If you find it annoying when properties are listed without a price, you’re not alone. It’s one of the biggest frustrations when buying a home these days.
“What’s the point in even viewing the property if we have no idea of how much they want? We could be dreaming – when it’s way out of our affordability. Or we could get our hopes up – our heart set on a property – to finally discover: it’s the seller that’s dreaming.”
Both would be a colossal waste of everybody’s time and emotional headspace.
As we shared in this article, that’s why many buyers skip viewing properties advertised without a price.
David Ogilvy, one of the greatest marketing minds of all time, put it this way:
“When you don’t display a price on your product, people have a way of turning the page.”
Why so many sellers – or agents – think using a strategy that depletes up to half of the buyer pool is wise, is a mystery to me? Still, as buyers, no-price marketing is a part of the real estate landscape we have to navigate. In many areas, it’s become an epidemic.
So what if a property without an advertised price does catch your eye?
It could be the only one matching your needs and desired location. Or maybe it’s a home you’ve always coveted…
What then? How do you go about finding out the price?
The first thing to understand is that “No Price Advertising” is a fallacy.
The property does have a price. Everything for sale has a price. Otherwise, it’s not for sale.
Nobody puts their property to market without a good idea what they want, need, or are prepared to accept. I also doubt many agents would bring a property to market – without any idea of what their client is expecting.
It has a price, but they’re hiding it from you.
So today we’re going to share six ways of discovering it. (Or at least to give you a better idea).
But first, please be aware they are not foolproof. Think of these steps more like clues – data points you can gather to help you zero in.
We’ll start our investigation online. Let the internet do some legwork for us, before deciding if it’s worth getting more serious.
1. Major Property Portals / Websites.
Remember, the property does have a price. But it’s not displayed. Instead, it’s hidden in the back end.
There are two mandatory pricing fields before a property can go live on these websites:
The “Display Price” (public) and the “Search Price” (hidden).
Agents can choose not to enter a ‘display price’ in dollars terms. They can instead enter ‘Auction’, ‘Deadline’, ‘By Negotiation,’ or whatever. But, they must enter a “Search Price” in dollars.
Otherwise, how would the portals know which properties to put in front of you? They’d be no more useful than newspapers – where you have to sift through hundreds of pages hoping to stumble across a few that might fit your budget. Isn’t the whole point of these websites to enable you to narrow your search? Saving you time and hassle? Yes, being able to search by location and size etc. is helpful. But ‘price’ is the most critical variable.
But don’t search by the property’s specific address. You want to find it by searching the broad location and a reasonably wide price range. So you get a decent number of search results.
Now sort your results in price order.
Then all you need to do is see where it shows up amongst the properties advertised with a transparent price.
If there are not enough properties displayed with a price: Try broadening the search location to get a larger data set. Likewise, if you have too many pages of results to sift through – narrow your locations. If you are struggling to find the property in price order: Try expanding your price range.
Once you have an idea of where it ranks amongst priced properties, another hack is to narrow your search price. For example, if it displays within your search of $500 – $600. Try $500k-$550. Does it show up now? What you are looking for is the point it disappears.
I should warn you of a tactic some agents use. A trick that even most sellers are unaware of:
Let’s say the seller wants $600k – which the agent thinks is way too high. Rather than overprice it, the agent suggests putting it to market without a price but enters a “search price” in the backend of $550K. This way, it appears in the search results of buyers who can afford what the agent thinks it’s worth. More on this later.
Ok, so let’s move on.
2. Online Property Data.
It’s quick and easy to find useful information about each property. Such as its previous sale history, current Rateable Value, and ‘Automated Online Valuation’.
For this, you want to go to a website where the property is not advertised. If it’s listed on Trademe.co.nz, for example, you’ll find the valuation function disabled.
Here are a few notes about this online information:
a) Rateable Values.
The property’s rateable value is nothing but a guide. Be aware they are often wildly inaccurate. The owner may have done significant renovations since the RV was released. Some people object to their RV, pushing it artificially higher and higher. Other people keep their RV low because they think it will keep their property tax lower. Yet, in the absence of a clear asking price, it can be a starting point. If the top of your budget is $500k and the property’s RV is $600k – you are more than likely dreaming. Move on to finding a different home within your budget.
b) Automated Valuations
We dig deeper here about how Online Valuations work. Like RV’s these can also be way off the mark. Yet again, in the absence of an asking price, they too can help you get a gauge of where it fits in the market. It’s another clue. It’s also worth cross-referencing different online estimates. Check it on oneroof.co.nz for instance, then see what homes.co.nz has to say about the property.
