There are 40% more homes for sale than you think.

Looking for a new home? Most people go online and search property websites like Rightmove or drive around looking for ‘for sale’ boards but doing this would mean you might only be seeing 60% of the market. These days more and more sellers are choosing to let estate agents market their homes quietly which means that buyers now need to make more of an effort to find them.

Time was when agents were the only ones who knew what was for sale. These days you can click a mouse and brows hundreds of thousands of homes for sale or to rent. A search of London returns 35,000 results but I know there are more but many people are now conscious that as soon as your home is up online it will be indexed and the pictures, price and plans will be digitally immortalised for ever. If your agent has over-clubbed the price then your mistake is also there for ever. Your great grandchildren will be able to see your error and so will the market!

I looked at the market in Islington where Rightmove list 109 agents (there are 20+ offices lining Upper Street competing for business). In the market I’m looking there are less than a dozen homes for sale but a couple of hours work and I’ve turned up another five. The same happens all across the capital – as many as 40% more homes for sale than you might think!

Many agents now advise keeping quiet, looking relaxed & giving the impression that as a seller you will need to be tempted by a big price. Agents will only offer such homes to those they know and trust. If you are only receiving email alerts from a property portal you ain’t going to hear about these homes let alone get to see them.

Hamptons country house department reckon that only 48% of their stock is on the internet. If you want to see what else they’ve got then you need to register with the office. Most of the big London firms work like this but agents up and down the land have a list of what they have been to see, who might sell at what price and when. It’s rare for just one firm to pitch for the business and while the vendor is making up their mind the sale is often up for grabs to the agent with the biggest neck. The one who will call the uncertain seller and ask if they can show just one person round. This appears proactive and frequently results in a formal instruction at the end of the day.

With stock levels now well down and being blamed by some for rising prices it’s a brave buyer who leaves his searching to email alerts from the web. As a buying agent I spend the majority of my time schmoozing agents, hoping to find the one with the little gem in his bottom draw. The gem that he can call, agree a fee for introducing a red-hot, qualified buyer to someone who wasn’t actually sure they were even selling?

Off-market or the ‘grey’ market as it is sometimes called is no longer the preserve of the very rich. You’ll find most agents have more property they can get you into but they need to know and trust you so you need to ring around and get registered.

Off-market homes don’t fully test the market. Sometimes you can buy at a discount because there’s no competition but sometimes you have to pay a premium to persuade the owner to move on. Either way, there are a whole lot more homes for sale than you might think it’s just that you’ve got to know where to look.