How We Bought a House That Wasn’t for Sale (and How You Can, Too)


While trying to buy a house this summer, I assumed our real estate options were limited to homes that were officially for sale.

Well, guess what? We ended up buying a house that wasn’t even listed—and learned that this home-buying strategy wasn’t just possible, but often preferable if you’re purchasing property in a competitive market.

Here’s how we pulled it off, and how you can, too.


How we bought an unlisted house

The backstory: My husband and I had been house hunting for months in Alabama, and had fallen in love with one particular property in the highly desirable historic district of Florence. We made an offer the same day we toured the house, only to be heartbroken upon learning that it went to another buyer (a relative of the seller).

Feeling at a loss, we scoured Florence for other options, but nothing else was for sale—which made sense, because it’s a coveted area of the Shoals region.



Disappointed and tired of waiting for listings that seemed to sell within days of their going live, we asked our real estate agent, Jody Lanier with MarMac Real Estate, if he had any ideas.

That’s when he introduced the idea of looking beyond what was available on real estate listings sites.


We were game to try it out. So our real estate agent put out feelers, and soon found a 1917-built home that was on our perfect street. My husband and I fell in love with it the moment we set foot on the front porch and felt giddy stepping inside.

Basically, the sellers had named their asking price, and if we were interested, we could put in an offer for that amount—take it or leave it. Since the price was within our budget, we went for it, signing and submitting a typical home buyer’s contract that evening.


In the morning, we had more good news: They’d accepted!

It was a thrill to know that we’d gone under contract without having to compete against other buyers, saving us a lot of worry and disappointment in the offer process.

How to buy a house that isn’t on the market

Buying an unlisted house appears to be a growing trend in heated markets. According to Pamela Ermen, president of Real Estate Guidance in Norfolk, VA, it’s called “going under the market,” which means digging into the housing inventory in a particular area to find unlisted gems where the owners might be up for selling if they receive the right offer.


It’s just smart to “introduce yourself as a buyer to [a home] before you have to compete with other people for it,” says Ermen, who specializes in such listings.

Here are a few tactics that will help make this needle-in-haystack process a success.

Find a real estate agent willing to do some digging

Buying a house that isn’t for sale takes more legwork on the agent’s end than usual.

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