This is the fourth in Inman’s five-part series on pocket listings in today’s market. Check back on Friday for additional features and click here for the first installment, here for the second and here for the third.
Over the past 18 months or so, the market has reached competitive heights not seen in many agents’ careers. As a result, real estate professionals have had to get creative to find overlooked inventory for their buyers by combing through the multiple listing service (MLS) for poorly marketed listings, finding pre-foreclosure properties, reaching out to past clients and more.
Now it seems, a number of professionals in the industry — from agents to investors to property developers and more — have taken to WhatsApp, Facebook’s free and encrypted instant messaging and voice-over-IP service, to network with each other and find off-market listings.
The app’s ease of use, a user’s ability to create different group chats, its status as a relatively secure platform with encryption that can be used internationally, as well as the fact that the app has a version specifically for businesses (“WhatsApp Business App”) all make it an attractive resource.
Matthew Martinez, a luxury broker in the San Francisco Bay Area with Diamond Real Estate Group, told Inman in an email that he’s closed nine deals so far in 2021 by networking with real estate agent and investor groups through WhatsApp and Telegram (a similar encrypted instant messaging app).
“I’ve helped form several groups of brokers, agents, investors and wholesale flippers on both WhatsApp and Telegram,” Martinez told Inman. “I utilize these chat groups on a regular basis whenever I have a specific buyer need or have an off-market property that’s coming available.”
The group chats Martinez participates in include a mix of individuals from his brokerage and outside of it, and might have 25 or more people chiming in at any given time. Given the network’s scope, properties that come up might include sellers who want to skip the MLS, off-market properties for sale by a wholesale flipper, or pre-market and pocket listings.
As with any kind of property marketing that’s done outside of the MLS, the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Clear Cooperation Policy is always a concern for the association’s members who are bound to the policy. NAR’s policy states that brokers must submit listings to the MLS within one business day of marketing any pocket listings publicly outside of their own staff or client sphere.
“This is the case regardless of the form or method of the marketing of the property listing,” a NAR spokesperson clarified to Inman in an email, which includes the marketing of such listings on encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Depending on the case, Martinez said he has been in situations where he’s had to scramble to get a property up on the MLS after letting other agents know about it through WhatsApp.
“Most of these properties have a signed MLS exclusion [form], but in some cases, we’ve needed to post them on the MLS,” Martinez said. “In most cases, these properties aren’t being marketed to the ‘public’ and are only being discussed with a private group of agents/brokers and real estate investors.”
Last year, Dino DiNenna, owner of Southern Lifestyle Properties in Hilton Head, was able to quickly find an off-market property for a high-profile client going through a divorce by networking with a few of his current and former colleagues in a WhatsApp group chat.
“[My client] was looking to run away from the spotlight and live somewhere he could be all by himself,” DiNenna explained in an email. “With the help of WhatsApp, I could complete the next-to-impossible task [of finding] an appropriate off-market property within a week.”
With the help of other Realtors, Matt Strickland, broker/owner of Modern Realty Guam in Hagatna, Guam, was also able to find a lower priced for sale by owner (FSBO) property for his client via WhatsApp recently, when his client wanted a big home without the big price tag.
“I am well-connected with some of my Realtor friends through WhatsApp and we try to help each other out in case of rare demands from our clients,” Strickland told Inman.
“It was sort of impossible for me to find [my client] a big home at a cheaper rate [on-market],” Strickland added. “I asked some of my Realtor friends and they gave me a list of off-market homesellers who also wanted to avoid paying commission to any broker.”
One of the FSBO homes appealed to Strickland’s client, and they were able to close the deal within a week.
Individuals who buy homes for cash and property developers have also been getting in on real estate groups on WhatsApp to find or market properties before they’re officially on the market.
Dan Beaulieu, who buys homes for cash and flips them with his company Burlington House Buyers, said he participates in group chats with real estate agents on WhatsApp to get quick off-market deals.
“[WhatsApp] is not the only source that is being used for marketing [homes],” Beaulieu told Inman in an email. “Different brokers involved prefer different platforms.”
He added that sometimes agents use these platforms as a means of conducting co-listing deals across brokerages.
“If the deal goes through, the agents involved share the commission among themselves.”
Volodymyr Barabakh, co-founder and project director of development company Fortress Home, disclosed to Inman in an email that he felt he could better trust agents in WhatsApp groups with his off-plan (or not yet finished) properties, compared to agents found in other networking groups online.
“As a property developer, I have to put a lot of faith in the agents I work with, given that the right agent can add so much sale value to a new development,” Barabakh told Inman.
“WhatsApp groups tend to be better vetted than other online communities. This means that I feel like I can trust an agent by virtue of them being in a WhatsApp group [in which some group members are individuals] I have worked with in the past.”
Given Facebook’s recent outage that impacted both Instagram and WhatsApp, agents certainly shouldn’t rely too heavily on WhatsApp alone (which is a good practice with any tech or marketing methods today), but it’s one of those rare free and easy-to-use resources that also shouldn’t be neglected.