Ultimately we want to obtain lists of leads: properties that are tax delinquent or tax defaulted. Before we can gain any benefits from these lists, we want to learn the ground rules for working in the government entity that supplies us the lists. Let's keep in mind that the 5000 plus separate government agencies in the U.S. all operate according to their own policies and procedures. There are no federal regulations on the collection of property taxes. We find similarities in how things are done everywhere we go, but many differences, as well.
When gathering information from government employees, it is important to be respectful and friendly. Their job rarely gives them fulfillment or appreciation, so your appreciation of their help will go a long way. Remember, too, that if one person won’t help, you can find another who will. Generally the higher you go in the hierarchy, the more helpful people tend to become (how do you think they got promoted?).
Qualifying a local government tax-collecting agency is very simple. Once you have learned enough about the way the tax collector’s office works, you can decide whether or not you want to add that entity to your client list. You can then decide whether that location is a good place to do your business.
It is really quite simple; if you know the answers to the following questions, you now know the county and how it operates. Your best orientation to take with these questions is that they highlight points of information you wish to know - whether you have to ask or not:
The logical first step would be to look at the county Web site. The best of these sites supply excellent information about the tax sales process in that location, provide information on specific properties with an online, public-accessible database, and post lists of properties involved in the next auction. Some counties actually conduct the auction online, so you don’t have to travel to participate.
If you can get everything you need to answer these questions from the Web site, that will give you more time to research more counties. But don’t be afraid to use the telephone to obtain information you cannot get otherwise. You will find it is much easier to get information from a person who senses that you have already put in some effort to gather information and that you know something about the county.
On the other hand, this can be a springboard to further conversation. You might want to phrase is something like this: “So, Marybeth, it's my understanding that when you have a tax sale, you sell a lien certificate. Is that correct?” When she confirms this, you can continue with more questions: “And what triggers the redemption period, the auction date or the date of sale?” or “How long does the redemption period run?” You are building rapport with this: Marybeth feels good representing the county in an official capacity, and this is elementary information for her.
You want to put dates on an annual master calendar of all events you are aware of so that you have a regular and steady business.
Most counties these days have a Web site, and many of these have excellent information available at the click of a mouse, 24 hours a day. The good sites provide extensive information on the tax sale procedure, with dates, requirements and protocols; of they post the lists of properties for auction online well in advance. The assessor’s sites frequently provide information about the individual properties in the county, along with interactive GIS (Geographic Information System) maps.
There is wisdom in taking advantage of whatever technical tools we have. If you already know something about the county's operation – even something about what life is like in that county – you will feel more confident and gain increased credibility when you do call in for more data. But it works best when you start online.