Canada's Condominium Magazine

Insider knowledge can help find the home of your dreams

A famous orchestra conductor, Richard Bonynge, whose wife was the even more famous operatic diva Joan Sutherland, chose a story about real estate to illustrate the life-changing role that luck can play in any person’s life or career. He recounted in an interview on CBC how he and his new wife had found the wonderful home they shared for more than forty years in Les Avants, Switzerland.

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The Dakota in Manhattan, once the home of John Lennon, calls itself the most exclusive apartment building in New York. You can’t buy your way in, but in most markets, inside information can open a lot of doors for homebuyers.

While looking for a property to rent, they had gone to the wrong address and knocked on the door of a beautiful chateau, with a garden and stunning views of the valley and mountains beyond. The owner, an elderly man, said that no, the house was not for rent, but come to think of it, he wouldn’t mind selling it. He had been thinking of doing so, and the unexpected appearance of this nice young couple seemed a sort of sign that the time was right. When Bonynge asked how much the man wanted for the house, he quoted a price that Bonynge knew was much below market value, and he said so. “I couldn’t in conscience ask for more,” said the man. “I paid very little for the place myself, and I think the price I’m asking gives me a fair return on my investment.” So Bonynge and Sutherland bought it, and he lives there to this day, though his wife died in 2010.

Not everyone is so lucky, but one does hear from time to time of a homebuyer who wanted so desperately to live in a certain neighbourhood that he simply went door to door until he found someone willing to sell their house.

If you are looking for a home in a particular neighbourhood and can’t seem to find the one you want, there are a couple of things you should know about the unlisted real market.

Some sellers don’t list their homes on an MLS system right away, preferring to stay out of the mainstream for a while to test the market. Real estate agents who have these pre-MLS listings refer to them as “pocket listings.” Once they were associated more with celebrities, but now they are so common that there are web sites and forums devoted to them. A lot of real estate agents have one or more of these pocket listings which they market privately. One of these, Properties Not Listed.com, lists homes in all categories—condos, lofts, penthouses, row houses—in many major US markets. The listing includes the date when the listing is expected to go to MLS, so buyers get a sort of preview, and the chance to beat the competition and make an offer. No guarantees, of course, that the offer will be accepted.

As well as the pocket (also known as “exempt”) listing sites, there are discussion forums and message boards where homebuyers can “meet” others and get leads on unlisted or privately sold properties. A search with keywords like “pocket listings” or “unlisted real estate” and will turn up sites to explore.

Another strategy is to work with a realtor and have him or her do a targeted solicitation campaign, letting homeowners in the desired neighbourhood or building know there is a ready buyer for the property.

Sites like Craigslist and Ebay are also possible sources of insider info about properties that aren’t showing up on MLS sites.

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