Real Estate

‘Whisper listings’ complicate red hot middle-class housing market

Psst . . . wanna buy a house?

Thanks to a booming housing market, off-market properties, a k a whisper listings, are throwing already discouraged home hunters a curve ball.

Once a marketing tool reserved for press-shy billionaires and celebrities, as well as developers of country club-like super towers such as the Robert A.M. Stern-designed 220 Central Park West — which saw record sales, including a deal for $238 million, despite never publicly listing a unit — the trade in off-market homes is now affecting every sector of the housing market, including middle-class city apartments and suburban abodes, brokers told The Post.

In a slow market, sellers and agents need to get the maximum number of eyes on a property to achieve a top price. That also benefits homebuyers who want to peruse listings and price compare.

But in a bullish housing market, where listings are scarce — inventory plummeted more than 38% year-over-year in the New York City region, according to a recent report by Norada Real Estate Investments — sellers no longer need to aggressively market.

Instead they hope to create an aura of exclusivity around their property and cash in on quick as-is deals, without the hassle of staging and hosting open houses.

Buyers, on the other hand, will shop off market in hopes of dodging bidding wars, which have become commonplace in the hyped-up post-pandemic real estate investment free-for-all.

Exterior of 220 Central Park South.
Off-market deals have been perfected at 220 Central Park South.
Matthew McDermott

“Regardless of a buyer’s budget, the commonality across the board is lack of inventory,” said Ashley J. Farrell, a real estate broker in Westhampton, NY, adding that the wheeling and dealing of off-market properties are “rare to commonplace” these past few months.

“Presented with such a pronounced gap between supply and demand, agents had to be creative and that’s when off-market sales gained popularity.”

So how do you find off-market listings?

“Find yourself an excellent agent,” said Alison Bernstein, 45, founder and president of Suburban Jungle, an advisory service that helps city slickers find their forever home in the ’burbs. “This means an agent that is hyper-local with their finger on the pulse of a very particular locale that can tap into both their professional and personal networks to get you early access to an off-market property. They add value because they are creative and provide insider access.”

The Medina family moved from Queens NY to NJ and bought a house through a "whisper listing".
Hush money: After being outbid several times, the Medina clan bought a home through a “whisper listing.”
Stefano Giovannini

That’s how Bridget and Rudy Medina, both 38, and their 3- and 6-year-olds, bought their new four-bedroom, three-bath house in Bloomfield, New Jersey in April.

After parting ways with their rent-stabilized one-bedroom in Forest Hills, Queens, the couple toured nearly 20 homes only to be out-bid by people offering upwards of $100,000 on top of the asking price.

“The market is so crazy,” she added. “We couldn’t compete. It got frustrating because we really wanted to get out of our apartment and have a yard.”

The family enlisted the help of a local agent, who found them an off-market opportunity.

I went on a listing call for clients who were very concerned about local people knowing they were moving. They worried it would affect their children’s friendships and local community standing.

Compass broker Betsy Ronel

They quickly closed for $470,000.

“Having an off-market home to see took a lot of stress off us,” Bridget Medina said.

“Especially because we were the only ones who saw it! There was no competition. We got along with the owners. It all just worked out. We are extremely fortunate.”

Deals like this benefit middle market sellers in more ways than one, said Westchester-based Compass broker Betsy Ronel.

“I went on a listing call for clients who were very concerned about local people knowing they were moving,” Ronel said. “They worried it would affect their children’s friendships and local community standing.”

A whisper listing also allows a seller to test the market by looking at offers before publicly listing — all without spending large sums on staging or investing in curb appeal fix-up projects.

“And yes, it’s also snobby-chic to sell off-market,” Ronel said. “Some owners care about optics.”

Nevertheless, off-market sellers shouldn’t pounce on their first offer — even if the price is right.

13 Brookside Place, Livingston NJ
Broker Stan Kay recently sold this five-bedroom whisper listing in Livingston, NJ, for $1.5 million. “This was the perfect time and situation for us,” said the seller Jonathan Ligori.
Compass Realty

Compass broker Stan Kay — who recently sold a five-bedroom, five-bathroom whisper listing in Livingston, NJ, for $1.5 million — recommends that sellers take at least a few offers from private buyers before putting it on the open market.

“When I suggested letting a few private buyers look at the home prior to it hitting the market,” said Kay, “I instructed my team to bring any buyers they feel would be a good fit for this home and timeline. Well, after three or four families were brought in, we had a deal!”

When I suggested letting a few private buyers look at the home prior to it hitting the market … well, after three or four families were brought in, we had a deal!

Compass broker Stan Kay

The sellers, Jonathan and Allison Ligori, 41, who relocated to Liberty Hill, Texas, to be closer to family, weighed the pros and cons of selling off market before taking the plunge. They understood that they stood to get more money by listing their home publicly, but ended up getting more than the asking price by selling off-market.

“It was very important for us that Stan had a list of clients looking specifically in Livingston at the price we wanted,” Jonathan Ligori said. “He was able to take the list of clients and match a potential buyer with our specific house. Timing is everything, and this was the perfect time and situation for us.”

And while it’s definitely a seller’s market, buyers with the means and the luck to snag a quiet deal don’t miss the crowds of aggressive bidders.

The Medina family's new New Jersey home, exterior.
The Medinas enjoyed the lack of competition in landing this cheerful new home.
Stefano Giovannini

“Buying an off-market home was awesome,” said Ms. Medina.

“There was no competition, no waiting in lines in the winter to get into an open house, and the experience was much more personal. We met the homeowners, got along with them and it made it feel like it was definitely the right move. We are the first in our families to own our own home and it feels absolutely amazing!”

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