Wasn't sure which field to put this post in, but vacant homes are essentially FSBOs, so...
When you go driving through neighborhoods, you can't inch past every house at 5mph or it will take you all day to go through a neighborhood. The goal is to be able to quickly identify any clues that show whether a house is occupied. If you do not see them, you might have a vacant prop on your hands. I've thought through some tips to improve and streamline your 'hood hunting.
1. Have the insides of all your car windows clean. Spray 'em down with a window cleaner or some other cleaner. Why? Sunlight reflecting off greasy windows can obstruct your vision of houses as you are going by and could cause you to miss some tell-tale signs of a vacant home. First, the "clues of habitation":
2. Cars in the driveway are the easiest clue that someone is living in the home, so keep your eyes peeled for empty driveways and empty fronts of the house.
3. Check first at the exterior of the home. If you see wreaths hanging on the front door, flags hung, furniture on the porch, or objects in windows, it must be occupied, and you can keep on cruising by.
4. If you can't see anything on the outside that indicates habitation, glance in the windows of the home, starting with the living room window if possible. The front living room window is usually the largest window of the house and you can most easily see inside for furniture.
5. If you don't get any clues that the home is occupied from a quick visual scan of 2, 3, and 4 (usually in that order), then stop in front of the house and begin to look for the "clues of vacancy"
6. An overgrown lawn is one of the most obvious clues of vacancy, but not in the winter months. Other "landscaping" clues might be, depending on the season and conditions, a leaf-covered lawn, snow-covered property with no sign of shoveling, or debris (I saw some old plastic flower pots in front of one today) on the property.
7. Check the upkeep of the house for any signs of disrepair. I saw a house today that had several slats in a fence missing or fallen out. This can be a strong clue if you're driving through a well-to-do neighborhood where curb appeal is usually more diligently maintained.
8. Depending on the time of day, garbage cans could be a clue to vacancy. If you see all the other houses on the street have their garbage out for collection and one house doesn't, that means either vacation, procrastination/forgetfulness, or vacancy!
Feel free to add any other clues or tips you've found in your hunts!
"He who is mighty has done great things for me...He has...exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things..." Matt. 1:49-53