Real Estate Investing Basics

The Investor’s Guide to Finding Profitable Deals on the MLS

Expertise: Mortgages & Creative Financing, Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Commercial Real Estate, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Development
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When I first started in real estate back in 2005, the common wisdom was there were no deals to be found worth buying on the MLS. This was partially because I started in Eugene, Oregon, and the coasts are particularly expensive. Indeed, buy and hold is harder in high-priced cities, and it usually is harder to find any sort of good deals on the MLS in such places. It was also during the middle of a boom, which made it all the more difficult.

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However, when I moved to Kansas City just after the crash, the MLS was a gold mine.

Cash flow markets in the Midwest and South present a lot more options than the more expensive markets. Although that doesn’t mean it’s impossible in higher-priced areas, it just requires more work to sort out the diamonds from the coal.

The first step is to decide whether to become an agent or not. It does take some time and money to become an agent, and there are a few continuing costs and hassles. But being an agent will 1) allow you access to the MLS and 2) save you half of the commission on purchases. I would highly recommend either finding a great investment-minded real estate agent or becoming one yourself.

The key with buying investment properties on the MLS is speed and volume. For this reason, you must either have access to the MLS or work closely with an agent. If you do not have access, your agent should set you up to automatically be sent all the new listings in your target market as they are listed.

One important note for wholesalers and flippers planning on selling without doing a rehab: You need to be aware of any deed restrictions or earnest money problems that may exist. For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require 10 percent down for cash purchases. This puts you at a lot of risk because you are not going to get your earnest money back if you back out after the inspection period. Furthermore, Fannie and Freddie also have a deed restriction that means you can only sell or finance a property for 20 percent more than you bought it for during the first 90 days.

Speed

The early bird gets the worm — and the early bidder gets the property. It is not uncommon for properties to be mis-listed, sometimes ridiculously mis-listed. This is especially true for REOs from HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and occasionally some of the big banks.

HUD, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unfortunately have investor restrictions and only allow owner occupants to offer for the first 20 to 30 days. Still, you want to make offers on any mis-listed property as soon as it comes on or is available to investors. I recently heard a podcast where the person being interviewed said the last three great deals he had bought were on the MLS and came up near the end of the day on Friday. Everyone else apparently thought they would just look at the property on Monday, but he made sure to get the offer in that day.

Regardless of how quick you are, unfortunately these properties will often get multiple offers and go “highest and best.” It’s just part of the business, so be prepared to deal with it.

Highest and Best

One time, we went $24,000 over asking and got a property that had at least $40,000 of equity in it. Another time, we went $33,000 over asking on a duplex and missed it. It was listed for $32,000, we offered $65,000 and it sold for $93,000! And you know what? It was still a great deal at $93,000. That’s how badly some properties are mis-listed.

Related: Five Tips to Get Great Deals On the MLS (Including Buying Houses on Friday…?)

On a quick aside, the “highest and best” does serve as a reminder of why it’s better to find a deal off-market than on the MLS or even through a wholesaler. Had that deal come directly from a distressed seller and I was the only one around, I could have gotten it for $32,000 and had $100,000 or so in equity from day one. That being said, the MLS is a numbers game, so dealing with highest and best situations is something to get used to. It’s just part of the life of a real estate investor, so it’s best to make peace with them and simply figure out how to deal with them.

The first step is to simply know where you’re at, financially speaking, and what your appetite is. Do you have a lot of money or private lender funds to place? If so, it would be good to be a bit more aggressive. But if you’re a little tight right now or don’t have a private lender lined up or perhaps you are a flipper who is in the middle of a project and not hugely keen on starting another one, don’t push on the deal.

Furthermore, just because a property has gone highest and best doesn’t mean the other offer is strong. Sometimes it’s an offer that had been made on the property a long time ago that amounts to little more than a low ball. The seller uses that as leverage to get you to raise your price. And sometimes, even if you’re the highest, they will counter you again because they don’t think you’ve gone high enough.

Other than that, the key thing to ask is, “At what price will this be a really good deal?” When you first analyze a property, you should come up with a strike price that is the highest you will possibly go under any circumstance. Remember that “highest and best” situations can be a bit like auctions, where you get caught up with “winning.” But you only win if you get a good deal, so make sure to stick with your strike price no matter what.

Thus, when and if a property goes highest and best, you can just come in at your strike price (or perhaps less if your appetite has shrunk). You will usually lose out, but not always.

Volume

On the MLS, it’s all about volume. Back in 2012, we made 341 offers and bought 32 properties. And I looked at many more properties that were in such bad shape or so overpriced I didn’t even bother offering. It’s a numbers game, folks.

Related: Why The MLS Is A Goldmine For Real Estate Investors

What I do is go on “property tours” and look at something like 15 properties in my target areas. These areas I know well, so I can quickly estimate the repairs and ARV and then aim to be all in at about 75 percent of the ARV and have a rent/cost ratio of about 1.5 percent or so depending on the area. Based off of these criteria, I set an offer price and a strike price. Then we make all the offers and see where the chips fall.

