find properties before they go on the market

Want to score better deals on investment properties?

Learn how to find properties before they hit the market.

In a competitive real estate market, buyers and investors want to learn how to find homes before they become public knowledge. Try these 10 ways to find houses before they hit the MLS.


How to find houses before they go on the market

There’s both an art and a science to finding great off-market properties. Start by choosing one of the tactics below and mastering it before you expand to others.


1. Drive around your target neighborhood

Another way to find houses before they hit the market is to drive around your desired neighborhood.

Even if you’ve come across listings online, it’s always more helpful to see a house up close to spot potential issues you may not have caught in photos. If you see a “For Sale” sign in the yard, the house is about to go on the market.

You can also reach out to owners of neglected properties, as part of the “driving for dollars” strategy. Try the Deal Machine app to automate the outreach.


2. Check out real estate websites

Even if your city’s official real estate agent association website doesn’t have certain homes listed, others may display your dream home before it’s officially posted. “Redfin, Zillow and are websites to search for homes not yet on the market,” Martin said.

Also check out Propstream or to find distressed sellers who may be open to a fast sale at a discounted price. Reach out to them by direct mail, email, text, or even social media, just as you reach out to owners of neglected properties.


3. Network with real estate agents

Most real estate professionals recommend starting by going straight to the source.

“If you want to find out about houses before they hit the market, your best bet is to talk to a real estate agent,” said Shaun Martin, a Denver-based land developer, owner and CEO of We Buy Houses in Denver. “They will have access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a database of all homes for sale in an area.”

Of course, not all real estate agents are created equal. Find an agent who actively works and stays up to date in the neighborhood where you invest.

For that matter, some savvy investors find ways to access the MLS without a Realtor. Get creative!


4. Follow real estate agents on social media

Most real estate agents know the importance of social media to stay ahead of the game. Many have and manage separate accounts for their business endeavors.

“Many real estate agents post about houses about to go on the market on their social media accounts,” Martin said. “So, if you follow a few agents in your desired area, you may be able to get a jump on the competition.”


5. Build a network of bird dogs

Get to know every busybody in the neighborhood, and offer to pay them a commission on any deals they bring you.

Connected locals could include postal workers, bartenders, baristas, barbers, salon workers, and anyone else who spends all day every day talking to people in the neighborhood. When they catch wind that someone is looking to sell fast, they can tip you off and connect you with the owner.

Think of it as crowdsourcing your home search for great deals.

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6. Network with others in the industry

If you have any connections or leads in the real estate industry, use them. These people will likely know about houses before they go on the market, and they may be able to give you a heads-up.

Similarly, talk to your friends and family. “If you know someone in the market for a new house, ask if they’ve come across any listings that aren’t yet on the market,” said Jennifer Spinelli, a real estate investor and investment advisor and the founder and CEO of Watson Buys, a home buying site in Denver. “Chances are, they’ll be happy to share any leads they have.”

7. Read real estate news

Not to give you even more homework, but one way to stay up-to-date on the latest real estate news is to read articles from reliable sources.

“This way, you can learn about any new developments or houses that are about to hit the market,” Martin said. “Some good sources for real estate news include, HousingWire and Inman.”

8. Keep an eye out for “for sale by owner” listings

Your real estate agent can help you keep track of “for sale by owner” listings that may not be as easy to track down as traditional listings. “These are typically houses that are not yet listed on the MLS, but may be put on the market soon,” Spinelli said.

9. Check out expired listings

If a listing expires, it doesn’t mean the home is no longer available. Instead, it could mean the house didn’t sell within the original timeframe.

This could be a good opportunity to snag a deal on a house before it’s officially back on the market.

10. Attend city planning commission meetings

This might be one of the last places you’d think to extend your search, but you can find houses being built or renovated. This is a great way to get ahead of the competition and be one of the first people to see properties for sale.

What is a pocket listing?

A pocket listing is a listing that is not publicly advertised but is only shared with a select group of people.

“If you can get your hands on a pocket listing, you may be able to find a great deal on a house before it hits the market,” Martin said. “It can be difficult, but if you have connections in the real estate industry, they may be able to help you out.”

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What does off-market mean?

When a house is considered off-market, it is not currently advertised for sale. While that can be promising for those with good sleuthing skills, it’s extra homework and time to budget into your search.

“People choose to sell their homes off-market for many reasons. For example, to avoid paying commissions to real estate agents or keep their home sale private,” Martin said. “Whatever the reason, if you are interested in buying an off-market property, you will likely have to do some extra legwork to find it.”

“Often, sellers only entertain offers from pre-approved buyers, so it’s important to work with a buyer’s agent who has experience with off-market properties,” Spinelli said.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

New real estate investors and homebuyers tend to have plenty of questions about scoring deals. A few common questions include the following.

Why would a property be unlisted?

A property may be unlisted for many reasons. For example, the owner may have decided to take it off the market for a while. Another possibility is that a listing may have expired or not yet been renewed. “The owner may be trying to keep the sale private,” Spinelli said. “Additionally, the property may be in such poor condition that it’s not worth listing publicly. If you’re interested in unlisted property, your best bet is to work with a real estate agent with experience in these types of properties.”

What month do the most houses hit the market?

“In general, it is believed most houses hit the market in the spring and summer months,” Martin said. If you want to find a house before it’s listed, you should try looking shortly before these seasons.

What day of the week are most houses listed?

According to Martin, there isn’t a golden-ticket answer to this question, as every market is different. “However, in general, it is believed that most houses list on Thursdays,” he said. Additionally, the day of the week a house is listed for sale doesn’t significantly impact its eventual selling price. “However, many real estate agents believe that listing a property on a Thursday or Friday gives it the most exposure since that’s when most people are searching for homes online,” Spinelli said.

Bottom line

By taking the time to get creative in your home search, you can find listings before they hit the market. You never know; you may find your dream home in an unlikely place.


More Real Estate Investing Reads:

About the Author

NeighborWho’s mission is to help people find in-depth information about properties and property owners for real estate professionals and homeowners, including search tools that help users delve deeper into the ownership history of a home.

This article originally appeared on and is republished here with the author’s permission.

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