Off market properties can be either:
- For sale, but not listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
For many buyers, house hunting begins with Zillow, and including off market properties in their search can provide them with an opportunity to find a hidden deal.
How to find off market properties on Zillow
Zillow has several listing statuses that count as off market:
On Zillow, “off market” means the database doesn’t show the property as for sale. This status doesn’t mean the owner wouldn’t sell it to you, just that Zillow doesn’t have any information to suggest they’re actively trying to sell.
If you want to buy a property listed as off market on Zillow, reach out to the owner to see if they’re interested in selling the property. Look up the address on your county auditor’s website to find out who owns the property and any publicly available contact information. You or your agent could also mail the owner a letter expressing interest.
A “coming soon” status means a property isn’t yet for sale, but it may be in the upcoming days. Listing agents often list their client’s properties as coming soon to drum up interest.
You or your agent can reach out to the listing agent of a “coming soon” property to see when they’ll begin showing it and accepting offers. You may even be able to see the property before it’s officially listed or — if you’re comfortable bidding on a home you haven’t seen — make an offer prior to showings.
For sale by owner (FSBO)
If a property is listed “for sale by owner” on Zillow, you can find it in one of two ways:
- Under “Agent listings” if the seller has found a third party like a flat fee MLS company to list it on the MLS
- Under “Other listings” if they haven’t
Once you’ve found the property you want to see, contact the listing party and schedule a showing.
» LEARN: What Does For Sale By Owner Mean?
If you monitor status changes of interesting properties, you could find an expired listing: a property that went from “for sale” to “off market” but has no sale recorded.
Zillow will send you periodic emails about the listing status of any house if you click the heart-shaped button on the photo of that property. If the price and tax history section shows no record of a sale, but the property is no longer listed as for sale, you may have found an expired listing.
To take advantage of expired listings, contact the listing agent or find the owner’s contact information yourself. Search the address on your local county auditor’s website, or drop off a letter of interest at the property itself.
Once you have reached the owner of an expired listing, ask if they’re willing to sell to you.
How to find off market properties outside of Zillow
Finding off market properties outside of Zillow requires looking in less-popular places.
Pocket listings are property listings withheld from public channels and only offered to select potential buyers, often through real estate agents.
If the property is listed by an agent who’s a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), pocket listings are only allowed within their own brokerage. That means you must be represented by a realtor from the same brokerage as the seller — sometimes even the same realtor.
The dual agency requirement doesn’t apply to non-NAR members. But pocket listings are still, by definition, limited offerings, so you’ll probably need to ask your agent if any are available.
Sometimes, when homeowners fail to make their mortgage or tax payments, the lender or government will repossess the house and sell it at auction.
Authorities often don’t allow potential buyers inside before bidding. That means you’ll need a higher risk tolerance to buy a property without evaluating it in person — but that can also mean less competition and securing a price well below market value.
Properties for auction can be found:
- In the real estate, classifieds, or legal notices sections of the local newspaper
- On websites like Auction.com, RealtyTrac, or Zillow
- On yard signs, if one is posted
To participate in an auction, contact the entity running it and ask for the date, location, and any requirements. The contact information should be listed wherever you became aware of the auction.
For sale by owner (FSBO) marketplaces
Besides listing on Zillow or simply putting a For Sale sign in the property’s front yard, sellers also list their properties on various FSBO websites. Some popular examples are:
To purchase a FSBO property, contact the seller and express interest in a showing, just like you would if it were listed by an agent.
Wholesalers find underpriced properties, usually in need of repair, and put them under contract. Then they sell the contract to interested buyers before closing on the property.
Most buyers who work with wholesalers usually buy with cash and without an agent. Wholesalers often have a list of potentially interested buyers who they contact with new opportunities.
Your agent or a local real estate professional could connect you to a wholesaler and walk you through the process if you’re unfamiliar with the process.
What to expect when buying off market
|Less competition for inventory
|More legwork to find properties
|Potentially lower prices
|Possibly longer to close
|More flexible negotiations
✅ Benefits of buying off market
The extra effort required to locate off market properties means fewer people will find these opportunities, so you’ll find less competition.
Because there’s less competition for off market properties, buyers should have more leverage to negotiate lower prices. However, while a distressed seller might be more willing to lower the sale price, a stubborn one might not mind waiting for a better offer.
The added leverage from buying off market also means sellers will likely be more flexible in negotiations. That could mean pushing back the closing date or undertaking repairs themselves.
Less competition also eliminates pressure to move quickly to beat out other buyers. If you wanted a professional to come out and estimate the cost to fix an issue with a property, for example, you wouldn’t necessarily need to rush the process.
Finally, seeking off market opportunities only increases the total number of possible purchases available when you combine it with searching the MLS.
Most benefits to off market properties stem from the fact that they’re not readily available to every potential buyer. Even off market listings on Zillow, for example, require the searcher to know about the “Other listings” tab. To get help finding properties, you can always enlist an agent.
❌ Downsides of buying off market
Off market properties require more effort to get good deals. The best deals are often found in obscure places, so they’ll also be the hardest to find.
Even after you locate off market opportunities, you may find yourself dealing with a less-than-professional seller who requires special accommodations. This could mean an extended time frame to close or substantial investment of time and money to get the property in livable condition.
Indeed, one of the main reasons a property might be off market is because it’s not in good enough condition to sell to a typical buyer.
Why a seller would keep a property off market
A seller may keep a property off market to:
- Maintain privacy
- Test the market
- Minimize non-serious buyers
- Sell to a specific buyer
Selling off market allows homeowners to offload a property under the radar. For example, they may not want their tenants to know the property is for sale, or they might be going through a messy divorce.
Test the market
Some off market approaches, such as Zillow’s “coming soon” feature or a sign in the front yard, allow home sellers to gauge or drum up interest.
Minimize non-serious buyers
Approaches like pocket listings allow sellers to narrow their focus to only serious buyers. This avoids having a parade of curious neighbors coming through their home or wasting time on buyers who aren’t serious.
Sell to a specific buyer
Someone may have a buyer in mind and doesn’t need to make the property publicly available. This could avoid the hassle of marketing and paying commission fees altogether.
What does 'off market' mean on Zillow?
Zillow labels a property off market when it's not listed for sale, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to purchase it.
Can you buy a house that's off the market?
Is it good to buy off market property?
Good deals can be found with off market properties, but every situation is different and should be carefully considered. Often the things that make it a good deal will require extra effort, money, or creativity.
Want to learn more about finding great deals in real estate? Check out these articles to learn more!
25 of the Top for Sale by Owner Questions, Answered: Get answers to all your questions about FSBO properties from our team of experts.
Do I Need A Real Estate Agent? Learn The TRUTH: Find out if you need an agent and what you stand to gain by working with one.
What Companies Offer the Lowest Real Estate Commission Fees?: Some companies charge lower fees than others. Find out which ones can help you save the most money when you sell a property.