I recently just announced the VERY exciting news about Chad and I’s “new” 100-year-old home. I also confessed that, though my wish list was quite extensive, finding that perfect home was much more difficult than even I expected.

Fort Worth is an amazing city filled with a plethora of old homes. So when I began my search for my dream historic home, I never expected it would expand over a nine month period. Chad and I walked through an embarrassing amount of homes with no luck. Poor guy – he was so patient with me as I drug him through home after home, with my only feedback being, “It just doesn’t give me that feeling.” Let me tell you, he was a trooper!

Once we hit the mid-way mark of our search, I started to grow impatient, frustrated and desperate. So what happens when I get desperate? Well, I’m pretty sure I become a genius.

I gathered the thought that maybe (just maybe) it was possible to buy a home that wasn’t on the market. Crazy? Nah, not if you ask me. If you ask anyone else… Yes, I was a healthy combination of cray-cray with a stalker-like determination in my eye. But I looked at it quite differently. I figured – if I knocked on someones door and asked for them to sell their house to me, the worst they could say was no. Well, and of course think I’m weird. But the good news is, I don’t care if a stranger thinks I’m weird. My friends and family think I’m weird and I’m totally good with it, so what do I care about a stranger’s opinion?

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ANYways. Here’s my point. I had a plan, and today I’m here to tell you just how I did it and how it worked for me. Get excited.

Step 1: Know Your Market & Be Observant 

Houses in the historic areas of Fort Worth don’t often go on the market. After months of searching (in a low inventory market) I came to the realization that there was a good chance our search could last another year. If I didn’t change my search tactic, I was most likely going to purchase a home that wasn’t really what I wanted, simply due to timing and impatience.

I’ve followed the area for a long time and was thankfully very familiar with average property prices, and the growth of the area over the last five years or so. I knew that even if we offered to buy a home that wasn’t for sale (and maybe paid a bit more than current market value) that we would NO DOUBT still make money if we decided to sell in just a few short years.

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Here are some things that were helpful for me to know in Step 1:

  1. Know the area: If you’re unfamiliar with your dream neighborhood, start asking around. Chances are, if you love the neighborhood, so do a lot of other people in the city. Do your research and review list prices and sold prices on sites like Redfin, Zillow etc. If you know a realtor in the area, ask them to pull some past “solds” so you can observe if the prices of the homes have gone up or down over the last 5 years.
  2. Low inventory market = FAST selling homes: Observe whether or not the area has low inventory. If the neighborhood has low inventory, you can bet when a new house is listed, it will go FAST. You’re not the only one searching for a home in that neighborhood – others are just as desperate and frustrated as you are. During our first month of house hunting, we made an offer on a house within 3 days of it being listed. We were an hour too late in our offer and lost the house. That was our first lesson learned.
  3. Change your tactics: If you’re a brave soul, and you’re tired of looking at houses that aren’t “the one,” (or no houses are coming on the market – or they’re selling too fast) make the crazy decision to change your direction. If what you’re doing isn’t working, the obvious answer is to change it up. For us, houses that were on the market just weren’t cutting it. That’s when we make the wild decision to pursue homes that weren’t on the market.

Step 2: Know the Difference Between your “Wish List” and your “Must Have List”

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Our wish list started out very long and specific. But as I stated above, that was merely our WISH list. We had a much smaller “must have” list that we didn’t stray from. When you’re looking at homes NOT on the market, the chances of checking off every bullet point are slim to none. Below are some examples of our “wish list” versus our “must have list”:

Must Haves:

  • Covered Front Porch
  • Historic/Older Home (around 1920’s)
  • Craftsman Style or Prairie Style
  • 3 bed, 2 bath (minimum)
Wish List:
  • Two Story
  • 3,000 SF(ish)
  • Back Patio
  • Home Office or Extra Bedroom
  • Pool or Room to add a Pool
  • Fireplace (s)
  • Large(ish) Master Suite
  • Multiple Living Areas
  • Wide Street
  • Garage or Covered Parking
  • Not too outdated

As you can see, our wish list was much longer, and we were very ok with not hitting a lot of those items on the list. What we cared most about were things you couldn’t change, like location, home exterior style, age of home, etc.

Step 3: Start Driving Around Your Favorite Neighborhoods

Once we nailed down our must-have list, Chad and I spent most every weekend (for about a month or two) driving around our favorite neighborhoods. Since we couldn’t see the inside of any of these homes, we focused on a curb appeal, location and whether or not it was a good street. We literally jotted down about 100 homes that we loved, favoriting about 10-20 or so. We then went home and began our research. That’s where the fun began.

