How to Know if a Home is "For Sale" or Not

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Garrigus Real Estate CalBRE# 01844442/01844441

How to Know if a Home is "For Sale" or Not

As real estate agents we come across buyers, potential buyers or just curious neighbors trying to find information on homes or a particular home, whether they are for sale or not, even if that home doesn't have a for sale sign in the yard, can't be found in the MLS, or even online.

In fact, I fielded a call from a close friend this past week interested on a home that sat empty for a long period of time. She was interested in this property because of the close proximity to her parents home, and she was considering purchasing it if it was for sale. Unfortunately this particular house was a foreclosure and currently held as a HUD home. Any home in a Housing and Urban Development portfolio could sit without being placed for sale for years.

This type of scenario is all too common. And we are fascinated by the general public's misplaced perceptions of homes that sit empty, homes that sit for long periods of time without any activity, and even homes that have a yard sign but seem to do nothing. Here in this blog I will do my best to clear the air for anyone looking for clarifications.

First, just because a home is empty does not mean its fair game for a purchase. A government agency like HUD or even a county government could own the home, an out-of-the-area owner could own it, an investment company or a bank could own it. And just because it looks like a foreclosure, or even if it is, if the owner does not intend to sell it, the property will continue to sit.

Does that mean you can't offer to buy it? Of course not! But if that property is owned by say HUD or a large bank, do you think that agency or bank is going to stop what they are doing just to field your call about a property? No. They will sell off that asset when its assigned to someone, and when they get to it. I like to think of this process like Macy's or another department store that has a sweater in some box, in some warehouse somewhere, that they will someday sell off. But until that sweater is shipped, stocked and eventually placed on a shelf, Macy's won't sell that sweater.

On the other hand, if the property is owned by an individual or small investment company, you may be able to convince them to sell it to you, even if its not for sale at the time of contact!

OK, now its time to clear up the homes listed on the MLS, FSBO and other homes for sale:

Here's a quick scenario:

A house has a simple 'For Sale' sign in its yard. You know those little paper-sized signs you can buy at the hardware store or practically anywhere else and stick in the ground with a cheap sign stake. Heck, I bet they are printable now! So, is the house for sale? Possibly. It could be the owner trying to sell the property on his own. Is it in the MLS? Possibly! If he paid to have it put on the MLS, either with a broker or other MLS only service. But I doubt it. But just because the house isn't on the MLS doesn't mean its not for sale!

An MLS is simply a database of listings enabling brokers, agents and other entities to share the information to better facilitate sales of the listings. If I contract a home seller to sell his house, I have a much better chance of selling that house if I place it on the MLS, where most agents and buyers can find it!

Now this next part is where most get confused:

Let's say for example, you're browsing the Internet for homes for sale and you come across a house on Zillow, or any other large real estate website. Its perfect and everything you're looking for. On the side of the "listing" it has a button that says "Contact an Agent"How to Know if a Home is "For Sale" or Not so you click on it and get a hold of an agent.

When you give him or her the address they inform you that the home isn't for sale. What? How could this be? Its actually very possible, and it happens A LOT!

Why? Here's just a few reasons:

  • The website you're on may be displaying public record information, along with MLS data. Sites like Trulia and Zillow list all public records of real estate, or at least they try to. For example, my personal house hasn't been for sale for over seven years (when we bought it!) but if I Google my address, Trulia, HomeSnap and Zillow are the first listed and all have a result for it! Are they trying to be deceptive? Maybe, maybe not. But I can tell you that if you click on their "Get More Info" or "Contact an Agent" type of buttons they can monetize your interaction with their website, like selling your info to real estate agents as a possible lead.
  • The property could have been for sale at one time or another, but has either since sold, been taken off the market, or suspended. You may simply be looking at an outdated listing.
  • The property could have foreclosed, or some other form of transfer could have happened. This usually becomes public record, and eventually ends up on these data sites. When I first started in the real estate business I showed a home to a buyer being sold as a short sale. The owners had two mortgages, a first and a second that equaled well over $350,000, but the first mortgage was in the amount of $240,000 The home never sold as a short sale, and eventually foreclosed on the courthouse steps and the foreclosure sale was recorded at $240,000, the amount of the foreclosing first mortgage. When I had shown the house to the buyer it was listed for $285,000. Later that buyer found the public record amount of $240,000 that was being displayed as a "sale" instead of a foreclosure. You can imagine the buyer's anger with me when he called claiming "I didn't represent the listing appropriately, and he would have gladly bought it for $240,000!" Unfortunately he just didn't understand the data he was seeing, and blamed me.

So, how do you know if a home is for sale or not?

For homes you find online, be very clear about where you're finding the listing, and how they are displaying it. Some sites are better than others. Some sites will even place a big NOT FOR SALE banner across the "listing". It also helps to have a trusted real estate agent or REALTOR you can ask. Keep a list of websites that are deceptive and don't use those sites. This way when you are looking, you have a better idea of what is actually for sale and what isn't. You can even use our website Home Search Portal here. We do our absolute best to ensure all listings on our website are current and accurate to the MLS.

For the homes that are being sold as a FSBO, also known as a For Sale By Owner, the best and most direct way is to call the owner, or use the contact info provided on whatever material you found the sale on. If it has sold or no longer is for sale, they no doubtingly will tell you.

And for properties that don't have any apparent contact info, or other info to help you make contact? It just may not be for sale! If you want to try and purchase the home or real estate anyway, you will need to learn do some investigative digging into public records, or have a good real estate agent willing to do it for you!


If you're buying or selling real estate, we can help!

Call (888) 9-List-It.

That's (888) 954-7848.

Or email:

Posted by

Todd & Devona Garrigus

Broker / REALTORS®

951.490.3698 | Direct for Todd
951.490.3683 | Direct for Devona
CalBRE# 01844442/01844441


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