"We're thinking of downsizing," the nice gentleman said at my Sunday Open last week at 610 Blair. "Ideally, my wife and I would love a home with a view (who wouldn't?) but unfortunately, our current home is much larger than we need at this point in time."
"Got it. Are you currently working with an agent?" I politely inquired. (Hey, I know an opening when I see one.) "Uh no, we just wander in from time to time when a sign catches our eye," he sheepishly responded. "We live around the corner and we don't really need an agent just yet, but we love opens . . . plus our daughter has a friend who just got her license . . ." ("All you need is love, love. Love is all you need . . .")
Oh dear. I hear you (and the Beetles) but I respectively disagree. In our uber-competitive world, you're going to need a whole lot more . . . Aside from the fact that ALL Realtors are NOT created equal (experience can only ever be earned over time) Buyers are much better served when they bring a knowledgeable Agent into the process from the start instead of waiting until they have identified a home they desire and then attempt to play catch up.
While it may seem that Realtors are fast becoming redundant, or (perish the thought) virtually replaceable (what with the advent of Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia, Grubbco.com, and any number of other well-mined real estate SEOs) the fact of the matter is that a fair number of homes are quietly traded in "off market" sales. Which is to say that as a layman, you will never hear about these "off-market" opportunities at all, let alone come across them on the WORLD WIDE WEB.
Still, you wouldn't think that anyone would be interested in selling "off-market" in such an exuberant environment, noted for producing multiple offers - would you? Yet for a certain percentage of Sellers, the "off-market" Buyer presents an elegant and far less intrusive solution AND saves the unwelcome hassle and expense of painting, staging and presenting invariably bring to the process - not to mention, cleaning, purging, packing and often moving out altogether . . . (yes, selling is inconvenient to say the least.)
Moreover, "off-market" sales have the advantage of keeping the deal under the radar - an important consideration for some folk, who frankly, don't want the whole town talking about their private business. (Imagine that?) Please note, It doesn't follow that these "off-market" properties can be bought for less than their MLS listing counterparts. In fact, if you're the Buyer, be prepared to pay a premium for an "off-market" listing - not a discount.
Unless a Buyer is willing to pay enough to keep the Seller from "testing" the marketplace instead of accepting YOUR very compelling offer, there is simply NO incentive to sell behind closed doors. In truth, 'off-market' Buyers are paying NOT to compete with other willing and able on-market Buyers and for that, there's a price to be paid. (Sorry, but that's the skinny.) So repeat after me: "This isn't a deal, it's an opportunity. This isn't a deal, it's an OPPORTUNITY!" Or put another way, value is in the eye of the beholder.
"Okay, so how do I find these 'off-market opportunities'?"
You don't, we do - via phone calls, industry networking, and mining the inside track. Ironically, just as the market appears to be waning as we move towards the holiday season, there is a tremendous amount of strong activity taking place behind the scenes. In fact, a fair number of Agents are already meeting with potential Sellers to begin preparations for Spring 2015. (If that's you and you haven't yet contacted a real estate agent, may I gently encourage you to pick up the phone and call me?!)
Looking forward, my colleagues and I are replenishing the listing/housing stock as we speak, AND within that upcoming inventory, there are likely to be a few candidates who upon learning of the heavy lifting required, will sigh, turn to us and say: "If you know of anyone for whom this house might be a good fit, feel free to bring them by."
"But how do I know I'm not overpaying for this 'opportunity'?" You don't, and what's more, Sellers, in turn, don't know if they could have faired better had their properties run the full course of marketing and exposure either. In short, both the Buyer and the Seller have to agree to live with the unknown - and the question marks that are always inherent in these sorts of transactions. So, before proceeding, understand that good will and trust are never more important than in these "off-market" 'opportunities.' Otherwise, move with the pack and good luck to you. You'll be in very good company.
Finally, a final plug for my often maligned profession: a Licensed Agent will help you prepare to compete, make sure you are preapproved through a local lender, educate you as to current market value, advocate for your interests, and beat the bushes on your behalf. And the best part of this equation, is that Agents are paid only when and if we successfully close a transaction. What's more, here in California, our fees are assumed by the Sellers - not the Buyers - so in essence, you gain the experience, skill and wisdom of our many years of practice - at the expense of the Seller. (Thank you Mr. Seller!) Now there's the deal.
Hey, you can love Real Estate, love the marketplace, love the Internet, and love cruising the Open Homes every Sunday of your life, but you are still going to need an agent you can trust to lead you to the homes that are currently active, those that are coming soon, and those that may never appear . . .
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.