You Can Buy a Home Even When It's Not for Sale

Home for sale signBy Marilen Cawad

Chris Lichon found her "dream" starter home as she was driving around Rutherford County, Tenn., one fine spring day. The house was on about an acre of ground, on a dead-end street, with a big pasture beside it that she could rent for her horse. It was perfect, she thought, except for one small detail. The house was not for sale.

Lichon had already been house-hunting for four months when she came across the 1970s ranch-style home. So when she found what she was looking for, her trusted real estate agent didn't think twice about knocking on the door and asking the question, "Would you consider selling your home?" To Lichon's surprise, the homeowners said yes. "They just asked us to give them a half hour to tidy up and then they showed us around the house," she said. Save for a few places that needed additional insulation, she found the three-bedroom, one-bath home to be well-maintained.

As luck would have it, the owners were a growing family of seven who had long thought about moving to a larger place. They named their price, Lichon found it fair, and just like that, the house was sold. The lesson in this story: When buying a home, don't just rely on a real estate listing or a "for sale" sign. Trust your instincts and let your Realtor do the dirty work for you.

Joshua Baris, a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker in Northern New Jersey, recently had to knock on an unsuspecting homeowner's door for his client who wanted a specific three-bedroom luxury condo in West New York, N.J. His bold step resulted in a successful sale. "If you want to succeed in this market, you really have to be aggressive and creative," said Baris. Not only is he going house-to-house, he's also sending out letters to owners of unlisted homes on behalf of his clients.

His letter would typically say: "My client is looking to buy a house and came across yours. Please call me to discuss in greater detail." Some recipients of his letter might find his actions intrusive and some might even think it's a scam, but Baris said that more often than not, people are willing to talk and negotiate. "It's not that everyone has a price, but you'll be surprised how many homeowners have thought about selling, but just never got around to doing it," said Baris. "The best deals are sometimes made when the buyer's agent is one step ahead."

The practice is not uncommon. All over the U.S., Realtors have been resorting to cold calls to get prospective buyers into unlisted homes. "This is happening more often than you might think, especially in the current market, in places where inventories are extremely low," said Keith Sorem, a real estate consultant and associate at Keller Williams Real Estate Services in Los Angeles.

A house, for example, may have failed to sell one or two years ago, so the owner took it off the market. However, home values in the area may already have increased today -- enough to where the owner would be willing to sell. In this case, Sorem said, a cold call would be welcomed by both buyer and seller.

When buying a home, it's always best to keep in mind that you have more options than you are presented with. You might consider selling your own home if prospective buyers asked and the offer was right. Similarly, your ideal home may not be on sale, but that doesn't mean you cannot buy it.

Top 5 Cities to Sell a Home
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You Can Buy a Home Even When It's Not for Sale

Median list price: $224,900

A steady job market has kept demand for homes healthy in Iowa City, MarketWatch said. Iowa's low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent in December means more people can afford to buy. Inventory has been dropping rapidly in Iowa City, dropping 10 percent in January from a month prior. The number of homes for sale in every price range has been decreasing for the last 18 months, MarketWatch reported. That means sellers have their pick of buyers looking for homes.

Find homes for sale in Iowa City, Iowa, or search listings in your area.

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Median list price: $349,000
Median days homes are on the market: 56

Homes listed in Seattle spend about half the time on the market than they do nationally, and competition among buyers is helping to bid up home prices. There were less than 4,000 homes for sale in Seattle in January, MarketWatch reported, driving homebuyers to act fast on purchases.

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Median list price: $429,900
Median days homes are on the market: 29 (December)

In Washington, D.C., a monthly mortgage payment can cost less than local rental prices, so first-time homebuyers are taking advantage of that. There's also an influx of foreign buyers and investors snapping up homes. All of this means there's a lot of opportunity for sellers, MarketWatch said. It also doesn't hurt that inventory in the metro area is at a record low -- which means it's definitely a seller's market.

Find homes for sale in Washington, D.C., or search listings in your area.

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Median list price: $209,500
Median days homes are on the market: 58

Home values are getting warmer in the hot-weather town of Phoenix. The median list price is up 23.6 percent from a year ago, and many underwater homeowners are coming out of negative equity. That's making it easier for them to sell. There's also quite a but of buyer interest coming from an unlikely source: people who sold their homes in short sales and are now using the money to buy once again, MarketWatch said.

Find homes for sale in Phoenix, or search listings in your area.

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Median list price: $729,000
Median days homes are on the market: 58

Sellers in San Francisco have a pretty good problem on their hands: who to sell their homes to. Competition is fierce, with many sellers fielding more than 10 offers apiece on their properties, according to MarketWatch. The median days that a home sits on the market in San Francisco is below the national figure of 108. And a boom in tech jobs is bringing in scads of new workers who are looking to buy homes.

Find homes for sale in San Francisco, or search listings in your area.

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