Oct 4, 2023
Q:How can I find a house when there aren’t any for sale where I want to live?
The lack of homes for sale is staring down just about all buyers, whether they’re first-time or repeat purchasers. Prices are high, bidding wars are back, and mortgage rates are now solidly above 7%—and there’s very little on the market. It’s a very difficult time to be a homebuyer, even if there were homes to buy.
Many of you scouring the listings on Realtor.com® might not be finding homes that meet your needs (and budget) in the communities where you want to live. There’s no question that this is extremely frustrating. However, that doesn’t mean you have to give up.
If you have the means to buy a home in today’s market, there are a few ways you might be able to find the right home—even if it’s not listed online.
Put in the legwork to find your next home
Just because a home isn’t listed on Realtor.com, doesn’t mean that it can’t be for sale. There are plenty of frustrated home shoppers who put in some (literal) legwork—and it paid off for them.
One of my colleagues was living in a small house in the northern suburbs of Chicago with her husband and two children when COVID-19 broke out. She wanted more space, but homes rarely went up for sale in her community, and she didn’t want to leave the neighborhood she loved.
So in early 2021, she walked around the neighborhood, identifying the houses she liked. She gave her list to her real estate agent, who looked up the tax records for all of the homes in the neighborhood. The agent knocked off all of the homes that didn’t meet my colleague’s criteria of at least four bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a two-car garage, and a basement, and then added a few more that did.
Then the agent sent postcards to all of the homes on the list, telling the owners that she had a client who was interested in their properties. Seven homeowners who hadn’t listed their homes responded. My colleague visited each one.
She put in an offer on her favorite and got it for the asking price. The sellers could have gotten more if they’d done some renovations and fixed up the home, which was built in the 1950s, but they were about to retire and didn’t want to put in the work. My colleague saved enough on the purchase price that she and her husband were able to do the remodeling.
These days homeowners are flooded with mailings from real estate agents urging them to sell their homes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Start by checking public property records of homes you’re interested in. This can help you narrow down the homes that meet your requirements. These records can also tell you how long the homeowners have been in their properties. The longer they’ve been there, the more likely they may be to sell if the right offer came along.
Talk to neighbors, and scour local Facebook groups for communities where you would like to move. If someone is thinking about moving, you might hear about it before the home hits the market—and have the opportunity to buy it without engaging in a bidding war.
Consider buying a smaller home
Everyone wants the perfect home, especially in today’s market where you’ll be paying top dollar. However, a move-in ready, spacious home with a big backyard in a walkable neighborhood might not be possible on a first-time buyer’s budget. And that’s OK.
If your goal is to start building equity and get out from under your landlord, consider purchasing a smaller single-family house, townhouse, condo, or co-op. This doesn’t have to be your forever home; it just has to get you into homeownership.
Over time, your home should appreciate in value, mortgage rates should fall, and more homes should go up for sale. Even if another housing crash happens, which is unlikely, home values typically rebound over time.
In a few years, you can put the equity you’ve built in your smaller home toward trading up into a larger home. If rates have come down, your mortgage payments could be considerably less as well.
Look into new construction
In a high-price, high-interest-rate housing market, many first-time buyers might dismiss this option. Newly built homes have traditionally been more expensive than comparable properties on the resale market. But it’s worth giving these properties another look.
Some have been cutting prices. Unlike many homeowners, builders are not as emotionally attached to these properties. So it might be easier for them to lop off a few thousand (or more) dollars.
Many are offering upgrades, nicer finishes, and premium lots at a discount. Some are even contributing to a buyer’s closing costs, which can amount to thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.
However, the bigger savings might come from builders who buy down mortgage rates. The larger builders might have their own financing arms, which helps them to offer temporarily lower rates for the first few years of homeownership—or even the full 30 years of a fixed-rate loan.
Plus, the price gap between new construction and existing homes (which have previously been lived in) has been closing. Even when a home is priced a little higher than what a buyer could find in the resale market, the closing cost assistance and mortgage rate buy-downs could make it cheaper than a less expensive property.
Clare Trapasso is the executive news editor of Realtor.com. She was previously a reporter for the Associated Press, the New York Daily News, and a Financial Times publication. She also taught journalism courses at several New York City colleges. Email email@example.com or follow @claretrap on X (formerly Twitter).