There have long been two main ways of selling a house — in private, leaving little trace of the transaction beyond Land Registry documents, and in public via estate agent boards and online property portals.
But now a third method is gaining traction that blends the two. Several luxury London homes have popped up on popular online platforms in recent months, all rather paradoxically listed as “off market”.
With no images or floorplans and often no clear address, these so-called ‘ghost listings’ are as secretive as is possible while being listed in clear public view on portals such as Rightmove and Zoopla. But why?
Mark Wells, chief executive of Invisible Homes, says his growing off-market property platform plays a similar role to such ghost listings.
"Selling off-market maintains privacy and prevents any negative online footprint when prices are reduced or properties don't sell," he explains. "But Rightmove and Zoopla ensure you get access to all buyers. Agents are trying to find a balance."
Like ghost listings, Invisible Homes has soared in popularity over the past 12 months as the housing market has fluctuated.
"A year ago, we had 20 estate agents registered with us in London, now we have 120," Wells says. "Some start all their properties with us."
Is ghost listing futile?
Becky Fatemi, managing director at luxury estate agents Rokstone, warns sellers to be careful who they instruct to sell their homes.
"We did three big off-market sales for high profile individuals last year, signing non-disclosure agreements and not advertising them anywhere," she says.
Fatemi describes listing off-market properties on popular search sites as “futile”.
“Selling a 20-bedroom Knightsbridge home with a single picture of Harrods is insanity,” she adds. “You will get a nanny or security guard calling you rather than a buying representative. High net worth individuals want clear, concise information.”
Peter Wetherell, founder of Mayfair agents Wetherell, says placing an off-market property on the major portals is “an oxymoron”.
“Once you enquire and the PDF details are out there, it is very much on the market,” he explains.
Nonetheless, the trend is growing. Here are five publicly listed off-market properties on the market right now.
£25m Mayfair apartment
This property is described by agent Phillips-Berenson as "exclusively off-market" no fewer than five times in its Rightmove listing.
While there are no images, floorplans or maps to go on, the online blurb does tell us that it is a four-bedroom apartment with views over Hyde Park.
It apparently benefits from a residents' lounge, pool, gym and spa as well as 24-hour security and valet parking.
Further details are available on request but expect a grilling on your intentions. Homes & Property's enquiry was politely dismissed.
£35m Whitehall detached house
A map attached to the Rightmove listing for this house bizarrely appears to show it located within the One Horse Guards Road complex shared by government offices including the Treasury and HMRC.
Aside from this, details are extremely scarce. It is a detached home said to measure just over 1,000 square metres.
The property is described as “extremely rare” and “luxurious” but there are no pictures or plans.
Agent Luxury Living Homes International declined to share any further insight on the house.
£21.5m Holland Park townhouse
The Zoopla listing for this £21.5 million place indicates that it is a grand townhouse on the looping residential street known as Holland Park, close to the green space of the same name.
A few details are revealed in the online description, including that steps lead up to an entrance hall that flows onto three principal ground floor rooms.
A drawing room with “French windows” leads to a dining room and garden, while the kitchen apparently has an “informal style”.
For any more information, buyers must approach agent Phillips-Berenson directly.
£23m Buckingham Gate mystery
There is one image with the online listing of this enigmatic home, but it appears to have been taken from the balcony of Buckingham Palace itself.
Maps show it could in fact be over the road within the One Palace Street development, although these feature luxury apartments and the property is described as a five-bedroom house.
The Rightmove listing also reveals that the property has a “grand reception room” suitable for “large gatherings” as well as a “separate ballroom”, a garden and “parking for several vehicles”.
Despite several requests, agent The Cloister had not responded to Homes & Property at the time of writing.
£30m Notting Hill villa
With 14 bedrooms there should be plenty to discuss about this “detached villa” in west London.
However, the online description reveals only that it is on a "sizeable plot" and offers the potential to create “a special home”.
There are no images, no floorplan and no map, while agent Dawson Barker had not supplied any further information at the time of writing.
Something of a mystery then but we shouldn't be surprised — it is described on Rightmove as “exclusively off-market”.