Due Diligence: Contacting a Previous Owner

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One of the easiest ways a prospective domain name buyer can confirm ownership of the domain name is by calling the most recent former owner of that particular domain name. The prospect can then ask if the former owner sold the domain name to the current owner, ensuring that the provenance is clear. There are pros and cons to doing this, and I am curious to know what you think of this due diligence step.

The previous owner’s contact information can be obtained using a tool like DomainTools whois history tool or possibly even Archive.org if the domain name had been a developed website. Once the phone number or email address information is known, a quick contact can confirm whether the current owner rightfully acquired the domain name.

Assuming the answer is yes, it will clear up any question about ownership. Additionally, perhaps the prospect can glean other information about the sale (public auction, venue, and maybe even the price). If the answer is no or if it is unclear, it brings up more questions that need to be answered by the registrant. You can see why doing this step might be useful.

There are also quite a few pitfalls with doing this. If the domain name was sold at expiry auction, the former owner may not know that the domain name was re-sold (or even out of his or her possession), and this might make create a false red flag to the prospect when there shouldn’t be a concern at all. In addition, the former owner, feeling a case of sales regret, may try to complicate the sale in some manner.

One other major issue that could complicate a deal is that the current owner may become upset with the prospect for using this method for due diligence. This may be especially irksome if the domain name was bought at expiry auction and the former owner contacts the current owner or registrar with (unfounded) legal threats. I would be upset if I had to deal with a former owner who was pissed that he didn’t renew the domain name and now I was ready to make a sale.

In conclusion, contacting the former owner may clear up any questions about ownership, but it could also unnecessarily raise questions or problems for the prospective buyer. I am curious how you feel about this.

9 COMMENTS

    • I’ve written quite a bit about the importance of due diligence. It also looks like I wrote about this specific topic in the past, without discussing the potential negative impact. That article was written nearly 4 years ago.

  1. Elliot, while I fully agree with your opinion that a prospective buyer should always do his/her homework (I always do when I buy), we must admit that all this becomes much less obvious when it comes to “everyday end users”, people who don’t even know there’s a whole industry built around buying and selling domains, let alone use the tools we are familiar with.

  2. So it’s gang up on Elliot day, ay? You guys…

    I wanna know why no one else has posted in the Waldorf Astoria HA auctions thread. That’s a really interesting little piece of news in the “domasphere.” Yes, I just made that word up, it works, and it’s free to reg the .com now. I recommend someone going for it as it can be used a name for an industry site. 🙂

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