Ok, so now you should have a better idea if it’s worth you pursuing the property further or not. If so, the next step is to talk to the salesperson/agent.
But before you pick up the phone, understand that Knowledge is power. The research you’ve done so far can serve you well when talking with the salesperson. There are, however, a couple of other things to know:
3. The listing salesperson
It was often the agent who convinced the seller to put their property to market without a price.
Some of them believe hiding the price is a good strategy; Thinking some low-information buyer may come along and pay over the top.
Some agents use the strategy to force you to call them. If that particular property is not in your price bracket – they can start trying to pitch you other listings. They’ll also get a chance to pop their most burning question:
“Do you have a property to sell?”
After all, as we discussed here: “The real sale in commission-only real estate is not persuading buyers to buy. It’s convincing sellers to sell.” In effect, it’s a ‘Bait & Switch’ strategy, whereby they use their current clients’ houses to pick up new clients.
Some agents push ‘no price marketing’ because they feel the price the seller wants is unrealistic. They’re worried if they advertise that price, it’ll scare buyers away. Because let’s face it. Overpriced properties generally don’t sell. No sale = No commission = A whole lot of lost work, effort and money. (Which, by the way, is why commissions need to be so high for those who do sell).
Yet, agents know many sellers eventually accept reality. So rather than having a transparent discussion with the client up-front (and risk losing the listing) – It’s safer to be agreeable and suggest going to market without a price.
Then, as mentioned above, enter a much lower hidden “Search Price” on the listing portals – attracting and encouraging buyers in that lower price bracket to view the property. They can then use that feedback to condition the sellers’ expectations down.
“The market is speaking Mr & Mrs Seller”. All the buyer enquiry and feedback is seeing it $50k less.”
Of course. Because that’s the level of buyers the lower “Search Price” attracted.
Other salespeople are genuinely good people, not intending to trick or mislead anyone. They’re often naive rookies following the sales training manual without understanding the ramifications. So please don’t assume all agents are rouges. Even if you think they are, you’ll get more information from them by being pleasant.
With that said, there’s one more thing you need to know. But, keep it up your sleeve – only pulling it out if the salesperson is giving you the run-around.
In the Real Estate Agents Act (professional conduct & client care rules), Clause 9.4 states:
“A licensee [thats the agent] must not mislead customers [thats you the buyer] as to the price expectations of the client [the seller].”
What exactly does this mean?
Based on case law, it means:
If you ask an agent how much the seller is expecting: They can no longer shrug their shoulders. Or give you some vague answer like… “who knows what it might sell for”.
They should also not merely quote you the RV. It’s known that RV’s are in no way a reliable sign of the sellers’ expectations.
So what should they do?
Give you a realistic indication of the sellers’ expectation.
Please note – It is ok for them to give you a range. But it must be within the ballpark and not massively wide. If it turns out the range given is wildly different from the sellers’ true expectations: They are in breach of the Real Estate Agents Act and possibly also the Fair Trading Act.
So technically, all you need to do is ask this simple question:
“How much are the sellers expecting?”
You may want to break the ice a bit first:
“Hi Sally Salesperson, it’s Bill the buyer here. I’m calling about (insert property address). It looks nice, but I don’t want to waste anybody’s time looking at properties we can’t afford. So to save us all a lot hassle, how much are the sellers expecting?”
Be sure to use some of their sales training back on them. Once you’ve asked that question – bite your tongue – shut up – do not say anything else. Wait for their answer.
Now here is the thing: After all the cloak and dagger tactics hiding the price, some will come out right there and then and give you a straight-up answer. “They’re expecting $x”. Which is excellent and what should happen. But it leaves one thinking – why the hell didn’t they just advertise that upfront?
More than likely you’ll get the politician type answer – avoiding the question and turning it back on you:
“How much are you looking to spend up to?”
Smile, and say something like, “Good try Sally… How much are the sellers expecting?”
If you still don’t get a straight answer. Keep your cool and try a different track – pulling out some of your quick research:
“I notice it’s RV is $500k. Are they expecting over or under that?…
How much over?”
Or here’s another question:
“I see the RV is $500k – is that correct?… So if I was looking to spend close to that, is it worth me viewing the property? Are the sellers likely to accept close to that?
