Can off-market portal Invisible Homes really sell your property for more than Rightmove?


In today’s hot housing market, property sellers could be forgiven for assuming that finding a buyer for their property will be relatively easy.

The average estate agent branch has 22 available homes for every 590 registered house hunters, according to Propertymark, the membership body for estate agents.

This means there are almost 27 potential buyers for every available property, with the best properties selling before they even get listed on the likes of Rightmove or Zoopla.

Exclusive club: Invisible Homes has 45 estate agents already signed up and plans to expand to cover the whole of London next year and then nationwide in 2024

But a quick and painless sale is still far from guaranteed. Those selling homes that are expensive for the local area, or are without popular features such as gardens, might find it takes longer to find the right buyer. 

And others may just be unlucky, having buyers drop out and ending up back at square one.  

Whatever the reason, it is usually the case that the longer a property remains listed online, the less interest it seems to attract. 

Buyers deem the months of marketing as a clear sign there must be something wrong, and interest in the property can tail off. 

So what can a seller do to avoid this situation? One company thinks it may have a solution, in the form of selling properties ‘off-market’. 

Invisible Homes will offer buyers properties that aren’t available on the likes of Rightmove or Zoopla. 

It currently has 45 estate agents signed up across Hammersmith, Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.

Mark Wells, founder and chief executive of Invisible Homes

Mark Wells, founder and chief executive of Invisible Homes

But it plans to expand outside of these prime postcodes, across the whole of London from 2023 and across the UK from 2024.

Its founder and chief executive, Mark Wells, a former estate agent and buying agent, considers Invisible Homes as a matchmaker for buyers and sellers.

‘It’s a little bit like a dating app,’ says Wells. ‘We list properties from many different agencies, and we help buyers choose which of the homes will suit them best.

‘Sellers get their property in front of all the best buyers, without the pains of being over-exposed. 

‘And buyers know they aren’t missing out on the best options just because nobody knew to tell them.’

Invisible Homes says it offers buyers the chance to see homes before they get listed on the usual portals, and to view them before anyone else does – as well as reducing the number of annoying calls they get from estate agents. 

What’s the appeal of selling off-market?

Roughly one in five homes sell off market, according to research by estate agent Hamptons. 

Not openly advertising a property you wish to sell might seem counter-intuitive, but keeping a house sale discreet is an attraction for some.

‘There are many reasons why people might not want to openly advertise their property,’ says professional buying agent, Henry Pryor. ‘They may not have told their employer or their staff.

‘They may not want to unsettle their kids or to tell the neighbours they’re leaving. In one case I remember a client who didn’t want their spouse to know.’

Discreet: Some sellers prefer to sell off-market to avoid neighbours, friends or family knowing

Discreet: Some sellers prefer to sell off-market to avoid neighbours, friends or family knowing

It also offers an opportunity to ‘test’ the market to find a home’s true worth, without having to reduce the price publicly on a property portal which can be off-putting to buyers. 

Wells says: ‘The reason people sell off-market is because it’s a much more curated space.

‘A good estate agent will know the best buyers in an area; they will know exactly what they want, how long they have been looking, whether they’ve missed out on a couple of properties in the past, how desperate they are to buy, and whether they are likely to pay the most.’

Agents already offer properties to selected buyers before they get listed online, he explains – but Invisible Homes intends to give buyers more control over the properties they get shown. 

‘An estate agent just instinctively brings their “hottest buyers” through the door before a property hits Rightmove or Zoopla,’ Wells adds. 

‘Through that curation, a seller will often get a quick sale to a reliable buyer that is willing to pay for the privilege of getting in first and preventing the property from going on the open market.’

How does Invisible Homes work for buyers?

Invisible Homes claims it currently has between 50 and 100 buyers signing up each day. The total number of buyers using its site currently stands at more than 20,000.

Unlike with Rightmove or Zoopla, buyers will need to register and specify their search preferences to have access to the properties listed on its platform.

Buyers first pinpoint the areas in which they are looking, followed by some basic property details such as their budget range and the number of bedrooms they are looking for.

Secret sales: Invisible Homes lets property hunters access 'off-market' listings via its website

Secret sales: Invisible Homes lets property hunters access ‘off-market’ listings via its website

It then asks buyers to list the three things that are most important to them. For example, they might put down a garden, two bathrooms and open-plan living.

It also asks them to describe their situation, for example whether they have agreed the sale of their current home or have a mortgage agreed in principle, and when they want to move. 

Invisible Homes then matches the relevant properties to each buyer, essentially revealing off-market opportunities that can’t be found elsewhere.

