You’re getting ready to start your house hunt. Cool. Maybe you even have an agent already. Double cool.
You’re about to do what 98% of other buyers do: use a real estate search engine or rely on your agent to send you listings from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), or a combination of the two. Chances are you’re going to find a house (or houses) you like, your agent will arrange some showings, you’ll ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ at the perfect one, submit an offer, some magical real estate stuff that agents can never reveal will happen and then you’ll have a new home. Congratulations.
But was that ‘perfect house’ really the perfect house? Did you really see all your options? Did your agent provide you the most opportunities?
If you’re thinking to yourself right now: “man, I really hope Andrew answers the above questions,” then this article is meant for you. Because I’m going to teach you how to house hunt like a boss.
Step 1: Check out the active inventory.
These are homes that are on the professional market and will show up in any MLS search your agent sets you up with. Nearly every home on the MLS is also going to appear on the big real estate search engines like Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia. Here’s the catch though: the MLS only has about 85% of all available homes for sale. The other 15% are not on the MLS. Searching the active inventory is the quickest and easiest way to figure out if there’s a home for sale that fits what you’re looking for (I hope this isn’t a ground-breaking statement for anyone).
And because it’s the quickest and easiest way to search for a home it’s the one (and only one) that nearly every single agent resorts to. So nearly every single agent is automatically limiting your search to 85% of what’s available. Pretty cool, huh? No.
Step 2: Dig around the real estate search engines.
As I said, nearly every home on the MLS is also going to appear on the big real estate search engines, but that doesn’t hold true in reverse. There are plenty of homes that appear on Zillow or Trulia or other real estate search engines that are NOT on the MLS. This happens for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the reason, if you limit yourself only to the MLS feed your agent sets you up with it’s very likely you’ll miss out on other opportunities.
Step 3: Ask agents about pocket listings.
Pocket listings are really tiny homes (like super tiny) that agents keep in their pockets. Not really. They’re listings that simply aren’t advertised for various reasons. Sometimes the seller wants to remain private or they don’t like the idea of a lot of strangers walking into their home. Agents take these listings and then attempt to sell them through their network or private buyer lists. The only way to find pocket listings is to ask. The easiest way to do this is through your agent. If they’re smart then they know how to tap into large agent databases and solicit pocket listings.
Step 4: Look into for sale by owners, or FSBOs.
As the name might suggest, these are homes being sold by the owner – not a listing agent. The two top sites to search for these are ForSaleByOwner.com and FSBO.com. FSBOs are few and far between but they’re out there. More FSBOs occur at lower price points, but occasionally you’ll get the savvy seller (or seller who thinks they’re savvy but really isn’t) who’s selling their million-dollar estate. Some real estate search engines like Zillow and Trulia even have options where you can filter for FSBOs. Your agent probably won’t encourage you to search these because many times these sellers don’t offer a buyer’s agent commission. Don’t let your agent get in the way of you getting the house you want.
Step 5: Target old inventory.
Plenty of times homes that are for sale don’t sell. Sometimes it’s because the owner changed their mind for one reason or another and cancelled the listing. Other times it’s because the listing agent just didn’t perform and their contract expired and the owner hasn’t re-listed yet. Or, the house was over-priced and the seller was stubborn. Whatever the reason was, these homes are easy for an agent to find using the MLS. At one point the homeowner put their hand in the air and said, ‘I want to sell my house.’ They may still want to – you never know until you ask. In our current market, this group of potential inventory is slim but it’s certainly out there. I’ve personally had success with it. If you have a smart agent then they know how to get in touch with these sellers and put together a deal to incentivize them to say ‘yes.’
Step 6: Ask people if they want to sell.
It may seem silly but there are hidden sellers out there. Sometimes buyers are looking for something really specific. A particular floor plan in a particular community for example. Again, smart agents can locate these properties easily. The challenging part is putting together smart messaging for reaching out to these owners. For all you know they could be thinking about selling, and the right message of ‘hey, I want to buy your house’ may be the key. This strategy usually requires a smart marketing campaign – something I offer my buyers after we’ve exhausted every other option.
Listen, I hate to break it to you but if you’re at Step 7 and you still haven’t found a home you like it’s because you’re looking for a ‘unicorn home.’ And just like unicorns, unicorn homes don’t exist. You must create them! I guess it’s a good thing I’m a licensed contractor then and can take any home that’s almost perfect for you and make it exactly what you’re looking for. Yes – that’s right. Welcome to ‘buy and build,’ where we find you the home that has the potential to be your unicorn home and make it a reality. Everything is done in house – including design.
I hope you found this article helpful. Now get out there and hunt like a boss.