How to Buy a House in Seattle

Use MLS alternatives when trying to buy a house (or townhouse, or condo) in Seattle

It’s no secret that the Seattle housing market (among others) is suffering from too many buyers and not enough inventory. Wondering how to buy a house in Seattle? Oy. It’s tough out there. Good homes in nearby neighborhoods often get multiple offers and sell for well over list price. Where there are multiple offers, one buyer is a winner and everyone else is a loser. Not fun. Trying to buy a home in Seattle? Here is some help.

Seriously consider looking at some of the alternatives to the local multiple listing service. If you’re able to find a great “off market” Single Broker Listing or For Sale By Owner (FSBO) home – i.e. a home for sale that is not listed on the MLS, but shows up in MLS alternatives – you may end up being a lucky buyer in this market.

How do you get to be a lucky buyer? Do your homework. One option is to really dig deep to try and find that diamond in the rough. But who wants to spend their time making cold calls and writing unsolicited offers? Nobody, that’s who. Another alternative is to look for a home being sold at a foreclosure auction. Be careful!! Doing so is fraught with enormous risk and requires a very large investment in time and effort.

Single Broker Listings and FSBO may be the answer

Instead, use the following tried-and-true methods – plus maybe some high-tech ones – for finding a willing seller who isn’t listing the home for sale on the MLS.  They may have listed it with us, or some other broker that offers Single Broker Listings. Or maybe they’re not willing to pay any real estate agents anything, and they are selling it themselves. In either event, here’s what you can do to find one of these homes:

Cruise the neighborhood

As a general rule, its a good idea to pick a neighborhood or two in which to focus your search. This is particularly true for off market homes, because one of the best ways of finding them is by driving around the neighborhood looking for generic “For Sale” signs. Many sellers do nothing more than put a sign up in the lawn. If its a decent house in a good neighborhood, that may be all that is necessary to find a buyer. You get to be that buyer by finding the house first. So fill up the gas tank, crank some tunes, and hit the road! But keep it under 25 mph.

Troll Craigslist

The first and still the best of the “bulletin board” sites that proliferated in the early days of the internet. Unfortunately, many agents also post their MLS listings here, so look closely to find homes that aren’t on the MLS. Because if they are, there will likely be a bidding frenzy, and the whole point is to avoid that fray.

Check Zillow

This site is the “heavy hitter” of the internet-driven real estate industry. Consumers get free access to their data, including their famed “zestimate” of every home’s value. The site makes money by selling advertising and client leads back to traditional real estate agents.

Notwithstanding its business model, Zillow can be a useful tool. The site allows owners to hang a virtual “for sale” sign on a page about their house based on the public records, essentially a “listing” that isn’t on the MLS. Plus, dozens if not hundreds of other sites (like forsalebyowner.com) feed listing data to Zillow. So this is an essential place to look if you’re looking to avoid a bidding war.

Check Redfin

Particularly in its home market of Seattle, Redfin is another “big player” in online real estate. Unlike Zillow, Redfin is a real estate brokerage, and it is a member of the local multiple listing service. So in a sense, it is exactly like any other real estate firm. The difference: the Redfin database of properties for sale includes more than just MLS data. It specifically allows for “for sale by owner” listings. Most of what you will see will be MLS inventory, but you might find a few that are not. Buy home Seattle, homegrown.

Look for other startup MLS alternatives

People have been predicting the end of the “MLS monopoly” for a long time. I remember hearing, “Stock brokers? Gone! Travel agents? Out of business! Real estate brokers won’t be around much longer.” Everyone knew it. In 2005 (when Added Equity’s founder got started in real estate). Ten years along, and they’re still going strong.

However, the internet has led to one of the greatest bursts of creativity ever seen. And lots of folks are very busy looking for ways to disrupt traditional business models by leveraging the internet. The current real estate brokerage model is an inefficient business structure that evolved in the 19th century. Plus there’s lots of money in real estate, and nobody disputes that “listing” has been made easier by the internet. So internet real estate startups and alternative brokerages are here to stay. They merit a close look if you’re looking for an off market home.

If you’re a deeply disappointed buyer, or want to avoid becoming one, check out these alternatives. You may find the right house for you, and you’ll actually be able to buy it without losing your mind. Buy a home in Seattle – it can be done!