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Still Looking For Your Dream Home? Try Exclusive Off-Market Listings

Vicki Moore
Feb 27 10 minutes read

Almost 100% of home shoppers start their searches online using sites like Zillow or Realtor.com—but did you know that these search engines don’t return all of the available homes for sale?

It’s true. There are many more homes available than the ones you see online. So if you haven’t been able to find your dream home, chances are you’re just may not be looking in the right place.

Here’s how it works: homes listed for sale, or listings, are stored in a database called an MLS (Multiple Listing Service). An MLS covers a geographical region and shows all the homes listed for sale—keyword "listed." If a seller doesn’t want to publicly list their home due to privacy concerns or another reason, or if they haven’t listed it yet, it won’t show up in the MLS. And therefore won’t show up on common real estate search sites.

A significant number of home sales happen before a home ever hits the market, which means if you’re relying on Zillow, you could be missing out.  The number of off-market sales can be significant. Here’s what you can try instead:

Why wouldn't a seller list on the MLS?

Off-market or pocket listings can be a homebuyer's advantage. They're typically a huge disadvantage for home sellers. So why would a seller want to take that route?

Some people rank privacy above money. Personal privacy in real estate sales will become more and more important. The number of open houses will continue to decrease as sellers see them as more of an invasion of privacy than a great marketing tool. Many realtors already advise clients against having open houses.

We know that thieves see open houses as an opportunity to easily get into a house. Once inside, posing as a home buyer, one person will strategically distract the realtor while another searches drawers and cabinets. 

Maybe a seller doesn't want their neighbors or perhaps their family to know that they're selling the house. They're going to know eventually but a seller may decide it's important during that specific time. 

Maybe they'd rather not have strange cars driving up and down their street, stopping in front of the house. If the house is at the end of a long driveway, they might not want curious buyers coming down the driveway unexpectedly. 

Perhaps it has to do with the photos. Real estate photos tell a lot about a house. The order they're shown in can tell you about the house's floor plan. By looking at the decor and furniture, a person online can determine if the house is occupied or vacant.  Depending on what the bad guys are looking for, they may prefer one over the other. There is more opportunity if the seller or a tenant is occupying the house than vacant and staged. For example, if they're looking for jewelry and medications they're going to want a house that's occupied by more than just furniture. 

Testing the market

If the seller and/or the agent is unsure of the right listing price, they may decide to ask others what they think. Once a property is listed on the MLS, the days on the market start counting. To avoid those days becoming excessive and tainting the property, the decision could be to test the market. Once conversations start, the house is "sort of" on the market, and potentially available to sell - if the price is right.  

My questions start when an agent-friend calls to ask my opinion.  If an agent is asking me for a price opinion, then I know they're working on getting a listing. The tug-of-war of negotiation begins. They want a price and, of course, I need to know what the property is before I can give my opinion. We'll talk about the market, where it's been and where we each think it's going. Interest rates will come up, especially with the dramatic changes we've seen in the past year. The neighborhood is part of the conversation too.  Remember, real estate is local - and sometimes, we're even dealing with micro-markets. So an hour later, we'll come to an agreement on an estimate. 

Avoid disturbing renters

Managing a home sale with tenants living in the property is a tricky situation. Tenants aren't usually motivated to move. Sometimes they can be financially encouraged to be cooperative. But that doesn't always work. So selling with non-owner occupants is a financial risk that needs to be seriously considered. Once the house goes on the market, the excitement of a new listing and the opportunity for the first impression are gone. If the house has to be taken off the market to wait for the tenant to move out, a lot of momentum is lost. Lost momentum are lost dollars.

Hire a real estate agent

Bias or not, hiring a real estate agent is the best, simplest, and safest way to get access to off-market listings. Here’s why:

An expansive network

Some real estate companies actually have a private multiple listing service that only agents within the company can access.  Homes are also listed in the MLS as "agent only," and can't be seen by the public.

Great real estate agents maintain good relationships with their past and present clients.  We’re often the first to know when homes are coming up for sale. Once your real estate agent has info about an upcoming listing that matches your must-have list, you might have the opportunity to snap it up before it goes on the market.

An expert real estate agent’s network extends beyond clients, too. Relationships with other agents and industry professionals provide us with information about upcoming listings all the time. That can give you an upper hand. Additionally, if you’re having trouble finding the perfect home in your price range, a great agent can proactively put the word out in their network to find it. Even if it isn’t on the market.

We learn about houses coming up for sale in all sorts of ways. From taking to each other on the phone or during office meetings, talking to friends and clients, as well as just driving around town.

Real estate industry expertise

In the next section, we’ll discuss some other unconventional methods of finding off-market listings—but here’s why you should still navigate them with a real estate agent by your side.

Expert real estate agents spend a lot of time and energy developing our skills, knowledge, and expertise so we can best serve our clients and our community. That means we understand the complex and detailed processes that comprise every step of a real estate transaction. We’re prepared to solve unexpected problems when they arise. And they do arise. There's rarely a transaction without a problem. Additionally, our experience allows us to spot and alert you to red flags, helping you avoid pitfalls as you navigate your home search and ultimately your purchase.

It’s just not worth the risk to go it alone—especially if you’re not using the traditional home search channels.

Other ways to find off-market homes

Direct mail

Direct mail is a method in which you send a letter directly to someone whose home you’re interested in purchasing. Wish you could buy that adorable house you pass every day after work? Send a letter to the owner to find out if they’re interested in selling.

There’s not a lot of risk in doing this, but one thing to keep in mind is what happens if the owner says “yes.” Typically a real estate agent will guide you through the process of submitting a formal offer with the right paperwork and legal language, getting a home inspection, appraisal, title check, and more. If you’re flying solo, you’ll have to do all of that on your own—and doing it wrong can result in costly mistakes.

The upside? Some real estate agents use direct mail as a marketing tactic. There's social media, email, the phone, or a knock on the door. If I have a client who is interested in a particular home, I'll consider all of those options and choose the one that I think will be the most effective. So if you’re interested in this, you can ask your real estate agent about it instead of trying to do it by yourself. 

Word of mouth

Word of mouth is a hit-or-miss method of finding a home to purchase and depends largely on your social network and being in the right place at the right time. It’s never a bad idea to let your circle know that you’re looking to buy and ask them to keep an ear out for anyone thinking about selling in your price range. However, relying on word of mouth alone as the method of finding your dream home isn’t ideal.

Instead, tap into your real estate agent’s network. The scope of your search will expand, and you’ll have more interested sellers within reach.

Let’s find your dream home

If you’re looking to buy a home in the local area, we’re your expert team. Our network and experience make us the right choice for your home purchase, and we’ll help you find exactly what you’re looking for—even if it isn’t on the market yet.

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