Sometimes you don’t get anything. Sometimes you get more than you want and have to drop a few. It’s a bit messy, but it certainly can be done. We just had two properties we bought off the MLS appraised for refinances; one we’re all into for $53,000, the other for $56,000. They appraised for $75,000 and $85,000 respectively. So don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t find great deals on the MLS. You just have to be fast, careful and make a lot of offers.

Investors: How do YOU find great deals on the MLS? What tips would you add to those listed above?

Be sure to leave a comment below!

Andrew Syrios has been investing in real estate for over a decade and is a partner with Stewardship Investments, LLC along with his brother Phillip and father Bill. Stewardship Investments focuses on the BRRRR strategy—buying, rehabbing and renting out houses and apartments throughout the Kansas City area. Today, they have over 300 properties and just under 500 units. Stewardship Properties on the whole has just under 1,000 units in six states. Andrew received a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Oregon with honors and his Masters in Entrepreneurial Real Estate from the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He has also obtained his CCIM designation (Certified Commercial Investment Member). Andrew has been a writer for BiggerPockets on real estate and business management since 2015. He has also contributed to Think Realty Magazine, REI Club, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Data Driven Investor and Alley Watch.

    Chris Carollo from Western Springs, Illinois
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Great article and I would also add to look at properties that have languished for a while with zero interest/offers. As the price continues to drop it can start to make some sense to acquire. The seller is also more willing to negotiate out with you after a long market time w out any action.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied about 4 years ago
    That’s a good point Chris. It’s not something we look for, but when comping properties, I’ve come across sales where the list price was 50-100% higher and I guess the person was just tired of the deal and let it go really cheap.
    Nick Levintov
    Replied almost 2 years ago
    Andrew, when your putting in these 300 offers are you just sending a quick email to the listing agent or are you filling out all the legal forms and sending them in??
    Colin Smith Realtor from Colorado Springs, CO
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Granted I live in a different area in a different market, but with that said, I am definitely still finding great deals on the MLS.
    Jared
    Replied about 4 years ago
    What would you do if you have several offers out and more than one is accepted, and you do not have the capital to purchase both?
    Robert Findley Professional from Cypress, Texas
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Get a hard money loan and get them all!
    Roland Jefferson Investor from Los Angeles, California
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Suggest seller financing with a Short term LO. Then once you’re up to speed, cash him out with a conventional loan.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied about 4 years ago
    You could ask for seller financing like Roland recommended. Sometimes though, we get more under contract than we can handle at any given time and have to cancel an offer here or there. As long as you don’t make a habit out of that you should be fine.
    Allen Chambers Real Estate Agent from Grove City, Ohio
    Replied about 4 years ago
    I am closing Monday on a flip property I purchased off of the MLS. I’ll be all in at 55 and it will comp out at 75. I’ll take that 20 grand. I’m an agent so I’ll save big on the sale. It’s definitely worth getting your license. Great post!!!!
    Ansel
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Great post. Besides MLS, where else can I look for great deals?
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied about 4 years ago
    You can look at craigslist too, but aside the MLS, mailings are probably the best way to go.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied about 4 years ago
    You can look at craigslist too, but aside the MLS, mailings are probably the best way to go.
    Brooks Armstrong Investor from Kenora, ontario
    Replied about 4 years ago
    Hi Andrew ,is the MLS a sit of its own
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Hey Brooks, the MLS is its own site which real estate agents have access too but nobody else. All of the listings will get put on websites like Realtor.com and Trulia, but they don’t have the search and comp features like the MLS, so the MLS is much more useful.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Hey Brooks, the MLS is its own site which real estate agents have access too but nobody else. All of the listings will get put on websites like Realtor.com and Trulia, but they don’t have the search and comp features like the MLS, so the MLS is much more useful.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Hey Brooks, the MLS is its own site which real estate agents have access too but nobody else. All of the listings will get put on websites like Realtor.com and Trulia, but they don’t have the search and comp features like the MLS, so the MLS is much more useful.
    Andrew Syrios Residential Real Estate Investor from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Hey Brooks, the MLS is its own site which real estate agents have access too but nobody else. All of the listings will get put on websites like Realtor.com and Trulia, but they don’t have the search and comp features like the MLS, so the MLS is much more useful. Reply Report comment
    Debi McBride from York, Pennsylvania
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hi Andrew, Thanks for this article and the content. I am reading quite a bit of the articles here on BiggerPockets and hope to utilize some or most of what I am reading. Am still curious on the continue “debate” on “being your own agent” just to see the MLS and I get saving a ton of $$$ for future investing options. As I am still tossing this question around in my head and have now started a “Blog” with this query.. “Being Your Own Real Estate Agent?” I hope to find some conclusive factors to my query. I hope to be one of those investors that like you and your family invest in 4-5 other states. Finding a mentor that has done that, perhaps following your articles. Thanks again.