Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Purchase Abandoned Properties

Above: An abandoned Victorian at 210 Talbot Avenue in Braddock.

Here's a scenario. You stumble across an absolutely stunning, albeit faded, Victorian that is basically your dream house (like the one pictured above). There's only one problem. It's not for sale, the owner is missing in action, you've checked the Allegheny County Assessment site and the owner hasn't paid taxes on the property in years, and the house appears to be completely abandoned and waiting to be demolished. You feel extremely sad that such a great piece of architecture and history has been left to rot and eventually be destroyed, when someone like you would cherish and spend your life restoring it. It drives you nuts that there is nothing you can do to save this property, and there are dozens more that you can think of around the city that are just like it.

There are so many abandoned properties in Pittsburgh, and many are demolished every year. A lot of these buildings are significant pieces of architecture. If you've found an abandoned building that you would like to save from the wrecking ball, there are a few things you can do:

Step 1: Try to contact the owner. You can usually find the current owner's name and address on the Allegheny County Assessment website. Express your interest in the property to the owner and see if you get a response. This often will not work, however, because the delinquent owner cannot be located, or the owner of the property has passed away.

Step 2: The Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program. In certain Allegheny County municipalities, vacant properties can be acquired through the Vacant Property Recovery Program. The property must be delinquent on taxes for at least two years, and must be abandoned, to qualify. It generally costs at least $4,000 to purchase a property through this program, and can take longer than 120 days. The participating municipalities include: Braddock, Carnegie, Homestead, McKees Rocks, North Braddock, Pitcairn, Rankin, Wilkinsburg. Here is the application to apply for the program. But what if the property you are interested is not in one of these communities? You can still apply for the Vacant Property Recovery Program, and see what happens, or move on to step 3..

Step 3: Contact the City or Municipality. Contact the solicitor for either municipality or the school district where the property is located. Explain to them that you want to buy a property that is vacant and is delinquent on back taxes. They may arrange for a Sheriff's Sale. There are some expenses involved. Houses aren't really put up for sheriff's sale unless a buyer is in place. In doing it this way, the property is most likely sold for the amount of back taxes plus the cost of the sale.

If you have experience acquiring an abandoned property, please leave a comment, share tips, and explain how you were able to do it. I would like to make this page a resource for buying abandoned properties. This is a learning experience for me, and probably most everyone who is reading this. If I got any facts or information wrong about purchasing abandoned properties, please correct me so I can get the information correct on this site. It is important to get the message out that these buildings can be saved, and that there are methods for doing so. Let's get all of the facts straight here so we can start saving our heritage.

P.S. I would be very pleased if someone with money stepped in and saved that ridiculously awesome house in Braddock.


  1. Taisha MorrisJanuary 07, 2012

    Thank you for this site Jonathon!

  2. Jonathan, I am a Realtor in Pittsburgh who specializes in distressed property sales and REO/foreclosure sales. Have you any knowledge of districts who would like to market abandoned properties that are on a demolition list but have some potential?

    1. The Spring Garden neighborhood is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, and many of the homes there are abandoned. I think this neighborhood could really benefit from a realtor getting involved and trying to market some of the vacant homes there. Spring Garden's proximity to downtown means it has huge potential.

  3. circusvueJune 05, 2012

    Spring Garden - it has a great name too. Wondering if you also have an index to all the properties with their addresses that you have photographed. Also, since I just found your site, I don't know what to select under "Select profile". Just not sure what they all mean. circusvue

  4. I would be interested in buying an abandon home. But then how much will it cost to restore it.

  5. I would be interested in buying an abandon home to fix up. Just wonder if I have enough money to do something for one of these wonderful homes. I agree they should be preserved.

  6. I love the way the people here interact and shared their opinions too. I would love to rack your future posts pertaining to the said topic we are able to read.Land Surveyor Birmingham AL

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  8. I would never be able to afford to reinvent one of these houses but I LOVE the history, architecture, etc. I've thought a great deal about trying to buy one that is beyond repair and salvaging what I could to people doing other house or for furniture and up/recycling. Just curious as to what your thoughts and feelings are about this. I hate to see all that history and workmanship destroyed. It's shameful and wasteful, especially when you just don't see that kind of craftmanship anymore.

  9. this is a truly awesome site. thank you for all the wonderful information. I'm from PA. Franklin to be exact, and I'm interested in relocating back. I live in Reno NV.at the moment and want to get out of this town. The info here will be a great asset. Thank you

  10. A good program to look at if you want to buy an abandoned home is the FHA 203k loan program. My husband and I are buying a vacant home in the Perry South neighborhood that is in really rough shape. The 203k loans are designed to help people buy homes that need rehab. There are two versions- the streamlined, which is for rehabs under 35,000; and the full 203k, which is for any work that will cost more than 35,000. These are government backed loans, so if you were to buy a home using the full 203k loan, you have to work with a HUD inspector and a contractor (unless you are one yourself.) I've heard horror stories about people using these loans, and there is a lot of paperwork involved, but our experience has been great so far (be sure to choose a HUD inspector and contractor carefully!) Anyway, just thought I'd share because I have found that many people don't know about the program and it is a great way to make sure you have the money to fix up a deserving home!

  11. I am going to jump in and attempt to acquire the house at 900 Park Street in McKeesport ... I WANT IT!!!!!!!