A few years ago (back when we were just engaged), my husband and I bought a 100-year-old home. During our home search my wish list was quite extensive, and finding that perfect home was much more difficult than we ever expected.
Side note: I have a special BONUS at the bottom of today’s post! Read through to the end to see what it is!
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?
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.
Here are some things that were helpful for me to know in Step 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.
- 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.
- 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” & Your “Must Have List”
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”:
- Covered Front Porch
- Historic/Older Home (around 1920’s)
- Craftsman Style or Prairie Style
- 3 bed, 2 bath (minimum)
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Here is my Letter Template for Buying a House That Isn’t For Sale:
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 it’s 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:
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 a 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.
BONUS: Looking to Dress Up Your Soon-To-Be New Home?
I’ve recently started selling my fine art on Etsy, and since they’re all digital downloads, they’re SUPER affordable! You simply make the purchase on Etsy, and you get an email with an instant download of your art files. You can get them printed anywhere you like, too. They’re all under $15, and I even occasionally run sales. Right now I’m offering 20% off my wall art, so make sure to check it out!