This Bold Move Is the Newest Home-Shopping Strategy in a Tight Housing Market

published May 16, 2022
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Every month, I get at least a couple of letters from real estate agents who say they have buyers who are interested in purchasing my home. Some of these solicitations arrive via handwritten letters, others are more generic postcards. Alas, my Denver-area house isn’t actually for sale, and, despite having multiple suitors looking to skirt the MLS, I have no plans of putting it on the market any time soon.

The real estate market is, indeed, parched for affordable inventory as homes are selling at record-high prices. Formally, the numbers tell us that we are nearly four million homes short of would-be buyers’ demand and, according to Realtor.com, median home prices ascended to an all-time high of $405,000 in March 2022. But informally, these types of mailers sussing out opportunities to buy off-market homes lend anecdotal context to the numbers, revealing the cutthroat nature of today’s buyer’s market.

I became curious: Does this strategy of trying to scoop up an unlisted property ever work? I posed this question to a couple dozen real estate agents throughout the country. While none shared success stories of these particular mailers translating into sales, some said they’ve been close. Furthermore, many explained the strategy is a numbers game and just one more way to try and find the perfect home for their clients.

Heather Rieker, a real estate agent with Grist Mill Real Estate in the Hudson Valley region of New York, says she’s been sending mailers to off-market properties as a more regular part of her service to buyer clients. 

“Inventory is so limited right now, and it’s just not picking up to meet buyer demand,” Rieker says. “When I have a buyer who is looking to be in a specific neighborhood, a lot of times our options are to either sit back and wait for something to come on the market there (which is feeling less and less likely), or get out there and ask! I think it’s necessary to at least try this route.”

For buyers, this approach could lead to an opportunity to see and bid on a home without the pressure of competing against other buyers. “And for some sellers, they may be happier not having to go through the process of listing and accommodating multiple showings,” Rieker says.

The most common response she gets when she talks to homeowners is, “‘Yeah, I’d love to sell in this market. But where would I go? I don’t think I can buy in this market.” 

Ian Katz, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in NYC, has had some luck originating leads by sending handwritten notes to residents in a newer condominium building that one of his clients had interest in, but that no longer had units on the market. The owners were already sitting on a nice pop in appreciation over the last few years, Katz says, and one of the owners entertained an offer on her property. 

“While the negotiation didn’t progress to a deal, it did get another opportunity on my client’s radar that wasn’t available to the public,” he says.