It’s a question many potential homebuyers have never even thought of: Can you buy a home that’s not listed for sale? The answer is a simple “yes,” though finding unlisted homes for sale can be complicated.
So, what exactly are unlisted homes?
There’s one thing that all unlisted homes are not: unavailable for sale. When a home isn’t on the market, that generally means that it hasn’t been listed on the major multiple listing services (or MLS) that most brokerages and real estate agencies use. Or, perhaps, the home was listed before but didn’t sell. A home could be unlisted because the owner is on the fence over whether to sell, or the house could be a pocket listing: a property that a real estate broker doesn’t list. The latter is often the case with exclusive homes targeted at an elite clientele, and a pocket listing could be owned by a high-profile person who doesn’t want the sale of their home to be public knowledge.
In general, you’re more likely to have unlisted homes for sale in a sellers’ market with low inventory and more buyers than there are sellers. Which accurately describes today’s housing market.
Ask Some Agents
Not all real estate agents have pocket listings, but some surely do. You can compile a list of local agents using a variety of online tools, including directories from the National Association of Realtors. Facebook is another great place to find agents. When you’ve got your list, start sending them texts and emails, or give them phone calls. You could very well find a pocket listing or a home that’s just about to go on the market.
Networking and More Networking
Even in the digital age, word-of-mouth is still a thing. A good way to start a search for an unlisted home is to tell everyone you know you’re in the market. From family, friends, neighbors, and even casual acquaintances, there’s a chance somebody knows somebody who could have a home for sale. Find out if Facebook groups or your local Real Estate Investors Association have in-person events where you could chat up anyone from brokers to builders and investors to find out about unlisted properties. Then take it online; posts all across the top social media platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to TikTok, Instagram, and more, can tell the world you’re looking for an unlisted home.
Target Rental Homes
If a house is for rent, there’s a chance that it could be for sale. There’s no harm in contacting the owner to see if they’d like to sell — that’s how some real estate agents find homes to sell. As landlords may not wish to let their tenants know that a home is up for sale, the likelihood that a rental property might be unlisted but still available for sale is good enough reason to merit why you’re asking the question. One of the best ways to do this is through rental property managers, who are apt to know better than anyone else which rental properties might be ripe for a new owner.
Find a Fixer-Upper
Referred to in real estate circles as “driving for dollars,” cruising around in search of homes that are in need of serious work is one way to find one that might be available for sale. This could mean finding a place that’s undergoing improvements, or one that’s dilapidated or even abandoned. While the current owner may see the property as a problem, you may be able to see its potential. All the better if you’re handy or know a thing or two about home renovations.
Search for Foreclosures
At the risk of taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune, homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure might be open to purchase offers. You can find these homes a variety of ways, including checking the public notice listings in your local newspaper to see what homes are going to be auctioned (banks are legally required to post public notices prior to the auction). You can also go to county courthouses to look at the public records of current foreclosure proceedings, usually searchable by zip code. Some websites, such as Fannie Mae HomePath and Zillow, show homes that are in the foreclosure process.
Non-Traditional Online Real Estate Resources
Just because a home isn’t MLS listed, that doesn’t mean it’s not listed anywhere online. Websites such as OffMarket, HomeQT, and Mashvisor specialize in the buying and selling of off-market properties. You might be able to find an off-market home for sale on Facebook Marketplace, or through classifieds websites such as Craigslist, eBay Classifieds, and Oodle. As Zillow allows owners to list their homes 30 days before they are officially listed for sale, you may be able to find semi-listed “Coming Soon” homes there.
Send a Love Letter
Do you have a talent for prose? Or perhaps just the ability to express your thoughts with simple words? No matter your level of wordsmithing, you can send an old-fashioned letter to the owner of a home you love. Express that love and you just might be able to convince an owner that you are the perfect person to next care for the home. Sure, it’s a longshot, but if it doesn’t work, you’re only out the cost of a stamp.
Yup, There’s Even an App for That…
Dating apps have shown us we can find love with our smartphones, so why should seeking your dream home be any different? Even if that home’s availability isn’t public knowledge. With the DropOffer app, buyers can get information on unlisted properties through real estate agents, who pay a monthly fee to DropOffer. Buyers need to be invited by agents to view listings and can send offers directly to the homeowners. DropOffer gets a referral fee after the deal is done.