The latest evidence indicates that the market is tightening again, and not as expected. As of this writing, the number of new registrations has declined for the seventh week in a row. So it’s time for serious buyers to start knocking on doors.
This is what my cousin and her husband did years ago when they decided they wanted to buy their own house in Florida. And it worked !
They wanted to buy something in a small enclave in Bonita Springs, where they had been renting for several years. The first house they tried was occupied by a seasonal tenant, who directed them to the owner’s house up the street. My cousin’s husband wasted no time: he knocked on the owner’s door and asked, “Are you interested in selling your rental?”
They chatted for a few minutes and the owner said he would think about it. A few days later he said he would sell. They made a deal, and to this day the seller, my cousin, and their spouses are quick friends.
It doesn’t always work that way, of course. These days, you’re just as likely to get the door slammed in your face as you are to receive a polite response. And if you pick the wrong day or the wrong time, you might even have a pistol – or worse, an AK-47 – wielding in your kiss.
Even without going to these extremes, you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection. Most people don’t even try this method, and even real estate agents tend to hate going door-to-door on behalf of clients who have identified where they want to live.
A few years ago, Lesley Lambert, then of Park Square Realty in Westfield, Massachusetts, swallowed his anxiety and started knocking on doors. Her first stop was answered by a woman who hugged her and started to cry. At the second stop, the owner slammed the door, but soon got out and apologized.
In her article on real estate site ActiveRain, Lambert didn’t say that she had acquired any listings, but she did find that knocking on the door wasn’t that bad.
As an alternative, some people write letters to the owners of their potential neighborhoods. I spoke to two agents who tried this tactic on behalf of clients – one wrote letters and the other mailed flyers, each to no avail. But it worked wonderfully for broker in Northern Virginia, David Rathgeber. Twice!
When Rathgeber, owner of Your Friend in Real Estate, wanted to get closer to his daughter and granddaughter, he sent letters to the owners of the 45 single story homes that met his specifications. He got a response from three and bought from one. On another occasion, he targeted around 150 homes on behalf of a client; he only received “a few responses”, but that was enough.
“It was what my buyers wanted, they never went to the market and we paid a fair price with no competition,” Rathgeber told me.
The key, he says, is to be as specific as possible about what you want. Not only the location and style of the house – say, modern or ranch – but also the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, lot size and whatever makes your heart beat faster.
“If a buyer can be very specific,” says Rathgeber, “this whole idea can work like a charm.”
Your agent should be able to help you identify venues that meet your needs. But you can do your own research before – or even instead of – bringing in a pro.
Once you’ve identified a few properties that seem to meet your needs, you can find some basic information from your local tax assessor. With an address, you should be able to find the owner’s name and how much they’re paying in property taxes, Agent Bill Gassett wrote on ActiveRain. (Just remember that your taxes wouldn’t necessarily be the same if you bought the place.) Gassett, of RE / MAX Executive in Hopkinton, Mass., Adds that “a lot of useful (other) information” is available from the county clerk. Office. You can also search databases online or visit your local library.
Be aware, however, that these sources are not infallible. Tax assessor records can be inaccurate, for example, because few homeowners let them in to look around. And Zillow’s popular Zestimate feature is widely criticized by agents when it comes to assigning values to properties. (On my own house, the only thing Zillow is right about is the number of bathrooms.)
Whether it’s knocking on doors or sending letters, it’s best to identify yourself right away as a serious buyer – not as an agent looking for ads or an investor who just wants to flip. houses and pocket the profits. Tell them why you are interested in their place, that you are willing to make a fair offer, and that they will not have to pay a sales commission. Another bonus: they won’t have to let potential buyers walk through their home day or night. You can also offer to close the deal as they see fit, even if it’s months off.
If they’re not ready to move, ask if they know anyone in the neighborhood who might be. Above all, be sincere and courteous, even if you are not.
Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for over 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous housing magazines and to housing and housing finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at [email protected]