It’s 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 is a FSBO that might soon appear on the multi-list.
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.
Renovation Is Underway
Homeowners commonly undertake a repair or renovation project during the summer months, but if you notice a lot of activity—house painters hard at work, a fence being repaired, and a landscaping crew busily planting shrubs—you may be looking at a house that's soon to go on the market. Owners who are getting their property in tip-top shape to sell will often welcome the chance to make a deal before it’s listed. It never hurts to ask.
It’s an Expired Listing
Getting this info requires asking 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, but 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.
Tip from a Pro
If you know a renovation contractor or two, don’t hesitate to contact them and ask 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.
Family Status Changed
A divorce or a death in the family often precedes a house sale. Divorce filings can be found at your local 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.
People Are Talking
Long before most houses go on the market, their owners discuss their plans with friends and acquaintances. Perhaps they've mentioned a job promotion that requires relocation, a desire to move to be closer to family, or an interest in trying out a new neighborhood. Let people know that you're in the market, and be sure to discuss your house-hunting at your local book club, yoga class, or hair salon. Casual acquaintances could have the inside track on valuable info, and you may learn that a house you’ve been admiring may soon be on the market.
It’s a Moving Sale!
Be sure to check out moving 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 on selling 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.”
Related: 11 Signs It's Time to Move
Obviously, 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 current 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.
“Coming Soon” Listings
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 by Zillow.com. Current homeowners use these services to gauge buyer interest and to 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.
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