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  1. Blog
  2. Buying a house that's not for sale
Home buying tips & advice
24 June 2022

Buying a house that's not for sale

Sam Edwards
Buying a house that's not for sale

Table of contents

  1. 1. Can you buy a house that’s not for sale?
  2. 2. How to buy a house that is not for sale
  3. 3. The problem with buying a house that’s not for sale

You’re in the market to move and you find your dream home - the problem is, it’s not for sale. It’s common for investors to make offers on properties that aren’t for sale, but how can someone who’s after a new home get started?

Can you buy a house that’s not for sale?

Yes, it’s possible to buy a house that’s not for sale. Just because a property is not being marketed online, does not mean you cannot make an offer to the occupiers.

If you know someone (a friend or family member) with a property you love, but hasn’t gone to market yet, you could reach out to them.

Buying directly from someone you know is the most affordable way to purchase a house that’s not for sale. They may be open to a dialogue about selling, and your relationship with them should have some influence on the price you pay.

If your dream home belongs to a stranger however, your offer will probably need to be much more substantial. Off market properties are off market for a reason.

What does off market mean in real estate?

In the world of real estate, an ‘off market’ home can mean one of two things:

  1. That a home is not for sale

If a property isn’t for sale, the owner isn’t selling for a reason. They may be in a situation where they aren’t ready to move.

  1. That a home is for sale, but it’s not listed anywhere

This is what’s known as a ‘discreet property listing’. Some sellers don’t want their property name or address to be visible on property portals, in estate agent windows, or in print on a for sale sign.

That’s why, in these situations, money talks. An offer that exceeds the occupier’s expectations can be the surest way of getting what you want.

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How to buy a house that is not for sale

Buying a house that’s not for sale can be a long and tricky process with no guarantee of success. But that’s not to say that it isn’t possible.

Do your research

If you’ve found a property you like, you can get the ball rolling by finding out its ownership details from the Land Registry. Just enter the house number and postcode and see what comes up. You can get a copy of the title register by downloading the PDF of the register entry and looking for its proprietorship details.

Get familiar with local estate agents

If you’re looking to buy in a certain area, getting familiar with a local estate agent can be an excellent way to get the lay of the land. Some estate agents work directly with homeowners who are selling off-market properties.

To get started, inform the agent of the property you have in mind, and ask if they know of any properties like it for sale. There’s a small chance that the property you like is actually being sold off market.

The agent will then put cards and brochures through the doors of properties you like in the area. If an occupier is interested in selling, the agent will contact you with more details.

If this proves unsuccessful, there are other things an agent can do for you. If you meet their client’s criteria, they may provide you with a list of discreet listing properties - the occupiers of which intend to sell, but prefer to remain offline.

Reach out to the occupiers

There is nothing wrong with reaching out to the homeowners yourself. You could, for instance, knock on the door and introduce yourself, explain your interest in the property and state that you’d like to make an offer.

Or, you could put a short, personalised note through the letterbox, again stating your interest. If you haven’t decided which property you want, but you’re happy to live anywhere on the street, do try to personalise your letters and make them less generic.

Sample letter to buy a house not for sale (UK)

It shouldn’t be too difficult to write a letter to buy a house not for sale. Below is an example of the type of note you could deliver to the occupants of your dream home:

‘Dear Sir or Madam,

I hope you don’t mind me approaching you like this and writing a letter - but I’m currently in the process of selling my house and am very interested in buying a property in your area. I couldn’t help but notice your house is exactly the type of property me and my family are after.

If you are interested in taking this conversation further, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

(insert contact details)

Kind regards,


Remember, most people aren’t in the mindset to move if they aren’t selling already, so it’s vital that you do not pressurise them. Neighbours talk to one another, and conversations about the ‘buyer who won’t take no for an answer’ will greatly diminish your standing.

The problem with buying a house that’s not for sale

Time is an expensive commodity so it’s best not to waste your own or anyone else’s. As such, it's worth weighing up some of the limitations involved with buying a house that’s not for sale.

  • It can be expensive to buy a house from a stranger. You have less wriggle room to negotiate a price. Most people won’t sell their homes out of the blue without an offer that’s a good bit higher than a generous asking price.

  • Again, most strangers will ignore your letters. You’re initiating contact that was not warranted, and there’s probably a valid reason their house is not on the market. They’re either not ready to sell, or never will be. Unless you have enough money to make them an offer they can’t refuse, you are unlikely to persuade them otherwise.

  • On the off chance you do find a willing seller, remember that selling privately can be extremely disadvantageous to both parties.

    Firstly, the occupier will wish to verify their home’s value with an estate agent. In a buoyant property market, the agent may be able to get them the best price and a quick sale. House prices increase exponentially in a seller’s market, and homesellers can be a lot pickier about who they sell to. There is no shortage of prospective buyers or cash buyers in such a market.

    If you need to sell your own property too, you’ll need to find an estate agent to both market and sell it. As a result, your offer to privately buy your dream property loses some of its value, because your own home sale will likely place you in a property chain. A chain-free buyer is much more attractive to homeowners who weren't initially looking to sell.

If you’re looking for a new home, you might be better off buying the traditional way - that is, by browsing Rightmove or Zoopla. If you’re looking for something special, you can always check in with local agents about off market properties in the area.

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