A “pocket listing” is a property which the listing agent does not put on the MLS, hoping to sell it himself or get it sold by other agents in his office. It’s not typically in the best interest of the seller, since the property is withheld from the full universe of potential buyers.
The organizing principle of the Multi-List System, or MLS, is “cooperation and compensation.” Every real estate agent working in the public arena needs to belong to the local MLS, because it’s only through the MLS that the agent can show and sell that MLS’s listings and be guaranteed the “co-op” commission displayed on the MLS.
A listing agent, naturally, would prefer not to give a big slice of the listing commission to the “cooperat-ing” broker who brings the buyer. He or she would much rather sell the listing, keeping the entire commission for him or herself. Meanwhile, other agents (and their buyers) are upset when they don’t have the opportunity to show a new listing and submit an offer, especially when there are so few listings on the market, as is currently the case.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) took up the issue of pocket listings last year when it adopted a policy called Clear Cooperation. Essentially the policy says that if an MLS member advertises or promotes a listing in any way — including putting a “coming soon” sign in the yard or mentioning it on social media — that listing must be entered on the MLS within 24 hours. It can be listed as “coming soon” on the MLS, during which time it can’t be shown, including by the listing agent. Once it is shown, it must immediately be changed to “active,” allowing all MLS members to show and sell it.
Unfortunately for sellers, who are the big losers with pocket listings, this policy will never be completely effective. That is evident from the fact that over 7% of listings, by my count, are entered on the MLS only after they are sold. Unless a home remains active on the MLS for 3 or 4 days, it’s unlikely that all potential buyers will have had a chance to compete for it.
You may recall the featured listing in last week’s column. It was listed at $375,000, a price consistent with comparable sales, and we received a full-price offer on the first day. Our policy, however, is to get our sellers to wait four days before going under contract. We had 30 showings and received six offers by day four. By being transparent about the offers received, we were able to bid up the property by more than $55,000 by day four. We did get an offer $35,000 over listing price on day two, but we waited. Our seller benefited from waiting 2 more days.
Sadly, most listing agents haven’t adopted this practice. They sell their listings too quickly, potentially costing their sellers thousands but also frustrating would-be buyers who might pay more.
I have calculated that in addition to the 7% of listings being sold with zero days on the MLS, 15% are sold after only 1 or 2 days on the MLS.
One technique for minimizing showings by other agents has been to make a listing “active” but block showings with the showing service. Because the listing is “active,” the listing agent can show the property him or herself without technically violating the clear cooperation policy.
Another technique is the “office exclusive” option. A listing can be marketed within a brokerage without putting it on the MLS. But once any kind of public marketing takes place, the listing must immediately be put on the MLS as either “coming soon” or “active.”