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Step 4: Become an Internet Stalker (Not really, but kinda)

Once we determined some of our favorite houses in our favorite neighborhoods, the internet research began. Here was my process:

  1. Online Property Search: Look up the address on your county’s appraisal district’s website. You can literally type in the address of any home and find the owners information, as well as when the deed of the home was issued to owner. It’s public information, so I didn’t feel too creepy during this step.
  2. Determine Probability of Selling: If the owner didn’t own the home for very long, let’s say 1-3 years, I didn’t pursue them. I figured they’re still newly in the home, and wouldn’t want to sell. If they had been in the home for 5 years or more, I thought there was a slight chance they might sell. And if they were in the home for 20-30 years, I figured there was even more of a chance they would sell. You have to remember though, not all the people who have owned a home for 30 years were easy to find online, so the chances of finding an email address for them, or Facebook profile was much more difficult for me.
  3. Start Searching for Contact Info: Once you’ve found a few homes that have been owned for roughly 5 years or more, start trying to find an email address or Facebook account for these home owners. Sometimes you can find out if they own a local business. If so, you might be able to find contact info on their business’ website.

Step 5: Write a Letter

This step might be hard for some, and easy on others. For me, it was easy. I basically kept it simple and was completely honest about my house hunting journey. Below is an example of my email/letter.

Hi! 

We first want to say you have such a lovely home! My fiancé and I have been house hunting in the area for quite some time and have always dreamed of raising our family in a historic home and neighborhood. We haven’t yet found “the one” with any of the homes currently on the market and wanted to express interest in yours if you’ve been considering selling. 

 We’re currently living in downtown Fort Worth, but have already been pre-approved with our lender and are ready to buy. We would be so honored to live in your home and in this area, so if you’re interested please feel free to shoot us an email for give us a call! We’ve listed our contact information below.
 
Thank you so much for reading our letter!
 
xo, Chad and Amy
(insert your contact info here)

Since I was able to find most of the homeowners on Facebook, I simply sent them a private message on Facebook, using the above template. I didn’t hear back from most people, but I did hear back from a few, one of which ended up being the home we now own. Like I said, the worst that could have happened was people thinking I’m weird, not responding, or saying no thank you. The best that could have happened was finding the home of my dreams. I’m glad I took the gamble.

Step 6: Be PATIENT

It took a long time to get from point A to point B. I was a bit discouraged in the beginning that not everyone was replying to my letter. But please remind yourself that the people you’re reaching out to weren’t expecting a letter. They will respond (or not respond) on their own time.

Step 7: Tour the Home and Start to Negotiate

Remember – you went into this knowing you’re not going to get the deal of a lifetime. You’re asking someone to sell their house that wasn’t on the market. You’re also being invited into a kind stranger’s home to see if you’re even interested in buying it. If you don’t love the interior, BE POLITE. Simply express this might not be the home for you, and leave with a smile and a thank you.

If you do love the home, like we did, it’s time to negotiate. Be patient, be polite, and understand you will need to work with the seller on their requests, as well as be firm on what you want as well. Be considerate and understanding, while still holding your ground. You want to move in within the month? Well, if that’s too soon for the seller, respect that. Ask what works for them and negotiate from there. We’re all human, and we’re all adults. Be reasonable in your requests.

Step 8: Celebrate! 

If you passed steps 6 & 7, and you’ve found the home of your dreams, then congrats! Does this process always work? No, but it’s a step in the right direction. It took us about 3+ months to negotiate this deal and to close on the house. We won’t be moving in until July (due to the sellers request – remember step 7? Be reasonable and respectful), so from start to finish, the total time for this deal to transpire took about 6 months. Thankfully we’re already closed on the house though, so the stress of house hunting is officially behind us. AND its our dream home. Win. Win.

Other Helpful Suggestions that Worked for Me:

There are a few other ways you can go about this process. I also had a Facebook AD running (linking to this page, targeting a very specific audience). Here are some of my screenshots from my targeted campaign:

Ad Example:

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Audience/Targeting:

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I also had open communication with movers and shakers in the Fort Worth community. I looked up board members of my favorite neighborhoods and emailed them directly asking for them to keep their ears open about any potential real estate listings about to come on the market. I also emailed and Facebook messaged community members that appeared active in their neighborhoods, explaining my home search and situation. I would include in the email a link to this page on my blog, outlining exactly what I was looking for.

