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The urban prepper: Purchasing an abandoned property in Philadelphia

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In an urban environment prepping comes with its own advantages and challenges. This is especially true in a city like Philadelphia that has a population of 1,547,607 and 90% of the homes are row houses which can make life there feel a little cramped. There are over 11,000 people who live in each square mile of the city.

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Although homeownership has risen slightly over the last couple of years, Philly is home to renters – over 45% of the residents to be precise.

You can prep as a renter, but there are some disadvantages to it.

1. You live either on a lease which typically lasts for only a year or, especially if you opt not to renew the lease, you live on a month-to-month lease at which time the property’s owner can decide that they want you to vacate the property. Even with a yearly lease the owner can ask you to leave.

2. Many leases prohibit the renter from making any adjustments to the property such as the addition of a root cellar or the installation of a generator. There are also some landlords that don’t want holes, even those for the purposes of hanging a picture, in the walls.

3. Rental prices have dramatically risen in Philly over the last five years. This means that you are putting money into something that you don’t own and are draining any resources you have to prep not only for an emergency, but for after an emergency hits.

4. You won’t have any real stability. As long as you pay your rent on time and are a responsible tenant, you’ll have a place to stay. Hopefully. Once an emergency hits, the landlord can easily evict you regardless as to what is going on outside.

So what can you do?

You can look into purchasing your own property and there are a couple of options. You can purchase an older move-in ready house or one of the many newer homes that are being built around the city. Both options come with a pretty big price tag and at least a 15 year mortgage, but there is a third option that could possibly enhance your prepper skills. It’s called purchasing an abandoned property.

In the City of Philadelphia there are two types of abandoned properties. One is privately owned in which the owner continues to pay the taxes on the property, but the property is vacant. The owner may also owe taxes on the property, but not enough for the city to seize the property -yet.

The second type is an abandoned property that is owned by the city. Many abandoned properties that owe taxes or fines are taken over by the city in an effort to try and sell it.

The process in which you purchase an abandoned property also differs depending on who owns it.

If you’re interested in a property, the easiest way to find out who owns it is to go to the City of Philadelphia’s website at: www.phila.gov. At the bottom of the main page under the topic of Property, click on Property Assessment and you’ll be taken to the Office of Property Assessment’s web page. After clicking on Property Information you will have the opportunity to search for either a certain property or review an entire block by clicking on the Property Search function.

This will lead you to another page where you can search addresses of an entire block by typing in the first address and the block’s name or type in an actual address. Leave off street, avenue, road, etc. If you’re doing an entire block, the list of addresses will come up and you can choose which one you want or you can go through each address.

At the top of the page next to the address there will be an account number, copy this number as it is referred to as the BRT number.

At the bottom of the page you can click on the View Tax Balances which will take you to the Revenue’s Department page. Paste the BRT number and it will take you to that address' tax information. If there is money owed in taxes, that property (depending on the amount) is in danger or is in the process of being seized by the city.

On that page you will also find the contact information for the owner in which you can contact them by writing a letter. You can also submit an inquiry of the property to the city and they can fill you in on any status of the property. If the property is owned by the city or in the process of being seized it will tell you so.

Any property that is listed as being owned by the city is when things get a little more complicated as usually is the case.

In 2014 the city’s political leaders created the Philadelphia Landbank that will take the 40,000 abandoned properties and sell them. That’s great. The bad thing is that City Council members have control over who can buy the properties in the district that they represent.

Still, it’s the only way to purchase a property that is owned by the city. It is estimated that over 70% of abandoned properties are owned by the city and 90% of all abandoned properties are residential properties.

Once you have identified a property as being owned by the city in order to start the process of purchasing it, please visit: http://www.phila.gov/pra/buyingProperty.html.

The website http://abandonedphiladelphia.com/ also has properties listed and information on purchasing abandoned properties.

So why buy an abandoned property?

Most of the houses are decades old (early to mid 1900s) and were well built unlike the newer house that have been constructed since the 1990s. Although they have been abandoned these houses have also survived adverse weather conditions, fires or human destruction. In addition, houses that were built during this era were also built on larger lots of land which is what, as a prepper, you will need for gardening or installing a generator. You can also make the home totally prepper ready by installing solar panels, etc.

It's also important to know that many of the homes around the city that have been built in the last five years, and up to the present, do not have basements which is critical to a prepper. Sure these homes are new and shiny, but would they be able to withstand an emergency? Probably not since they are built with prefabricated materials.

There is also the issue about the type of neighborhoods these properties are located in. It is important to know that Philly is in the process of gentrifying some of its rundown neighborhoods and many areas have already began to experience gentrification.

It’s just as important to keep in mind that once an emergency hits there’s going to be no place (this includes living out in the middle of nowhere) that will be 100% safe.

Purchasing an abandoned property will also be a lot cheaper than buying a home that’s move-in ready. Currently the median housing rate is $200,000, but you can purchase an abandoned property for as little as a couple of thousand of dollars. There are also no closing costs or realtor’s commission involved.

These houses will need all the work done (including plumbing and electrical), but you can design or rehab the home according to your own specifications. There’s also a lot of work that you’ll be able to do yourself which are skills you will need as a prepper.

Most of the houses that are city-owned will need everything done because the insides of the homes have been stripped. If you purchase an abandoned property from the owner it may be in better shape.

Lastly, purchasing an abandoned property improves the city’s landscape and you’re building yourself a type of fortress that will help you weather any type of emergency. Purchasing an abandoned property also fits into a prepper motto: reduce, reuse, recycle. So why buy new when you can buy something that’s withstood the test of time?

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