Beware of Office Exclusives

Generally speaking, when you decide to list your house for sale, you expect your REALTOR to shout it from the rooftops. That is, you want them to put up a lawn sign, post it on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), share it on social media, and advertise using any means at their disposal. The more people who know about your house being for sale, the more offers you are likely to get–and the law of averages suggests that you’ll end up with a better sale price as a result. (If only three people know your house is for sale, it tends to limit the amount it will sell for.)

On rare occasions, a seller will ask a Realtor to sell their house, but not to put up a sign or post it on MLS. This is usually a short-term circumstance that allows the seller to finish up a renovation or pack for an upcoming move without a bunch of buyers trouncing through the house. It can also happen when a seller is nervous about certain people knowing they plan to sell. By restricting REALTORS from using all the tools at their disposal, it’s kind of like saying, “Please sell my house but don’t tell anyone it’s for sale.” It’s a tall order.

We call these listings office exclusives (some people call them pocket listings) and ethical REALTORS recommend against them unless their sellers have a really good reason. An office exclusive should always be done to benefit the seller, never the REALTOR. Less-than-ethical real estate agents may recommend an office exclusive in hopes of being a dual agent—one who represents both the buyers and the sellers—and thus benefiting from a higher commission.

If a REALTOR ever suggests that you keep your house off of the MLS because they have a buyer all lined up, be suspicious. If they recommend an office exclusive because they say your house will be more attractive to buyers given its sense of limited availability, be suspicious. If they suggest that with an office exclusive you can skip the inconvenience of preparing your home for sale because it will have fewer visitors, that’s just bad advice.

I know some sellers only want serious buyers to see the property, not a bunch of looky-loos. Who wants all the neighbors poking around just because they’re curious? Or, in a small community like ours, there may be bad blood with a REALTOR (an ex-spouse, perhaps?) and a seller may not want that person in their home. You do not have to forego the exposure of the MLS to prevent certain individuals from gaining access to your house. Your REALTOR can work with you to arrange pre-approval for showings.

It used to be that, legally speaking, listings had to be added to the MLS within a few days of a signed listing agreement, but recently the California Multiple Listing Service amended the rule to allow for the Coming Soon exception, a designation that lets REALTORS know that the property will be on the market soon. Now, REALTORS with legitimate office exclusives can wait three weeks while the seller takes care of whatever they need to do, but some qualified buyers would be allowed to have a pre-listing tour.

Remember, if you want to sell your house for the highest price in the shortest amount of time, the best way to do so is to allow your REALTOR to publicize your listing in every conceivable way. If you need some limitations on who sees your house or when it can be seen, just communicate with your REALTOR to get the right agreements in place.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

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