The Peril of Pocket Listings

by Michael Repka, ESQ

As the most active listing agent in Silicon Valley, I receive many phone calls from people interested in selling their property. The majority are interested in taking all steps necessary to achieve the highest possible sale price – which includes the proper preparation of the home, the appropriate timing of the listing, and ensuring the maximum amount of exposure. However, some sellers indicate that they are looking for a quick and/or easy sale that doesn’t require the aforementioned steps. As the highest-volume listing agent in the area, I am uniquely positioned to bring about a quiet and expeditious sale, yet I feel compelled to caution sellers about traveling down the “quiet sale” road without fully considering the drawbacks to such an approach.

Undoubtedly, there are some sellers who are willing to forego the highest possible sale price in exchange for increased privacy or added convenience. However, there are sellers who unwittingly travel down the path of limited exposure based on reassurances that they will achieve the same price without any inconvenience or effort. In other words, some sellers end up with a lower sale price without fully considering the potential costs associated with limited exposure. Quite simply, a home that is not properly prepped and/or receives less than the maximum amount of exposure is much more likely to sell for a lower sale price.

Conflicts of Interest

One of the biggest problems that arises out of “pocket listings,” “off-market listings,” or periods of exclusive access is that the listing agent dramatically increases the chance of the buyer being represented by the listing agent or someone close to the listing agent, such as a friend in the same brokerage. More often than not, this works to the benefit of the buyer and, because the listing agent’s interests are often diametrically opposed, to the detriment of the seller. When a seller is presented with an offer before full public exposure, they often have to make a decision in a vacuum. The seller doesn’t know how much other potential buyers would be willing to offer, so they need to rely upon either their own judgment or the advice of the real estate agent. The problem is that the real estate agent and/or their brokerage often gains a direct financial benefit from a quick and quiet “double-ended” sale. Therefore, the seller needs to take the agent’s advice with a grain of salt. It is easy to imagine that a listing agent would prefer this route, as they might get commission (or a referral fee) from both sides of the transaction, while simultaneously saving some marketing costs. Therefore, the listing agent may be tempted to encourage a seller to accept an offer, even though it is quite possible that there could be another buyer out there who would pay a higher price. Alternatively, the actual winning buyer may be willing to pay a higher price if they were faced with competition.

Limited Exposure

The key to generating the highest possible sale is making sure that the maximum number of qualified buyers are aware of the property and come to see it. There are a number of ways to do this. The first is getting the home onto the radar screen of all potential buyers. At a minimum, this should include listing the property on the Multiple Listing Service (the “MLS”) with a link to a fully narrated video, a 3-Dimensional tour, high quality photography, and a comprehensive description of the home. Moreover, properly marketing a home in Silicon Valley requires far more than simply listing it on the MLS. Many buyers may be searching for a home of a certain type, but they are not actively searching in your particular MLS area, or even your city, for that matter. That’s why comprehensive exposure also includes other media such as radio, television commercials, multiple newspaper ads in different towns, direct mail, and active promotion by the real estate agent.

It’s simply common sense that a home that is exposed to fewer qualified buyers will receive fewer offers and those buyers that do put in offers will feel empowered to make lower offers because of the lack of competition.

Level of Proper Preparation

Although it’s hard to understand why so many sellers are willing to sell their homes without adequate exposure, one possible explanation is their ability to forego the listing preparation process. Unfortunately, I have heard reports that some real estate agents proactively encourage sellers to allow them to show their own buyers the property without full exposure by instilling fear of staging, touch-up paint, cleaning, or many of the other steps that are involved with properly preparing a home. While the ease of this approach is certainly enticing, the lack of preparation is yet another reason why sellers should be reluctant to blindly travel down this road. Quite simply, homes look better once they’re properly prepared, staged, and marketed. Thus, when a limited number of buyers are seeing a home that has not properly been prepped, and they are comparing this home to other homes on the market that have been diligently prepared, the buyers are inclined to offer lower prices. From the buyer’s point of view, this makes a lot of sense because he/she will probably get the home for substantially less than a property that is properly prepared and marketed, but from the seller’s point of view, it can potentially result in leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.

Engaging in the Listing Process

While some agents are quick to ask for a period of exclusivity or encourage sellers to allow them to market it as a pocket listing or an off-market listing, sellers should see any of these suggestions as a red flag. If a seller is particularly interested in selling a home without maximum exposure, they should be working with a trusted professional that will advise them about the potential costs involved with such an approach. If the seller nevertheless wants to go forward after receiving the required advice, then that is completely their prerogative. However, sellers that encounter an agent who habitually encourages clients to restrict access to only their buyers (or buyers in their office) should consider other alternatives for a listing agent. The formula for achieving the highest possible price for a Silicon Valley listing is really quite simple—make sure the property is: (1) presented in the best possible light; (2) marketed very aggressively to the maximum number of potential buyers in a variety of different areas; (3) easy to access and well-presented throughout the duration of the listing period; and (4) represented by an agent who acts solely in your best interest, and that will not accept any commission or referral fees from any buyers on his/her listings.

At DeLeon Realty, I encourage all of my sellers to follow these steps, and all DeLeon sellers know that I am looking out for their best interest. As has been well publicized, DeLeon Realty takes the extreme measure of waiving all buyer-side commission in any transaction where a DeLeon buyer’s agent represents a buyer on any DeLeon listing. The greatest benefit of this approach is that both the buyer and seller confidently know that they are working with someone who is completely loyal to them.