Melissadata is typically a good site for targeted lists, as well. Or, you can use Michael Quarles at yellowlettermail.com. He’ll do it all…
If you’re targeting absentees, make sure you choose 40-100% equity. Other than that, like beds and baths, construction type, etc, you can go with what you feel is best. They have to have the room for us to flip it, though.
You could also research your local property tax office and find out about property owners who are behind in their taxes. If an owner is unable or unwilling to pay the real estate taxes, that is a good idea that he or she may be willing to sell their property.
Yes, it’s perfectly worth it to contact absentee-owners living in the same area. You’ll never know how much they’re looking to get rid of their properties. For all, you know they moved to a bigger house or a smaller one cause they can’t afford the bigger one, divorce, inheritance, tired landlords, etc. All of them can be living in the same area where their vacant properties are. You will never know their motivation and the property’s potential to be a good deal unless you talk to the owner.
About the criteria when looking for sellers, I usually look for single family homes with at least 3 bedrooms. I also look for properties with last market sale date from at least 10 years ago. This means that they have owned the home for at least 10 years. And I do 70-100% equity.