The Secret to Finding That Off-Market Deal: ‘Be Prepared to Battle’

The owner, Michelle Henkin, had previously had “a very unsatisfying experience working through a Realtor and being kept at arm’s length from the buyer,” she said, and had pulled the house off the market. When Ms. Hankin heard through her friend that the Letowkis had always loved her house, she opened her mind to selling.

She agreed to do a walk-through with Ms. Letowski and an official from the Department of Health and Human Services, to make sure it was suitable for the baby. “We met at the house, and almost immediately got to work figuring out how to make it work for all involved,” she said.

They didn’t use brokers, and Ms. Hankin’s lawyer drew up a contract and helped carve out the terms of the deal. “We made it happen through a really beautiful new friendship that defied the normal timelines and practices of real estate,” Ms. Letowski said.

Then, of course, there is Instagram, where intrepid buyers sift through infinite photos of renovated barns and converted churches, trying not to get too starry-eyed. Last year, Kelsey Kemp started scrolling through the Instagram feeds of various architects and designers. She and her husband, Matthew Bruehl, had been renting outside Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and feared getting stuck in that cycle of “putting in bid after bid.”

Wake Forest, about 90 minutes away, wasn’t on their radar, until the day Ms. Kemp, 35, spotted an 1892 Queen Anne Victorian on the Captivating Houses feed.

“I texted my husband and said, ‘I know we probably won’t get it, but wouldn’t it be fun to look,’” Ms. Kemp said. She called her broker and told her they were just going to check out the house on their own, out of curiosity, and not to expect anything to come of it. They fell in love with its huge porch, octagonal rooms and attic turret, and ended up making an offer in December. They closed in March.