One in 10 homes across Britain are selling without being widely marketed, according to research from estate agent Hamptons.

While local estate agents say that buying and selling 'off market' is nothing new, some suggest that market conditions could be making it more appealing.

Advertising a property instruction usually centres around a mix of advertising, including property portals, local press, social media, phone or mailouts. The idea is to get your property seen by as many people as possible, perhaps even those who don’t have plans to move – yet.

This can mean that tens of thousands of people – if not more – see the details of your property for sale, which widens the pool of buyers and offers an opportunity to test the market for the best price.

Eastern Daily Press: Traditional marketing usually uses a mix of advertising, including property portals, local press, social media, phone or mailoutsTraditional marketing usually uses a mix of advertising, including property portals, local press, social media, phone or mailouts (Image: Getty Images)

Instructing your agent to sell your property ‘off market’ does away with all that. Instead, your estate agent discreetly calls only a selection of clients, namely the ones they think will be the most interested.

This can help weed out the time wasters, says Joanna McIntyre of Musker McIntyre, and even help you avoid group after group of strangers traipsing through your home. Much of this, though, still relies on the skill of the sales team.

“As an agent, you have to know the property really well and be very experienced in order to entice buyers to come and look at a house which may not have any full details,” she says. By its nature, discreet marketing won’t have the brochures or the photography that can typically help to sell a home, and the agent, she says, will need to know all about the area, too.

Will Lightfoot, sales director at Sowerbys, agrees that promoting the location, rather than the property, can be a great tool when it comes to low-key marketing. “Showcasing the local lifestyle and what it means to be a part of a Norfolk community lends itself perfectly to low key marketing of a home,” he says.

Eastern Daily Press: Will Lightfoot, sales director at SowerbysWill Lightfoot, sales director at Sowerbys (Image: Sowerbys)

As a result, many agents – including Sowerbys – now create area guides and video content to help add value and generate interest. “Today, more than ever, people care about the location of the home they’re buying,” says Will.

There are lots of reasons a seller might want to sell their home off-market and it depends more on the vendor than it does the property – though it’s usually the most high value homes, and sometimes land, which are often sold this way.

“You can conduct a private deal on any house,” says Ben Rivett, head of residential sales at Savills. “But in our experience it is the best-in-class properties – where we always have a strong pool of buyers whatever the time of year or market conditions – for which this type of sale is better suited. There’s no stereotypical private seller.”

Eastern Daily Press: Ben Rivett, joint head of residential sales at Savills, Norfolk, saved hard for his first home with wife, BeckyBen Rivett, joint head of residential sales at Savills, Norfolk, saved hard for his first home with wife, Becky (Image: Ben Rivett)

According to Hamptons’ data, in the five years running up to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the average price of a home which had been sold off-market was £1.2m.

Since then, however, off-market transactions have been increasingly driven by lower-priced properties. So far this year, the average discreetly marketed home has sold for £858,000 – down from £979,000 in 2021 – suggesting that the tide might be changing.

One of the most common reasons sellers might choose discreet marketing is because they don’t want their friends, family or neighbours to know the value of the property, says Nicholas Taylor – although this will still reach the public domain once the sale goes through.

“It’s more driven by the client’s need and personal circumstances than by the property,” says Jan Hytch, chair of the Norwich & District Association of Estate Agents and partner at Arnolds Keys.

“I once sold a house this way where the lady selling was so concerned she didn’t want her neighbours to know that she was selling that she wouldn’t give me an address, initially – she insisted on meeting me in the car park of a nearby church, and I had to follow her to the property!

“It was an amazing house, and her family had been there for generations, but no-one in the family wanted to live there any more, so it was time to move on. Understandably she just didn’t want to deal with all the questions from her friends and neighbours until the sale was exchanged.”

Jamie Minors, managing director of Minors & Brady, agrees that privacy can be a factor. “Some sellers have perhaps experienced a difficult family situation, and therefore do not wish for unwanted parties to know they are moving,” he says.

Eastern Daily Press: Jamie Minors, managing director of Minors & BradyJamie Minors, managing director of Minors & Brady (Image: Minors & Brady)

“Other sellers wish for their contents to remain private due to the value of art and furniture, or to give an indication of their celebrity status. We have acted for high-profile individuals and celebrities, including in the sporting world, who have been highly conscious of their position.”

Choosing to sell discreetly can also, sometimes, be a result of market conditions. “During the worst of the winter months, it can benefit the seller to wait until a more advantageous time of year before launching an open-market campaign,” says Ben Marchbank of Bedfords. “It is for this reason that we do the majority of our off-market sales in the winter.”

Another perk to selling off-market can be that potential buyers will never know how long the property has been up for sale. In recent months this has become even more of a worry, as low supply and high demand has skewed the market.

“I think more and more people are open to this kind of marketing approach as the worry of finding an alternative with such a lack of new stock being available is a major concern,” says Kelly Tumility of KT Estate Agents.

“Sellers and buyers worry that their property will go stale due to the length of time it can take to find a suitable alternative”, she says, and getting pressure from buyers, particularly if part of a chain, can be a worry.

Being made to feel special is another reason off-market sales are popular – particularly with buyers. “Buyers love to feel special,” says Joanna McIntyre, “and there is nothing more appealing than a property that is not being fully marketed – it brings in an element of magic and the unknown and makes the buyer feel special if they are invited to view.”

Of course, there are also downsides. Nicholas Taylor says that, without the property going to the open market, it’s difficult to know if the home has secured the best price, as there is no opportunity to ‘test’ it on the open market.

Ultimately, like any property sale, it depends on the strength of the property and of the agent.

Eastern Daily Press: David Hinton, sales manager at Brown & Co in NorwichDavid Hinton, sales manager at Brown & Co in Norwich (Image: (C) JAMES BASS PHOTOGRAPHY 2021)

David Hinton from Brown&Co says that, in terms of price, selling privately can sometimes be a benefit. “Some clients have benefited a great deal from negotiating a higher figure on their house than the valuation received from an estate agent due to the buyer not wanting the house to go on the market,” he says.

Is discreet marketing becoming more popular, then? Property agent Samantha Withers certainly thinks so.

“It’s proving more popular with vendors as they like the idea of a shorter/simpler selling process,” she says. “We’re currently selling properties before we have even taken the photos, and the vendors find it appealing that their property can sell without loads of unnecessary viewings and without the upheaval of getting it ready for photography.”

Generally, estate agents across Norfolk don’t believe discreet or low-key marketing will change the market as a whole, because it is still a very small percentage of house sales.

All it may alter, Samantha suggests, is how agents work. “For so long agents have been relying on the online property portals to do the job for them,” she says, “but low key marketing requires a more traditional approach, matching buyers to new homes, so we will see some agents have to take a more proactive approach.”

For Ben Rivett, selling on the open market is fundamental to keeping people moving. “The vast majority of houses will always be openly marketed and the health of our market relies on it,” he says.

“Sellers need the luxury of seeing houses advertised to tempt them into moving.”

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