What I discovered is that people are SO NICE. People I didn’t even know were looking for houses for me because they shared the same passion for these neighborhoods as I did. And some of them had even bought homes the exact same way I did! OFF THE MARKET with a simple “Will you sell your house?” letter. Many homes in these historic areas sell before ever actually being put on the market, so staying “in the know” was very important.

I hope this post helped anyone looking to buy a house that isn’t on the market! I’m still in shock that we ended up with our dream home in the end. I never anticipated buying a home in such a non-traditional manner. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a message in the comment section below. I’d love to help if you’re going through this process or considering it.



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The Blissful Bee
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Thank you for stopping by The Blissful Bee! I'm Amy and I'm the writer and designer behind the blog. I have a passion for interior design, fashion and simply living a stylish life. I hope you enjoy your "stay"!

21 Comments

  1. Trust me. If you are a potential home buyer, this is not the direction you want to go. We just received a similar letter in the mail and live in a high demand area in Minneapolis. Our house is not listed for sale. I am beyond creeped out but it. Plus the fact that you are encouraging people to “stalk” others that don’t have their houses listed for sale? Let me tell you as a homeowner that has received this letter: it does NOT land well and isn’t at all credible. Only came across this post because I’m so weirded out that I started searching why these letters are sent. Hoping I can save future homeowners from feeling this way!

    • The Blissful Bee

      I’m so sorry you feel this way! In our area it’s very common and many of the houses around here sell “off the market” because of instances like this. And I hope you can understand that my “stalker” comment was a complete joke.

    • Lindsey – I think the best thing is to simply… don’t fell like you feel. We are so rich in this country that a letter bumps us – so protected that we are weirded out at the most minor item. When inventory is low in an area we are trying to move to, it is within reason to send and even expect to receive such letters. Keep this in mind when you are telling your kids to simply choose to have fun: choose to not be weirded out. Choose to see this as it intended. It DOES land well some percentage of the time that actually works and thus encourages people to continue. And, this is very important for you to hear: though I don’t intend to offend, I do intend to provide tension – the means by which we grow: people do not need to be protected by you outside of an instance where a human ACTUALLY needs protection, ie. from violence or coercion. With all good intent: you do not have a right for you sensibilities to go unmolested in life. CHOOSE to lighten up. CHOOSE to be other than humorless. And CHOOSE to toss the letter in the garbage the next time you receive one.

    • Lindsay, I’ve bought 2 homes this way. The success rate is LOW, because most people will not want to sell and will throw the letter in the trash. But, volume is key. All you need is one person to respond, and clearly it wasn’t you, but people I’ve met usually had a personal issue that is forcing them to sell, and this is exactly what they needed to happen to them. This is actually MUCH better for homeowner because if you can complete transaction without a realtor, they stand to make a lot more money without the 6% fees. And, less of the heartache of staging, listing their home. This is a great article and gave me some more ideas like reaching out to neighborhood associations etc. thank you! We are hoping to move in a historic district with low volume as well.

    • I agree with you, Lindsey. I am BOMBARDED by these creepers every week, and SO sick of it. It is invasive and pesky. I have even had people send me postcards of the pictures they’ve taken of my house! LEAVE US ALONE!

  2. Amy, your post has been so helpful and encouraging! We have a very tight market for buyers in my New England town, I know because I am also a RE Agent. My husband & I have been so discouraged that I wrote a letter to the owner of a lovely home this past fall. She responded positively but her time frame is probably too much longer than we’d like to wait (a solid year). I would like to write to 2-3 more homeowners but my husband thinks it’s too… bold? Any suggestions for getting back into the letter writing game? Thanks!
    Erin

    • The Blissful Bee

      I wouldn’t give up! And even though a year sounds like a long time, you might still want to keep in touch if its a home you really love. Who knows, it might be worth waiting for! And like I said, this is a slow process, so immediate responses aren’t the norm. I would totally give it another try and try to stay positive and open minded! Just remember to respect their privacy and if they’re not ready to sell, no biggie. On to the next opportunity! Good luck with your home search!!

      • Good advice! They also could have a major life occurrence in the next 6 months that changes their mind. You never know what’s going on with people! Checking in is a great idea.

