I am new to the this forum but I have already seen a lot of good advice. Maybe I can add a little. Regarding the getting started question: it should be obvious that you need equipment, supplies, and people that have the skills to do the work correctly. Then you need your licensing and insurance. If you try to do business without insurance and a license (you may get away with this for a while with some Realtors in my experience), hopefully you don't own anything that you might lose if you get sued.
Here is an example of what can happen: I have seen this same issue three times now. Someone winterize a house. They do everything by the book but forget to close the cold water valve for washer hook-up where they pressurized the system from. The water is off at the street so no harm, no foul. The house goes into escrow and an inspection is ordered. The Realtor or asset manager orders utilities turned on and the water district comes out and turns on the water. Two days later, the inspector arrives to find a flooded house. Stuff happens.
Now while you are acquiring your equipment, supplies and staff you need an education. Start with HUD, Fannie Mae, VA, FHA, etc. guidelines. I don't think you need to memorize them, but I suggest you print them and put them in a binder to keep with you. You need to have a good grasp of costs and maintenance expenses of your vehicles, tools, dump fees, labor, insurance, locks, building materials, etc. Your business showing a profit is going to be predicated on your ability to price and bid jobs. I see people in my area take jobs at prices where I know they will lose money. HUD authorized $40 per cubic yard for debris removal in Nevada. I know I can do OK if I get $25 to $35 per cu/yd depending on the dump fees in a particular area. I have in my files price sheets from Field Service Companies offering $13 per yard. There is no way to make a profit at that price, not when we pay $9 per yard to dump.
Now, where do you find business. I agree with handyman that building a business by selling your services to the community that you live in is the best longer term business model. I spend a lot of time calling on Realtors, Property Managers, Home Owners Associations, etc. They all have a need for your services. I think that if you call on these people on a regular basis, eventually they will either need you that day, or they will see you are not a fly-by-night and take a chance on you. Then it is up to you to do a good, timely job so you can build that relationship. Make sure you get their payment policy before you do any work. And don't do any work unless you have a written order. While we are at it, keep all documentation for years. Also, in our county, we have a lot of abandoned properties that pose health and safety issues. I keep in touch with our County Compliance Officer who from time-to-time gives me some large clean-up and demo jobs on properties he condemns.
Back to REO. I agree that National Field Service Companies can be difficult to deal with. First, they all do things differently and if you work for several as we do, you have to keep their guidlines straight. You can't fight them over pictures or pricing or time frames. I used to be in the Towing Business in Buffalo and at Lake Tahoe. We serviced AAA and in 1980 we were paid $6.85 per call in the summer and $7.85 in the winter. There was little profit per call, but they gave us work year-round, which insured that we could pay our bills. I see Safeguard, FAS, First American the same way. These guys are dominent in many areas of the Country, (they are in ours), so if you want to grow your business, you may have to deal with them. Just remember, if you do work for these guys, make sure you are contracted direct and not subing from one of their vendor/contractors. If you are a sub for one of their vendors, there will not be enough money for you to get a fair price after the Nationals and their vendors take their cut. I find companies like REOAllegiance and Cyprexx (as examples) more fair and easier to work with. There are dozens of National and Regional Field Service Companies, many of whom are new to the industry. Be carefull about getting too buried in accounts receivable with one company, especially a new one. If they fold tent, it may take a long time to collect. If you do large rehab jobs, ask for material money up front. I have had several asset managers get me deposits for large jobs.
Do your homework, know your costs, bid for profit and look to REO listing agents for the best paying work. Sign up with National and Regional Field Service Companies, but if you can, check out their pricing and guidelines before you go through the application process.
I don't know if any of this helps, but I hope so. If anyone wants to email me direct, you can reach me at [email protected]