The term “off-market” refers to properties that are not visible on the Internet or any other media. And surprisingly to some, significant numbers of the most desirable and prestigious properties are sold off-market.
Instead of being advertised in estate agents’ windows or via online property portals, off-market properties — and their price tags — are being revealed discreetly behind closed doors, to only a handful of property professionals and the closest contacts of the owners.
Such properties are typically passed over by the vendor into the care of an estate agent, with the strict instruction that buyers are to be located through private networking rather than mass marketing and advertising.
An increasing number of properties are being sold off-market
Over the last 10 years there has been a significant increase in the number of properties being sold off-market in the UK, mostly among high-value homes.
The off-market share in £1million plus sales across the UK rose, from 14% in 2014 to 20% in 2016. The figures also show private sales are overwhelmingly focused on the top end of the market: only 0.9% of London sales under £500,000 were conducted off-market in the past 12 months, compared with 27% of those worth £2million or more.
In the last 2 years, 30% of home purchases between £1.5million and £2million were off market. This increases to 60% for purchases between £3 million and £5million and 80% above £5million.
In 2019 one in four wealthy homeowners in London was selling their property away from the public glare, due to concerns about the uncertainty of a contracting market. A sharp rise in the proportion of so-called “off-market” sales was registered by several prime central London estate agents which found they accounted for 25% of £1M+ sales in London so far this year, up from 14% in the previous year.
Other parts of Europe seem to be following the same trend; in France for example off-market sales represent between 5% and 10% of the property market and a large proportion of the €10M plus property segment.
Why do sellers go off-market?
Many property owners prefer to sell their properties privately and not publicly. Confidentiality is usually the main reason, perhaps for family reasons or because the owner has a high profile. An advantage to owners is that interest in off-market properties tend often to come from serious buyers able to exchange quickly.
But there are many more reasons for a seller to put his property for sale off-market:
Firstly and predominantly for discretion, especially for luxury and prime properties, where sellers don’t want to attract unwarranted attention or reveal the selling price of their property.
The richer the buyers and sellers are, the more likely they are not to want to ‘air their laundry in public’. This is particularly the case with high-profile public personas who might have specific personal or property security considerations meaning that they would not welcome widespread public interest in the property with its associated viewing requests.
- The 3 Ds: Divorce, Death and Debt
Transactions often take place off-market for an unhappy reason, referred to by property professionals as the 3 Ds: Divorce, Death and Debt.
Many sellers don’t want to be announcing to the world that they have run out of money, someone has died or that they are getting divorced.
- To test the market
It is very common to see vendors going off-market, particularly in a saturated market when there’s so much supply, as it enables them to use the private market to test their impression of the property’s value and level of interest.
At the higher end of the market sellers often choose to sell their properties off-market because the moment their property is listed a record is created that is very difficult to erase. This can become particularly problematic in tougher markets where buyers will use “time on the market” and historic pricing information to negotiate with a vendor. A property can become tarnished or less desirable to buyers if it has been on the market for a while and failed to sell.
- To attract only vetted and serious buyers
Most vendors only want applications from genuine and motivated buyers who are able to move quickly with the purchase, or complete within a set or short deadline.
For homes above £10million, it is often the case that the only people likely to buy are already known to estate agents, making a public promotion less worthwhile.
By going off-market enquiries are limited to serious, vetted buyers who can afford to submit a realistic offer.
- To maximise the selling price
It is not uncommon to see vendors opting for the off-market route as they try to command a higher asking price as well as adding to the rarity factor, as the buyer may have the impression that a hidden treasure has been unearthed!
In the case of high value properties, as buyers are often hard to find and the sales cycle make take many years, an off-market approach keeps the sale “fresher” as it will not appear as ‘unsold’ for many years.
If it’s an unusual property and difficult to value it can be offered privately to gauge buyer opinion.
Why would buyers be interested in off-market properties?
The main advantage of purchasing a property off-market again is discretion: buyers may not want to have their future property exposed for years on the Internet.
Access to the private market also means less competition from other buyers. Another reason would be to snatch a property at a good negotiated price before it reaches the open market.
But it is worth highlighting potential drawbacks associated with selling a property off-market, as well as various implications that buyers should be aware of as well.
Factors against using the off-market route for sellers
The first clear and obvious obstacle is by restricting market exposure sellers might miss out on potential buyers that would have been found if their property were available on the open market.
This is why actor Johnny Depp decided to do the precise opposite and used his fame and celebrity status to maximise exposure on his French property near Saint Tropez:
The second potential risk associated with selling a property off-market is timing: off-market sales normally take longer as you are working with fewer potential buyers, unless you have a penthouse with a sea view in Cannes at market price that you know buyers would be queuing up for!
What are the implications for buyers?
There are potentially numerous advantages to buying off-market but there are also some issues to keep in mind.
Prime and prestigious residential properties advertised on the open market tend to come with a package of information readily available to any buyer, such as floor plans, extensive photographic shots of all rooms as well as detailed brochures. It is typically less common for off-market properties for reasons of discretion or privacy.
Off-market properties, by their nature, tend to move quickly from a transactional point of view once an offer has been accepted by the seller – it is not uncommon to see a whole property transaction taking place and reaching completion in a matter of weeks as opposed to months (4.5 months being the average length of conveyancing for a residential property purchase in the UK).
How to find off-market properties?
The off-market property transaction world is essentially a largely invisible subset of the main property marketplace. The implications of that are consequently very clear: unless you know how to access the off-market property domain, you may simply never see these properties!
Potential issues faced by buyers can be avoided if you appoint an experienced property finder/buying agent (also known as property search agent or home finder) who is able to move immediately on things such as initial viewings and clarifying aspects of the property’s specification or basis of sale.
In fact, that may be essential in situations where there is high demand for the property concerned – something that is relatively commonplace where off-market sales are involved.
One of the most valuable services good property finders can offer to buyers is that associated with identifying and accessing off-market properties.
Experienced property finders or buying agents will know how to tap into this market and bring appropriate qualifying properties to your attention.
As a potential off-market purchaser, your options to directly access off-market properties may be very limited.
It is therefore worth appointing an experienced property finder to both access this marketplace and to protect your interests within it.
Buying a property is a major life decision; the most expensive life decision you are likely to make. It is also stressful and time consuming. It is quite remarkable that some buyers are prepared to gamble such large sums of money without professional help, guidance and advice; whilst the seller has access to the guidance and advice of their estate agent.
For buyers, the best way to level the playing field is for them to have their own representatives on their team.
Property buyers: don’t make a costly mistake. Use a buying agent!
Please call us on 0117 973 3683 or email us email@example.com for a free, no obligation, consultation to discuss your property requirements and how we can help you.
Domus Holmes Property Finder (www.domusholmes.co.uk) is a Bristol-based independent property buying agent dedicated to sourcing, negotiating and securing various residential and commercial properties for a diverse range of clients.
With an extensive network of industry contacts, they act exclusively for buyers to source and purchase on and off market properties, whether it is to be a home or an investment.