AgentIndustry Voices

23 ways to find off-market, hidden inventory

Creative ways to find inventory and get sellers off the fence.

Where’s all the inventory? You have buyers. They’re hungry for new listings. They’re ready to buy! They’ve even come to terms with higher interest rates. The only reason they’re not under contract is that you either haven’t found them something to buy, or you did, but they got outbid!

Why? Historically low inventory is once again creating scarcity. There are more buyers (in some areas, in some price ranges) than there are listings for them to buy.

According to Altos Research, last week’s inventory fell again by 6,858 listings, which is more than we saw last year, but still not enough homes for sale.

You need two things. You need to get your buyers under contract and you need to find more listings to add to your own listing inventory.

Before we get to the secret sources and strategies, here are some critical thoughts to consider:

1. How well do you know what your buyers are looking for? Are they (or you) being too specific or overly obsessed with certain areas, amenities, or schools? It may be time to discuss having some flexibility. Know your buyer clients’ ‘must haves’ versus ‘would be nice to have’ criteria.

2. Stop relying only on your MLS. This is one method but is no longer the only method. Commit to following these strategies for every buyer who is qualified and motivated, or simply refer them to an agent who will do a better job for them. It’s not fair for buyers to not be pending, simply because you haven’t been strategic enough to find them something!

The goal of the following strategies is to:

-Find off-market homes for you to list.

-Find off-market homes for you to sell to your buyers so they no longer lose out to the competition. If you want to stop competing (and losing), you must find homes that they’re unlikely to compete on!

Now for your 23 Strategies to find off-market or hidden listings:

1. Get more creative with your MLS searches. If your buyers keep losing out to multiple bids, search your MLS using the same criteria, but for homes that have been on the market for more than 60 days, more than 90 days, etc. They probably won’t be competing for those homes. Maybe they would consider a duplex in the same area, especially if it provides income for them. Have you had these conversations?

2. Expand the search for your buyers geographically. If they say they want ‘these three zip codes in Austin’, for example, ask why those zip codes and find other areas that have more inventory but feel similar to homes in those areas — same for school districts, amenities, etc. Maybe they just like the neighborhood park in that neighborhood, but there’s a similar or better one 10 miles away.

3. Connect with investors. Consider sources like ‘We pay cash for homes’ or ‘We buy ugly houses’ or similar. Those investors don’t purchase every home they’re presented with. What happens to their turn-downs? These might make good matches for your buyers, or even for you to flip or turn into a rental. Find investor groups at or start your own. There are lots of private groups on Facebook for investors and flippers.

4. New build sales reps can be a goldmine, especially in medium-priced and luxury new construction communities. They don’t take resale listings, and they won’t take a home sale contingency. This means they know who has a home to sell before they can close on the new one! If they’re licensed, pay them a referral fee. Aim for five relationships like this.

5. New build sales reps can also tell you which homes are about to fall out of contract. If they don’t already have someone to buy it, this is an off-market, new construction listing. These builds can tank for a variety of reasons. The buyer lost their financing, maybe they backed out due to a higher payment, lost their relocation deal with their employer, or got divorced. The new build reps know what’s going on and which homes are about to be available.

6. For rent by owners of single family homes, duplexes, etc. They are advertising their phone number, the script is simple, and it’s a business decision for them. They’re also a great resource to have a place for your wayward sellers who have sold but not yet bought.

7. Connect with assisted living care housing intake directors. Most people pay for their assisted care living costs by selling their home and cashing out the equity. The housing intake coordinators are a great source of those leads. Provide value by being a liaison between the homeowner and the director and the director will love you! Modify your pre- listing package to include contacts for estate sale specialists, pet rescue, moving and storage, etc.

8. Find the notice of defaults (NODs). Search the zip codes your buyers are looking in, for NODs and see if the homes fit your buyer’s criteria. These are not usually listed, but they are motivated!

9. Mine your database. We’re talking about your clients and people in your sphere of influence. This is knows as shadow inventory. Who owns a home currently that may be a match for your qualified and motivated buyers? This creates two to three transactions for you.

10. Call 100% of your database to see who is curious about what their home is now worth in today’s market. If they knew their home is now worth $x amount, what would that do to their plans?

11. Search your neighborhoods for half-done flips. The cost of building materials and labor has increased dramatically. Which flippers are feeling the pinch? Certain buyers may be willing to purchase the home and finish it themselves, or at least get in contract pending the finishing of the project.

12. Condo or apartment conversions. There are still new or newer neighborhoods or buildings which have been rentals but are now becoming resales.

13. Expired listings, recent expireds, older expireds. You probably can get them their price in today’s market. Offer to provide a new comparative market analysis and see what that does to their plans.

14. For sale by owners (FSBOs). Reach out, especially if they are older than two weeks on the market and still haven’t sold.

15. Absentee owners. and other companies provide this information. Get the address, make sure it’s not already listed and connect with the owners to see what their plan is for the property. Offer a free CMA to help them decide.

16. Vacation rentals (VRBOs). Look at the rental history and pursue property owners who own homes in the areas you or your buyers want and see if they would consider selling. Their phone numbers and email address are almost always listed online. Many of the VRBOs are experiencing new rules which now limit their rental options, thus reducing their profitability.

17. Probate. When someone passes away and their property needs to be sold by the heirs, it passes through probate attorneys.

18. Garage and estate sales. Yes, that’s right, they’re back, and they’re quite effective at identifying the next listing in the neighborhood. Facebook Marketplace is a great way to connect with people cleaning house before they get ready to sell!

19. Scan Zillow for listings in the areas that you or your buyers are looking for, listed by brokers or agents who do not belong to your MLS, thus you won’t see their listing in your MLS (and other agents won’t either!)

20. Door knocking hot neighborhoods. Don’t go empty handed. Bring something of value. A one page info sheet on the stats for that area, or a flier of what’s pending, what’s the average list to sell ratio, days on the market, etc. As them, “Whom do you know who I should be helping buy or sell real estate?”

21. Expand and upgrade your own center of influence and talk about real estate all the time! Don’t be a secret agent. Join new clubs, organizations, gyms or other groups so you get to know more people and enjoy more organic referrals. Orange Theory, kids’ sports groups, your homeowners association, arts organizations, etc. All of these can upgrade and expand your center of influence.

22. Sponsor and participate at a high level in your community. Parades, parties, farmer’s markets, beach clean-ups, Use your FORD script (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams) to get to know people and talk about real estate. You want people to say, ‘We see you everywhere! You’re that real estate person, right?’

23. Prospect your professional sphere of influence. Your mortgage originators are approving people right now who haven’t started looking for a home and aren’t working with an agent. Ask them weekly for these referrals. Stagers are also a fantastic source of pre-listing leads. Service providers often find out someone is moving before agents do. Connect with them and ask them regularly to refer business to you. (Make sure you’re referring business to them as well!)

Tim and Julie Harris host a podcast for real estate professionals. Tim and Julie have been real estate coaches for more than two decades, coaching the top agents in the country through different types of markets.  

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