Ok, so how much are they expecting?”
“I notice it displays on a realestate.co.nz search between $500 and $550K. Is that the range the seller authorised you to put in the ‘search field’?
So am I correct in assuming they are expecting somewhere in that range?”
You get the idea, and I hope they stop mucking you around and answer your question. If not, then pull out your trump card. (Try to keep your tone calm):
“Sally, I get it – you are in a difficult spot. On the one hand, you do not want to commit to saying a price. But the Real Estate Agents Act makes it very clear. I believe it’s clause 9.4 of the Professional conduct rules that says:
An agent must not mislead buyers about the price expectations of the seller.” …is that right?
And I understand you have to, at least, give me a realistic range. If it turns out that you mislead me about how much your client is expecting – that’s something the Real Estate Agents Authority would want to investigate. I don’t want to do that, and I’m sure you don’t either – it’s your license on the line, right?
I don’t for a second, believe the seller has not discussed with you how much they are expecting. And I only want to know if it’s worth viewing the property without wasting the sellers, yours and my time. So I’d very much appreciate a straight answer: How much are the clients expecting?”
I’ve heard agents say things like “It’ll need to start with a five”.
Reply: “So you’re saying anything over $500k? So $501k will be acceptable to the sellers?”
You can, if you feel confident, try something like this:
“Sally, I get the feeling you don’t want to give me a straight answer. Is that because you think they want too much and you don’t want to scare me off? If so, I get it. Just between you and I – I won’t tell anyone – where do you think it’ll sell?
What was the appraisal range you gave the seller before listing it?”
There is one answer from agents you need to be careful of (used with Auction listings):
“Bidding will start from $500k”.
More than likely, this is well below where the reserve will be. It’s another ploy some agents use, underquoting to try and get a big crowd at the Auction. So be careful getting too emotionally involved in a property based on that line.
If they’re still avoiding your questions here is one more thing to try: Hang up from that agent and try calling a different one from the same company. Try one of the newbies eager to please, and not so comfortable avoiding your questions.
Still no answers? Then you need to decide for yourself (based on your earlier research) if you want to view the property.
What if you have viewed it, like it and wish to try and buy it. But you are still unsure where to pitch your offer. What is a reasonable level? What is it worth? What then?
You have three options to help figure that out:
4. Your Own Market Research
How do you feel it compares to other properties you have viewed?
If you haven’t viewed many others (with a listed price), then go and look at some in your affordability range. The more you see, the better feel you’ll get for the market.
What other similar properties do you know of that have sold? What did they sell for, and how do you feel they compare to this property?
5. Registered Valuation
Engage and pay for a registered valuer to value the property on your behalf. But, even a registered valuation is not gospel. Value is not an exact science. It’s a professional and unbiased opinion. Further, there is no guarantee the seller will accept what the valuer deems as fair.
6. Independent Real Estate Agent
Why not engage help and advice from an experienced real estate agent?
NB: Make sure it’s an agent NOT with the same company who has the property listed.
There’s a conflict of interest with them getting a cut of the commission – if you buy it.
Why engage them (pay them a fair consulting fee), like you would your solicitor for example?
Because you don’t want them to put you off the property – so they can pitch you one on their books. You don’t want them trying to sell you anything else. Instead, you want their unbiased professional advice to help you buy this property – without them having a conflict of interest.
It’s interesting that: Since restating real estate as a professional service, although our focus is to leave sellers with more in their pocket (Helping them achieve the highest price with the least possible fees), as more people understand the difference between:
Engaging a professional vs dealing with a commissioned salesperson…
We’re finding a growing number of clients engaging us to help them when purchasing (through a different agent*) — asking for an unbiased market appraisal; help with credible market research; along with guiding them through the negotiation process. (Or giving them tips for bidding at Auction).
We know all the inside industry flaws, so can often help them, as buyers, secure the property at a sharper price. Not to mention enabling them to make more informed decisions, giving them more peace of mind.
Ok, so there are some ways for you as a buyer to deal with properties listed without a price. If you’ve found it useful and believe it could help any of your friends – please share it with them.
As always, we welcome your questions, comments and feedback.
Happy house hunting 🙂
*Please note: If the property is listed with us – we cannot also act for you as the buyer. In this case, our duty is to act in our sellers best interests. As the saying goes: You can’t serve two masters.