NEW YORK (MainStreet) — This is the homebuyer’s dilemma in 2015: in the most desirable housing markets just about nothing good is for sale. The typical listings out there are old and overpriced, and they haven’t sold because nobody wants them.
Go ahead, look in Park Slope, Brooklyn; SoMa, San Francisco; Adams Morgan Washington, D.C.; and down the list of nabes you dream about. Not much good is officially for sale, is there?
Know that there are ways to unearth what might be called a secret market of homes for sale.
Take, for instance, a homeowner in trendy Venice Beach, Calif who requested anonymity. His home is on the market, he said, but it technically isn’t. Huh? This homeowner has quietly given a realtor the O.K. to sell the dwelling - which will go for north of $1.4 mil - but it is not in the Multiple Listing Service that is a catalog of nearly everything that's known to be for sale. In the first couple weeks of that hush-hush listing, the realtor brought by six prospects - all well qualified. Somebody will offer soon, said the homeowner, who explained that with a public listing for his place, there would be a stream of hundreds of would-be buyers, many unqualified and many just curious about what’s for sale in Venice. The on-the-QT sales technique just is more this seller’s style, and he is confident that while it may take a bit longer, the deal will nonetheless get done at the price he wants.
And many other sellers - in prime neighborhoods - think exactly the same way today.
But it’s not just ritzy neighborhoods. In Phoenix’s Garfield district - a downtown neighborhood of snug houses that are 75 to 100 years old and a favorite of first time buyers - exactly one home is in the MLS, a 644 square-foot house that is 100 years old and, judging by the picture, looks it. The asking price is $89,500, but it has been on the market 77 days. There are hundreds of homes in the Garfield district. Don’t think for a second that only one home is for sale.
The point stands: just as in Venice Beach, a lot of the best home deals never really go in front of the public. That is why New York mortgage broker Melissa Cohn said, “to get the home you want, you need to move before others hear of it.”
How to do that?
"Getting the inside track on a house in a prime market before it's listed reiterates the importance of having an experienced realtor advocating on your behalf," said Ken Robbins, CEO of real estate company AgentHero. "Sometimes the property you are seeking is available, but not actively advertised in the market, and it will take some investigation that realtors do best in order to find all available properties. Additionally, it's important to remember that real estate doesn’t sell due to advertising alone. In fact, a large share of real estate sales comes as the result of a realtor's contacts through previous clients, referrals, friends and family. Generally speaking, an experienced realtor can leverage this kind of large network in order to find houses in a stealth market.”
A well-connected, hard working real estate agent indeed is a place to start. But there is more to be done, especially for the DIY crowd.
“Knock on doors," said Chicago realtor John Michael Grafft. "If there is a neighborhood you really want to be in and nothing is on the market, ring the doorbells and see if they have interest in selling. In more than one scenario, this has been fruitful for my clients.”
Mortgage broker Cohn reminded, in that context, sites such as Zillow and, for New Yorkers, Redfin, offer plenty of information about that house before you ring the doorbell - including recent selling price and, in many instances, an estimate of the market value. That sets the stage for an intelligent conversation that just may spark interest the homeowner in selling.
A last - especially 21st-century - strategy: get on Facebook and find neighborhood pages for your ideal home, advised Sissy Lappin, co-founder of for sale by owner website ListingDoor.com. Her contention: many homeowners in desirable neighborhoods have decided to dump the realtors - and their 5 or 6% commission - and instead to market directly on Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social channels. Lappin added that experts say that perhaps one in five homes now are sold this way.
Bottomline: there definitely are ideal houses out there, but to claim one as your own you have to find it before the madding crowd does and that means moving fast and moving in unorthodox ways to tap into the stealth listings.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.