The sale of houses privately, via “pocket lists”, is on the rise

“Since the pandemic, real estate professionals have found ways to get around the policy,” said Matt Lavinder, president of New houses, a home-based turnaround business. Brokers also use WhatsApp, Discord, and Telegram chats to privately share listings, he said. “It has become a secondary market.”

Pocket lists exist in a gray space between legal and illegal, said Andrew M. Lieb, attorney and founder of Lieb School, an accredited real estate school in New York State. The US Department of Justice has argued that the practice could violate antitrust laws. They are also potentially discriminatory.

“It could be argued that they violate the Fair Housing Act,” Lieb said, as they could contribute to disparate impact discrimination, a phenomenon in which a seemingly neutral policy is disproportionately unfair to a specific group. While no such case has yet been brought to court, there is a precedent: the National Fair Housing Alliance sued Redfin in October 2020 to set minimum price requirements on the homes it lists, a practice the alliance alleges discriminates against minority communities. Morgan Williams, the alliance’s general counsel, said the two sides agreed to stay further litigation pending active settlement negotiations. In the meantime, Redfin has not yet changed its minimum price policy.

“By analogy, it’s the same concept,” Mr. Lieb said.

However, Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, was a vocal critic of the pocket ads, calling them “a relic of the old story of perpetuating real estate segregation” in a May 2021 statement. opinion piece in Inman, a trade publication. And the loophole in the national association that allows exclusive listings for brokers, he said, has unwittingly created monopolies among the biggest brokerages.

Not all brokers agree that pocket ads represent unfair competition or harm minority groups.

“I let all of my agents know that as long as you don’t advertise the property to the public, you are good to go,” said Sharelle Rosado, a broker in Tampa. At his brokerage house Allure Immobilier, she said the use of pocket lists has increased by 40% since the start of the pandemic. It relies on relationships with vendors and developers to build its pipeline of potential off-market sales. They are especially useful, she said, when working with high-income buyers looking for homes in the $ 10 million range where stocks have always been tight.

“A lot of people aren’t for pocket ads, but it helps our customers and it’s good for both parties,” she said. “And I don’t have to split the commission.”

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