  3. Hi Amy,

    Thank you for this post! I have been thinking about sending out letters to homeowners who home’s are not up for sale. i cant decide if I want to send a handwritten post card or letter (which would you send?).

    Also wanted to ask if it would be ok to use the sample letter you provided in this post. Its short, sweet to the point and wonderfully said.

    • The Blissful Bee

      Go for it! And yes, please use the template I provided – that’s what it’s there for:) I would just always make sure to keep it heart-felt and honest. When we first met the home owner who eventually sold us their house, we were completely transparent in our home search struggle and how we started reaching out to other home owners. They completely understood because many others had reached out to them in the past in the same exact way. Lucky for us, it worked out and the timing was right!

      I do think a post card would be cute! We just mainly sent Facebook messages and also wrote a few letters, but a post card is also a great idea! Some people filter their Facebook messages, so they might not see it for a while. Leaving a letter in their mailbox might be the better way to go.

  4. Hi Amy,
    This was very helpful information. I appreciate your listing in detail the steps you took to buy your off-market home. As my husband and I work on searching for a home, I am finding that this may be a very real avenue that we’re going to explore.

  5. Hi!

    Looking to start doing this in my targeted neighborhood. I have a question about how your realtor was compensated since you found the home on your own. Happy to send that question privately if that is preferred.

    Thanks much,

    Jessica

  6. Hi Lindsey,
    I love your article and it makes me feel good that I am not the only “house stalker” out there. I plan to do exactly what you did. Where i want to live has a very small community of historic homes that rarely hit the market, and when they do they are swooped up. How did you agree on a price? Did you get the house appraised? We have a current home we would have to sell first, and I am not sure what that would play into negotiating. Any advice is appreciated. Alissa

  7. Oh my goodness this is exactly what my SO and I are going through as well, and we live in Fort worth too! We have been looking for about a year now…multiple failed offers that were a little too late (1-2 hrs) or just being completely outbid. We had 2 contracts that fell through due to the tight market and the sellers crazy demands here. I’d love to hear more details on how you did it. I am the type of person that is really connected to where I live and just like you if I’m not moved by the home, it is really difficult to see myself living in it. We are also looking for a historic home, especially in the Oakhurst area (SO HARD to come by a house here!) I’m really sick of the traditional house hunting, and we are tired of apt living. Did anyone ever respond to the ads you ran? Did you pay more than market value for the home? So many questions! Thank you SO much for this article, it’s helped kick me in gear and change direction in the house hunting game. 🙂

  8. “Chad and I’s” should be “Chad’s and my.” You wouldn’t say “I’s house,” right? You’d say “my house.” Same rule, which has to do with the difference between a subject and an object. “I’s” is never, ever grammatically correct under any circumstances, whether written or spoken.

  9. Wow, finding this post was exactly what I needed today! My husband and I are moving from DFW down to a small town north of Houston and have had NO luck finding a house! So far going the conventional route through a realtor hasn’t worked for us but like you, I’m going to keep at it until we find our home. I loved it when you said, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, the obvious answer is to change it up.” I’m about to write letters to several homeowners hoping one will be willing to talk to us about selling. It’s great to hear that it can work and love that you found your beautiful home! Fingers crossed!!!

  10. Santos Garcia Reply

    Great post, Investor sites like forthomebuyers.com can really benefit on this one since they buy houses and at any condition and give cash offer right away. Thanks for sharing this knowledge!

  11. My husband and I are in the process of trying to buy a home off market. It can be so discouraging. We have our eye on a country house that we tried to buy almost 2 years ago, but it was sold so fast we didn’t get the chance. The house needed completely gutted and outbuildings need torn down. Now 2 years later the new owners, who just so happen to live only a few blocks from us, have done NOTHING to it but scrap out the metal. The barn built in 1913 is overgrown with brush and is quickly falling apart. I sent them a letter today now we are just anxiously waiting and hoping we here back from them.

  12. Hello. I am wanting to buy the house I’m renting… Simply because I don’t want to move, again. Of course like the home, and am ready to start doing my own updating to it. Been renting it for several years now, and it is in need of minor freshening up, not to mention the carpeting hasn’t been replaced in 12 yrs. not a new roof since house built in early 90’s. I’ve asked the owner to sell several times, and he just laughs it off. And as a landlord not willing to do anything unless absolutely necessary. I was preapproved, but now it’s been several month will have to do it again, I’m sure. How do I approach again and mean business?

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