‘Rightmove and Zoopla’s goal is to deliver as many leads to as many estate agents as possible,’ says Wells.

‘Our goal is to deliver relevant properties to the right people at the right time, in order to generate viewings from people who are actually going to buy the property.’

Invisible Homes is essentially asking the types of questions that a typical estate agent should be asking when you register.

However, instead of the buyer relying on an agent to alert them to exclusive off-market opportunities, they will be relying on Invisible Homes with its far greater array of properties.

‘Roughly half of all sales don’t just happen because somebody’s seen something on Rightmove and Zoopla,’ says Wells. ‘They happen because an agent has contacted a buyer they have a relationship with and whom they understand, and suggested something that is about to hit the market.

‘The problem is, not all agents will know you – because few people want to register with 100 different estate agents and go into sufficient depth with each one.

‘That’s the problem that Invisible Homes set out to solve. Our algorithms, together with our in-house team, match buyers with off-market homes without needing to receive calls from 100 estate agents.’

How does Invisible Homes benefit sellers?

Similar to other property portals, Invisible Homes allows sellers to book a free valuation with local estate agents.

The estate agent then markets the property via the platform and takes care of everything from viewings and offers all the way through to completion.

Buyers can see how long a property has been listed for on Rightmove and Zoopla, but this isn’t the case on Invisible Homes.

Off-market: Sellers using Invisible Homes still work with an estate agent, but they will market their home via its own platform rather than on the traditional property portals

Off-market: Sellers using Invisible Homes still work with an estate agent, but they will market their home via its own platform rather than on the traditional property portals

‘With the off-market model, there’s always a fear of loss and that sense of exclusivity,’ says Wells.

‘I think if a buyer knows that lots of other people have seen it, or that there have been no other bids, then they’re probably either less likely to consider it or more likely to bide their time or throw in low offers.

‘Whereas if they know it’s about to go on the open market there’s a risk that other bids will come up against them. Buyers will therefore be more likely to come in with a high offer to avoid missing out.’

 If they know a home is about to go on the open market there’s a risk that other bids will come up against them. Buyers will therefore be more likely to come in with a high offer to avoid missing out

Wells also believes it’s a great way for sellers to test the value of their home before putting it on the open market.

‘A lot of agents will market a property on invisible homes. They might give it a week there or they might give it a month or two.

‘Then the seller still has the back-up of the normal channels of Rightmove and Zoopla so they kind of see it as two bites of the cherry – as opposed to just sticking it up on Rightmove and Zoopla and it not selling, causing the property to go stale with everyone thinking it must be overpriced.

‘If you try our site first, if we put it on at the wrong price you won’t be punished for it. If you don’t get the price you think it’s worth you don’t lose out. There is nothing to lose.’

What are the cons of going off-market?  

Buying agent, Henry Pryor believes it is possible to lose out using the off-market strategy.

‘Promoting your property on the internet equivalent of Piers Morgan’s new TV show,’ says Pryor.

‘It won’t get you many eyeballs and is therefore unlikely to get you the best price.

‘Whilst there is a lot to be said for what the industry calls “off-market” selling, you pay for the element of discretion by not knowing for sure that you have got the best price.’

Despite its big ambitions to expand nationwide, Invisible Homes remains in its infancy. It operates within a small area of London, with only 45 estate agents currently using its service.

Its success will depend on whether estate agents consider it to be a good marketing tool.

Stale: Buyers might see months of marketing by estate agents as a sign there must be something wrong with a home

Stale: Buyers might see months of marketing by estate agents as a sign there must be something wrong with a home

It is offering estate agents free membership for the first three months. Thereafter each independent branch will pay £370 a month.

It’s worth pointing out that this considerably less than Rightmove and Zoopla, which charge agents around £1,200 and £700 a month respectively for sales listings.

But Pryor is skeptical as to whether the platform will stay the course.

‘This might work in a hot market like the one we currently have – a market where stock is 30 per cent lower than usual and buyers are scrapping over what little there is for sale,’ he says. 

‘But I doubt that it will survive when the market adjusts. Like every aspiring Rightmove business, what this website needs is a million pound marketing campaign to get its existence out there.

‘Sharing details of your property with a list of registered buyers on a website most people have never heard of doesn’t guarantee confidentiality. Nor does it guarantee that you are getting to the best buyers for your property.

‘If you are looking for a new home in a small area you are probably better off registering with the agents who live and work in that patch.

‘If you want to keep details of your property and your plans to sell it confidential then perhaps avoid the world wide web.’

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