14 Telltale Signs That a House Will Be Going on the Market
In today’s bustling real estate market, a home can sell the same day it’s listed—and for more than the asking price. Use these clues to get an edge on the competition and secure the perfect home ASAP.
There’s no easy way to say it: if you’re hunting for your next home, you’ll have a lot to contend with in this summer’s real estate market. Mortgage rates are slowly rising, reaching 6.79 percent on June 1, which is the highest they’ve been since November 2022. But there’s also low house inventory, which means many homes go quickly and receive multiple offers that are often well over asking price.
To give yourself a leg up in this challenging market, look for these early signs that a house is going up for sale so you can put an offer on your dream home before it’s gone.
1. The house is a former FSBO
Thrifty homeowners who want to avoid paying large real estate brokerage commissions will often try to market their homes themselves and go the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) route. While these types of sales are occasionally successful, many homeowners abandon the idea when they’re confronted by such challenges as advertising expenses or determining whether potential buyers are qualified to make an offer. A FSBO that is no longer being advertised by its owner might soon appear on the multi-list.
2. The yard is unkempt
Overgrown grass and raggedy hedges are among the first signs that a home’s residents have moved out. The need to relocate hastily can put homeowners in a pinch, particularly if they were in too big a rush to list their house. Now that they’re gone, they may be especially eager to sell their house with as little hassle as possible. Introduce yourself to their neighbors and let them know you’re interested in the house. Odds are, one of them is keeping an eye on it and will be willing to forward your contact information to the owner.
3. The exterior is being painted
Holly Hughes, a real estate broker in Austin, Texas, says that “if you notice fresh paint or spot painters working on the house, it’s a telltale sign that the homeowners are taking steps to improve the house and a clue that they may sell soon.” Keep an eye out for any houses that are getting a facelift by way of new paint.
4. The listing is expired
Ask a real estate agent to print out the expired listings in your preferred neighborhood. It’s a free service, and most agents will do it because they figure you’ll either ask them to represent you when you buy, or you’ll remember them if you ever sell a house. Expired listings are available from a few weeks to a few years ago. However long it’s been, if a house didn’t sell the first time it was listed, the owners may just be waiting to relist. Knock on the door and see if they’re still interested in selling.
5. Renovation contractors are talking
If you know a renovation contractor or two, ask them whether any of their customers are fixing up their houses in anticipation of selling. Painters, carpet layers, and roofers are often called in when a homeowner is getting ready to sell. Even if your contacts aren’t currently getting a house ready to go on the market, they’ll often know which of their fellow subcontractors are.
6. A family’s status has changed
A divorce or a death in the family often precedes a house sale. Divorce filings can be found at your county clerk’s office, and you can discover whether a homeowner recently passed away by perusing the obituaries. While there’s a good chance that people dealing with family issues may be contemplating a move, contacting them at these delicate times requires tact and diplomacy. If you go this route, be ultra-sensitive when you mention that you may be interested in the house.
7. Neighbors are talking
Long before most houses go on the market, their owners discuss their plans with friends and acquaintances. Let people in your book club, yoga class, or hair salon know that you’re in the market. Casual acquaintances could have valuable intel on your next house.
8. There’s a moving or garage sale
Be sure to check out yard sales, garage sales, and estate sales, which are often held on Saturdays. While you shop, you can find out when the residents are moving, and if they’re planning to sell their home. Another good strategy is to scan through ads in your local paper and on sites like Craigslist, where people often advertise items as “Moving—Must Sell.”
9. You see a “for rent” sign
Not all landlords who are seeking renters are looking to sell their houses, but when property owners have tried unsuccessfully to sell a house, they often turn to renting it out. Particularly when the real estate market is slow, an owner may plan to rent out a house for a year or two and then put it on the market. All it takes is a simple phone call to find out if the owner would entertain an offer. Many will.
10. You see a “coming soon” listing
One of the most reliable signs that a home will be going on the market is the presence of a “coming soon” listing, like those offered on Zillow.com. Current homeowners use these services to gauge buyer interest and line up potential buyers by publicizing their intention to sell. Even though the listed house isn’t yet being shown, real estate agents are already on the case, so you can contact them to arrange a showing the minute the house hits the market.
11. Major repairs are underway
Before selling a house, many homeowners will make major repairs to make it more appealing for potential buyers. Common presale repairs include replacing the roof, updating the HVAC system, and repairing the foundation. So if you notice an influx of HVAC repair technicians or roofers at the house, it might signal that the owners are preparing to sell.
12. Personal touches disappear
Most homes’ exteriors are decorated with elements that reflect the unique style of the owners, like stylized nameplates, whimsical garden accents, and quirky welcome mats. But most real estate agents will advise against including these personal touches when selling the home since they might not have mainstream appeal. Plus, they make it more difficult for prospective buyers to visualize themselves in the home.
13. The home’s landscaping is being upgraded
One of the first things a real estate agent will advise when getting ready to sell a home is to boost its curb appeal. According to Hughes, “Landscape updates, especially fresh mulch or flowers, can be subtle hints that homeowners are preparing to sell and want to maximize their curb appeal.” After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So if the owners are installing lots of new landscaping, it might signify that a sale is on the horizon.
14. There’s a sudden increase or decrease in activity
“Keep an eye out for the presence of multiple tradespeople and different vehicles around a house,” advises Hughes. When owners are preparing to sell, they often need lots of professionals to help, like home stagers, renovators, repair technicians and, of course, real estate agents.
However, “The opposite can also be true,” she says. “If a home suddenly seems more quiet, it could indicate an upcoming sale.” Some homeowners move away or stop renting out their home before selling, so a sudden decrease in activity at the home is something to keep an eye on.