A to-do list a mile long — probably three to five years of home-improvement projects — kept GB Arrington from selling his Northeast Portland home and moving downtown, as he and his wife had longed planned.
Then, in November, came a knock on the door: a real estate agent, Peggy Hoag, who had a client who wanted to buy a house just like theirs. It didn’t pan out, but when Hoag came knocking again a few months later with a different buyer, everything clicked. They moved out by January, without so much as applying a new coat of paint.
"I think we cleaned," said Arrington about preparing the house for sale. "Once."
With the stock of Portland-area homes on the market at a historic low, real estate brokers are increasingly cold-calling and knocking on doors to find something to sell.
Most homeowners haven’t yet warmed to the improving housing market. Since prices stopped falling and reversed course, the number of new listings has actually trailed previous years, a sign homeowners are hoping to see prices rise higher still before they sell.
But buyers are scrambling to take advantage of their improving buying power, aided by post-crash prices and low interest rates.
The frenetic pace of today’s housing market often has buyers writing an offer the same day they lay eyes on a home, often only to lose to a higher bidder. They’re left to dust themselves off and try again. So unearthing a so-called pocket listing — ones that aren’t publicly listed, so real estate agents have them in their pocket — with no competing bidders beating down the door, can be a welcome change.
"Buyers really love the idea that their agent is on the phone talking to people in the neighborhood where they’re looking," says Hoag, of Prudential Northwest Properties in Portland.
Craig Reger, a broker with Keller Williams Realty, had a "preapproved, ready-to-go" buyer looking for a home on Bull Mountain, but only three or four listings on the market in their target price range.
"And they’re all garbage," he said.
So on Monday morning, five agents were on the phone blanketing the community with phone calls, looking for anyone who’d consider selling. For every 100 calls, about three or four will be interested, he said.
"In 17 years I’ve never had to do this," Reger said. "These are real buyers who can’t find homes, so we have two options as agents. We can wait for something to hit and compete against 20 other buyers, or we can get on the phone."
A Front Porch dashboard showing Portland real estate trends.
It’s not necessarily a hard sell to persuade homeowners to sell and move. Most have been in their home for much longer than Americans had grown accustomed to in recent decades. Homesellers in 2007 had lived in their home for six years, on average; by 2012, that average figure had grown to nine years. And many homeowners looking to buy a bigger house or move to a more desirable neighborhood can see some sense in leveraging low home prices and interest rates.
Removing a little more friction, in the form of sprucing things up and letting strangers poke around at open houses, can be a tempting proposition.
But forgoing the typical offering can also present some risk.
In a seller’s market where it’s not uncommon for homes to sell for much more than their asking price, homeowners might lose out on the benefit of the bidding that could come of a public listing on the Regional Multiple Listing Service, the Realtor-owned database of homes for sale.
"We understand the best situation for a seller is to get their listing into RMLS and get it in front of 5,000 or 6,000 other people," said Steve Lucas, an owner of Oregon Realty Co. and a member of the multiple listing service’s board of directors. "We want the seller to understand he’s limiting the number of offers he could get, which could cause him to get a lower price than if it were on the open market."
When Reger finds a willing seller and has a buyer to match, he meets with them to first agree on a home value and assess their options. About half choose to take the offer, he said, and the rest choose to list their home traditionally.
Arrington said he worried he might be passing up a good deal, but that was offset by the freedom of selling the house as-is.
"We didn’t have to paint anything. We didn’t have to repair anything. We didn’t have to go through that whole process. That takes away a tremendous amount of anxiety," Arrington said. "Taking that list and throwing it in the garbage can, that was liberating."
— Elliot Njus