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It could be a specific house, like that Colonial you walk your dog by every day. You’ve had your eye on it and have even said, “If that house ever went up for sale, I’d pounce.” Or maybe you’re an active home buyer looking in a certain neighborhood and have been to every open house that’s held, yet still haven’t found something appealing.

But then one day you notice something distressing – a “Sold” sign in the front yard of a house you wish was yours. Wait a minute, you think. There was never even a “For Sale” sign. What gives?

This phenomenon happens all the time. It’s called a “pocket listing,” explains Maya Madison of Keller Williams Realty in Metairie, Louisiana – it’s a house that’s sold before it ever officially hits the market.

Here is all the insider scoop on why some homes never actually go up for sale … and how you can get in on the action to become the lucky owner of that house.

Why Would Someone Choose Not to List Their Home?

Aren’t you in a better position if everyone is coming through your house to check it out? Well, yes, but that’s not for everyone. People who might be interested in a pocket listing could be celebrities who want to keep their identities under wraps, says Madison. Or they might just be normal folks testing the market because they’re not quite ready to pull the trigger and list the home yet – but who are willing to hear an offer.

The benefit to a seller is that if someone does buy their house before it’s officially listed, they likely won’t have to go through all the hassle of repairing a roof, sprucing up landscaping or staging the interior, as the would-be buyer typically agrees to buy it in its current condition. And of course, they can skip the often onerous step of multiple showings and open houses that can attract a parade of people interested in looking but not actually buying.

So How Does a Buyer Get In on the Action?

The key is to have a well-connected agent, says Amber Harris of Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, D.C. “A good agent will have an extensive network that he or she can call upon when searching for the right fit for a client, especially in markets where inventory is low,” she explains.

For example, she says she often reaches out to other agents whom she knows are hyper-focused on a specific community that interests one of her clients. “It is not uncommon for them to know someone who may be flirting with selling and may re-evaluate their decision and timeline if an offer is presented, or they may have a listing that they are preparing for market and be open to considering an offer before it’s officially listed.”

An agent from a larger office with a potential seller might reach out to his or her fellow agents to let them know, or in many markets, there is a private listserv called Top Agent Network that agents join by invitation only, explains Kristina McCann, a broker associate with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Highland Partners in Piedmont, California. “This is where agents post pre-market opportunities, but also off-market opportunities, as in, homes that literally will not hit the public market but will be sold to someone on the inside track,” she says. Buyers can be matched with an agent through the site.

Or maybe your agent just has a good rep. “If listing agents perceive a fellow agent as being professional and easy to work with, they are more likely to share a private or ‘coming soon’ listing because they know you will not waste their time,” says Paul G. Lykins, broker associate with True Floridian Realty in Delray Beach, Florida.

Another tactic that agents will use to help their buyers is reaching out to homeowners directly, even if they haven’t indicated a desire to move. “Perhaps they have never considered selling or have only half-considered the idea but may be open to entertaining an offer,” Harris says. Of course, a determined would-be buyer can “door knock” themselves, but it’s often better received coming from an agent.

And finally, besides finding an agent who specializes in your market, it can’t hurt, as a potential home buyer, to ask around and let others know you’re interested. Friends may hear of someone who’s moving out of state who might be delighted to entertain an offer without going through the hassle of getting their house officially primed for listing. And as a buyer, you benefit from avoiding a multiple-bid scenario, where offers may exceed the asking price.

While home buyers shouldn’t hold out hope for a pocket listing as the answer to their house hunt, it can be one more avenue to pursue as you search for the home of your dreams. The first step? Make sure you’re ready to make a solid offer by getting by getting your mortgage prequalification all lined up in advance.

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