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How to Find Unconventional Homes for Real Estate Buyers

Real estate can be a highly competitive business, and that goes double when inventory is low. So how can a real estate agent expand available offerings to clients? By scouting out unusual homes from unconventional sources. These properties might include: 

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  • Tiny homes
  • Converted churches, schools etc.
  • Off-grid homes
  • Historic homes
  • Kit homes
  • Container homes
  • Extreme fixer-uppers

Although some properties in these categories aren’t considered real estate, many are. And becoming the go-to agent for unusual properties can help you stand apart from other agents. To get there from here, you need to learn where these properties are, how they are financed, and who wants them.

Advantages of Selling Unique Homes

Unique homes represent inventory that most agents overlook. Knowing where they are and being the resource for hungry homebuyers can give you an advantage or two over your competition.

  • Unique homes lend themselves to great social media campaigns because they are fun to read about and interesting to look at. Promote these homes to boost your visibility.
  • Unique homes are popular with millennial first-time buyers, a huge market segment.
  • Investors make great clients because they buy and sell much more often than occupying buyers. And investors are discovering the great potential of tiny homes and kit homes.

Of course, there are disadvantages. Financing is harder to come by, and prices (and commissions) are often lower. But these buyers are likely to move up eventually, and moving a bunch of cheap homes can pay off later in the form of a larger, loyal client base.

Unique Homes: Real Estate Versus Personal Property

Obviously, as a real estate agent, you don’t benefit from selling a home on wheels or other personal property (although you can sell the lot on which it rests and receive a commission for this). Unique homes only benefit you if they are legally classified as real estate.

If the home is built in compliance with the building codes for single-family homes, it can be financed just like any other single-family home. It must also be taxed as real estate, not as a vehicle. You can determine this easily enough by checking your county assessor’s website.

One way to take advantage of the tiny, container, and kit house trends is to solicit buildable lots to sell and promote those that would be perfect for a unique home. Include pictures of these homes and information about finding a builder and financing. Lot sellers will appreciate the extra effort, and home buyers will be grateful for the information.

Locating Unique Homes

You can become an unusual home resource in a couple of ways. The easy way is to scour the MLS every day for new unusual listings and add links and pics on your own web page. Tiny homes are easy to find if you filter for square footage, and historic homes can be targeted by specializing property age.

Put an article about financing these properties on your agent web page, and be able to answer questions about alternative home choices. Contact agents who routinely sell these home types, and establish a relationship so they will think of you when they get a good listing.  

The other option is to become a listing agent for unusual homes. That means marketing yourself as a unique home specialist. Find communities with tiny homes or green homes and deploy direct mail campaigns to contact prospective sellers. Make contacts at your local tiny house dealer and with builders of custom homes, log homes, and green homes. Ask if you can leave your brochures with them. Get to know your local areas with good old-fashioned drive-bys, and note the addresses of “cool” houses.

You can also locate unusual homes by checking off-market properties on real estate sites using keyword searches like “container” or “off-grid.” Get a list of addresses, and contact current owners offering your services.

Finally, don’t stop at residential property. Commercial sites such as loopnet.com are goldmines for abandoned churches, schools, even firehouses that can be converted to residential use.

Marketing Unique Homes: What You Need to Know

To be a true resource and not just an order-taker, expand your knowledge. You’ll need to learn about home warranties, financing options for unique homes, zoning issues, who to contact for green improvements, and adding foundations to homes on wheels. Buyers of historic homes often need help with special tax laws that apply to them. You’ll deal with sellers who may not understand that their property’s uniqueness reduces their buyer pool and that seller concessions may be necessary. And you should get to know the best home inspectors and home appraisers for unique properties and how your clients can negotiate.  

Be creative when locating your target demographic. Millennials, for instance, are buying inexpensive historic homes and tiny houses to begin their homeownership journey. They are devotees of sites like CheapOldHouses.com. And real estate investment clubs appreciate anything that generates a good return, and the opportunity to load up on inexpensive quirky homes may be very appealing.  

When you focus on unusual homes, you’re selling a lifestyle. Blog about these homes. Line up group tours of unusual homes and invite the press. Embrace the unusual, highlight the differences, and celebrate the unique. The pool of buyers for unusual homes is smaller, but there is also less competition for their business.

Be creative to reach the sort of buyers who purchase unique homes. Take high-quality photos or post video footage and pay to promote the property. Think Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook targeted posts — if your footage or photo is beautiful or entertaining enough, you’ll get extra reach.

Unique Home Financing

Financing can be a major headache with unique homes, and being able to offer help to buyers provides you with a competitive advantage. Here are the main sources of financing:

  • Traditional mortgages work for homes built to local codes on permanent foundations.
  • Personal loans with or without collateral can have interest rates comparable to mortgage rates if the borrower has excellent credit.
  • Tiny, manufactured, and log home builders often offer in-house financing to buyers.
  • Sellers may be willing to provide financing to gain an additional stream of income.
  • HUD Title 1 loans can be used for mobile homes not affixed to foundations or taxed as real estate.

By networking with providers of unique home financing, you become a valued source of referrals to your partners and a great source of information for your clients.

The unique home sector is like any other real estate specialty. The ones most likely to succeed are interested, passionate, and knowledgeable. Find an unusual home type you love and dive in.  

Luke Babich is the Co-Founder and COO at Clever Real Estate, the nation’s leading real estate education platform for home buyers, sellers, and investors. 

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