchase.

Q: What are the pros and cons of buying an abandoned property?

A: Buying an abandoned property can be an attractive option for some buyers. The main advantage is the potential for getting a property at a lower price compared to a similar property in a better condition.

However, there are also risks involved, such as the need for extensive renovations and dealing with potential legal and financial issues.

Q: How can I find abandoned properties for sale?

A: There are a few ways to find abandoned properties for sale. You can try reaching out to local real estate agents who specialize in distressed properties or search online platforms that list abandoned properties. 

Additionally, attending property auctions or contacting local government agencies can also be helpful in finding abandoned properties.

Q: Do I need to involve a real estate agent when buying an abandoned property?

A: While it’s not mandatory to involve a real estate agent, it can be beneficial to seek professional assistance.

A knowledgeable real estate agent can help you navigate the complexities of buying an abandoned property, such as assessing the property’s condition, negotiating the sale price, and handling any legal or title issues.

Q: How do I know if a property is abandoned?

A: There are a few indicators that can suggest a property is abandoned. These include overgrown yards, boarded-up windows, lack of maintenance, and absence of utilities. 

However, it’s essential to confirm the status with the property owner or through official channels before assuming a property is abandoned.

Q: Where can I find a list of abandoned properties for sale?

A: You can find lists of abandoned properties for sale through various sources.

These can include real estate websites that specialize in distressed properties, local government databases or websites, or contacting local real estate agents who are familiar with the market for abandoned properties in your area.

Q: What are the steps involved in buying an abandoned house?

A: Generally, there are five steps involved in buying an abandoned house.

These include researching and identifying potential properties, inspecting the property thoroughly, assessing any legal or financial implications, making an offer or bidding at an auction, and completing the necessary paperwork and legal processes to transfer ownership.

Q: How can Rocket Mortgage help me find and buy abandoned houses?

A: Rocket Mortgage is a helpful tool for buyers looking to finance the purchase of abandoned houses. They provide financing solutions and resources to guide you through the buying process. 

While Rocket Mortgage can assist in the financial aspect, it’s still important to do your due diligence in researching and inspecting the properties you are interested in.