Private, pocket listings surge during housing recovery

luxury real estateThe recovering housing market has brought to light the controversial practice of the pocket listing. Although pocket listings are more common in the upper bracket and luxury real estate market, pocket listings tend to increase during hot markets when there are few available listings and increased home buyer competition.

by Dan Krell © 2013

Sometimes called “off-market” listings, or “private” listings, the pocket listing is a home sale that is not openly marketed in the multiple list service. The listing is kept “quiet” and is only known to the listing agent and/or broker who typically market the home to a select network of contacts and clients.

Pocket listings are common among the utra-wealthy because of privacy concerns; anonymity is an often cited reason for a home seller to choose to have a pocket listing, typically because the seller has some celebrity status. Private listings may also be promoted as a way to limit home viewings to those who are financially qualified to purchase the home; the focused buyer pool reduces the number of showings, which may be less disruptive to the seller’s daily schedule.

However, critics of pocket listings often point to MLS concerns, dual agency issues, and housing laws as reasons to be wary of the practice. Agents are not the only ones who have access to an MLS listing; MLS listings are often syndicated throughout the internet and available for anyone with internet access to see. Clearly, one of the obvious issues of a pocket listing is the reduction of marketing exposure that is lost from not having an MLS entry. Another issue that arises from a pocket listing is that it skews home sale and price data that appraisers use for valuations.

Consumer Advocates in American Real Estate ( cites the possibility of dual agency (where the buyer and seller’s agent is from the same real estate company) as a major concern for pocket listings. Because dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, the possibility of a conflict of interest may arise. Additionally, CAARE states that a seller who agrees to a pocket listing may exclude 70% or more of qualified buyers who are actively searching for homes.

A recent Maryland Real Estate Commission newsletter (The Commission Check; Summer/Fall 2013), reprinted an article from the August 2013 ARELLO® Boundaries discussing pocket listings, that stated; “pocket listings may run afoul of federal fair housing laws that not only prohibit readily apparent or intentional housing discrimination against protected classes, but also practices that have a “discriminatory effect” that “… actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin…”

Unbeknownst to some home sellers, their home sale may be marketed as a pocket listing during the period between the signing of listing paperwork and when the home is entered into the MLS. Although this time is often used to prepare a home for sale; it may also be privately marketed by the listing.

Although the National Association of Realtors® has “not defined what constitutes a pocket listing, nor do they have an official policy regarding the practice” (“What is a Pocket Listing”; Realtor Magazine, May 2013); potential housing law issues and ethical concerns of pocket listings should be addressed with your real estate agent/broker.

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Disclaimer.  This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice.  Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction.  This article was originally published the week of October 28, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.