If you watch real estate shows, you might occasionally hear a reference to a pocket listing. A pocket listing is a way for real estate agents to intentionally keep a home off the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as they look for the right buyer.
A pocket listing isn’t publicly listed, even though it’s for sale. The real estate agent does private showings with potential buyers instead of putting it on the MLS, which is public-facing.
Pocket listings aren’t the same as having a coming soon listing. Coming soon is a way for an agent to designate that a home isn’t listed yet, but shortly will be on the market.
Pocket listings aren’t illegal, but they are frowned upon. The National Association of Realtors, the largest real estate agent professional organization in the country, essentially banned pocket listings for members in 2019. The NAR handbook says that within one business day of marketing a property to the public, the listing broker has to submit it to the MLS.
The NAR wants to ensure cooperation among real estate agents, which was one reason it cracked down on pocket listings. The organization also wants to ensure competition, meaning all buyers have a chance for a listing, and sellers get the chance for the best price.
Some agents can bend the rules to ensure they’re compliant with NAR guidelines while still keeping a listing to themselves.
The policy of the NAR is that listings must be added to the MLS within one business day of the seller signing the listing contract. If a seller signs with a listing agent on a Friday, for example, the agent can use the weekend to do private property marketing.
Why Do Sellers Like Pocket Listings?
It sounds somewhat counterintuitive to do a pocket listing, but there’s a reason some sellers prefer this option. Sellers might like pocket listings because they want to maintain privacy. They control who has access to the property and when, and everyone won’t know they’re selling immediately.
Some sellers like pocket listings to test the market to see what the response will be like to their selling price. With pocket listings, it’s possible to adjust the price without making it look like a price cut that would otherwise show up on the MLS.
The third reason for a pocket listing is that the seller might already have a buyer. A seller might want a listing agent who will sell their property to a specific buyer.
There are ways outside of a pocket listing to achieve the things above, though.
For example, if someone wants the privacy of their listing, they can ask their agent to put the details in the agent’s remarks so they aren’t in the public sections of the listing. They can also ask the agent to verify financing before they agree to showings.
You might miss out on the best possible offer with a pocket listing if you’re a seller. You cannot know whether the buyer you’ve chosen actually has the strongest offer.
There’s also the potential for a listing agent to violate Fair Housing laws if they choose who can see a home. There may be a greater risk of discrimination in these situations, so an agent has to be very careful.
Finally, pocket listings can affect home values negatively. If the sale isn’t in the MLS, it will not show up as a comparable listing if an appraiser or agent tries to determine its worth.
Again, while a pocket listing might have its advantages, they’re something to be cautious of for sellers and their agents because they also have risks.