Can You Legally Acquire a House for Free?

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You can own a house for free. Yes, you read that right. But it is not as easy as it sounds. In some states, it is actually legal to claim an abandoned house. But certain rules apply. There are several reasons a house may be abandoned. It may be due to a foreclosure or failure to execute an estate plan. If you don’t want your home falling to the hands of a stranger for free, consult an estate planning lawyer. This can avoid the problem and let your family or relatives take over your assets. On the other hand, if you are scouting for unclaimed or abandoned homes to possess, keep reading.

It is not hard to think why one would want a free house. Real estate is a lucrative investment. House prices always appreciate. Thus, owning a house has always been the dream for many Americans. If you don’t have enough money to buy your own house, with a little perseverance, you can still own one for a fraction of the original cost, and you won’t even have to think about paying mortgages.

Determine if a house is abandoned

Just because a house looks worn and unkempt does not mean that it is abandoned. A house may be unmaintained for years, but it may still have an owner. In some cases, abandoned houses may have been foreclosed or repossessed by banks, but not entirely abandoned.

If you want to ensure the house is actually abandoned, you can contact the owner directly by checking county tax records since there are still property taxes that need to be settled. By doing this, you will have a paper trail to follow that will lead you to the owner. County records can get you the contact details of the owner so that you can be in touch with them. Once in contact, you can negotiate with the owner. In certain instances, the owner may be selling the house for below market value.

On the other hand, if you prefer to take possession of the house more drastically, you can do what is called adverse possession. It may not sound like a legal thing to do, but it actually is legal.

What is adverse possession?

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Adverse possession is a method of acquiring someone else’s property free of charge, as long as certain conditions and rules are met. If you opt for this method, you need to be very cautious since you can be construed as a trespasser if the house is not abandoned and the owner finds you inside their property. Adverse possession is also known as “squatting,” which means that you are moving into someone else’s home without their permission.

While this might sound too good to be true, it is real. But adverse possession comes with certain risks, and there can be contestations along the way. Adversely possessing a house does not mean staying in one’s residence for a few years or so. Each state has their set period to make your claim more powerful. In some states, you need to be living continuously in the house that you want to claim for up to 30 years. House maintenance is also grounds for being awarded an abandoned home.

Pros and cons of adverse possession

The advantage of adverse possession is reduced costs in acquiring a home. House prices increase in value over time, which may be difficult for most people to afford. There is an instance where a 23-year-old man took over a $2.5 million mansion through adverse possession. The price he paid for the house’s property taxes is not even ten percent of the house’s valuated price.

Meanwhile, there are also disadvantages to adverse possession. You should expect a contestation from the owner. The owner can always dispute your claim to the property because, after all, you are a trespasser and illegally occupying their house. This can lead to court proceedings that may considerably cost you money.

Moreover, since each state has a different statute for the criteria of adverse possession to be met, you may need to stay for longer than a decade before even having an actual claim to the property. If the minimum number of years has not been met and the owner comes back, you can be charged for trespassing.

While adverse possession can significantly cut the costs of acquiring a house, this should be your last resort. You should contact the owner and negotiate for prices first. An abandoned house is abandoned for a reason, and you can purchase a home for below market value without having to trespass someone else’s property.

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