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Curb your enthusiasm: Desperate home buyers resort to social media pleas and drive-bys

Buying
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Desperate house hunters have revised the meaning of the phrase "curb appeal." Ally Rzesa/Globe staff; Adobe Stock

Mike Raiter was blithely mowing his lawn in Waltham last summer when a car approached. This was unusual: He lives on a dead-end street, and unfamiliar automobiles don’t usually venture by. He politely averted his eyes, but the car circled back and slowed down.

“It was an older couple, in their fifties. They pulled up and asked: ‘Hey, do you like it here? Ever think about selling? We’re in the market, and a house like yours looks great,’’’ he recalled.

Raiter was taken aback. He has a modest two-bedroom ranch that doesn’t usually attract oglers.

“My house isn’t fancy. It was built in the 1940s. I have a two-car garage, which is a little hard to find, but this surprised me. Nobody had ever approached me out of the blue, in person,’’ he said.

But in a grim market for buyers, desperate times call for socially awkward measures.

Raiter told the couple that they were welcome to write him a letter. They didn’t exchange personal information, and they haven’t cruised by since (not to his knowledge, anyway).

“I’m not looking to move,’’ he said. “The big problem is: Where would I live?’’

That’s just it: Even though Raiter could probably make a handsome profit on his humble abode, the market is tight enough that finding something else would be a Sisyphean task. Ergo, some buyers are resorting to tactics more appropriate for “Law & Order’’ than HGTV.

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In a grim market for buyers, desperate times call for socially awkward measures. —Adobe Stock

Consider Lynne Krasker and Eugene Schultz. The Swampscott couple is no stranger to house-hunting; years ago, they even appeared on “House Hunters.’’ (Krasker went to college with an associate producer.)

When it came time to trade in their Wakefield Victorian, though, it turned out that landing a spot on TV was easier than finding a new house on the North Shore.

“I started sticking letters in mailboxes in Marblehead, Swampscott, and Wakefield,’’ Krasker said. “A friend of a friend would tell me someone was moving. My kids’ teachers were looking out for us.’’

At one point, her child’s Hebrew studies teacher passed along the cellphone number of an acquaintance. Krasker called and explained the connection, and they offered to let her see their house before it formally hit the market. She eagerly agreed, but someone else beat her to it.

“Other neighbors across the street had a friend looking, too. By the time we walked in, less than 24 hours later, a good offer was already on the table, higher than our budget. I told them if it fell through to let me know,’’ she said.

It was back to letter-writing. In her missives, Krasker promised to work without an agent, to work with a lawyer, and to waive home inspections.

“It made me nervous,’’ she said. “I wrote probably two dozen letters in random neighborhoods we liked. My husband would drive around, and I would write down addresses. Then we’d go on Zillow and price them out.’’

Finally, she heard rumblings about a divorcing couple from a real estate agent friend who thought their house might hit the market soon.

“We Google-stalked it,’’ she said. Ultimately, the pair landed the home, and they will move in this month.

It all sounds like that episode of “Seinfeld’’ in which Jerry overhears his neighbors discussing a death that could make a coveted apartment available for Elaine. Today’s buyers, at least, have an advantage over Jerry and crew: social media.

Erica Covelle, founder of Covelle & Co., urges frustrated buyers to check Instagram stories posted by real estate agents, who often preview future listings to drum up buzz.

“A lot of people don’t take this opportunity,’’ Covelle said. “You have to do some CIA work.’’

‘We Google-stalked it.’ — Lynne Krasker

Recently, a buyer contacted her this way and bid over asking on a new property. The seller just wanted the sale complete, so it worked out: no bidding war and a quick transaction. Covelle also encourages antsy buyers to research agents to check their list-to-sale-price ratio and numbers of deals done in a year.

“Agents don’t just write up an offer. It’s far deeper than that. They need rapport’’ with other agents, she said, so they can sleuth on a client’s behalf to see what their colleagues might have coming onto the market before it hits.

“You can’t know a market unless you eat, sleep, and breathe it,’’ she said. To that end, she urges buyers to pinpoint no more than three markets when hunting.

Covelle also encourages enterprising buyers to sleuth Facebook yard sales. If it looks as if someone is offloading their furniture and grandma’s china, well, there’s a good chance they’re downsizing.

“Slide into their DMs and tell them you’re looking in their area,’’ she suggested.

Facebook worked for Kate Collins and her wife, Amanda Tobey, who wanted to live in Acton for its LGBTQ+-friendliness. They didn’t have time for a casual search; the pair lived at a local boarding school and needed to vacate campus housing for a new job. So Collins posted a simple message in Acton’s parenting forum on Friday, March 13 — an auspicious day anyway, made more so by the looming pandemic.

“This may be a blind toss at a dartboard, but is anyone looking or thinking about selling their home? …. If you are selling, or know someone who is thinking about it, we would love to be in touch,’’ Collins wrote.

The plea worked. Thirty-eight people replied, and one commenter got in touch about a neighbor’s Colonial and made introductions. Collins exchanged e-mails with the owner, who said how much she aimed to make on the home and offered to vacate the premises for a COVID-safe tour. The pair met the price, and the home never hit MLS or went into a bidding war.

“And the $100,000 we saved by not overbidding allowed us to make renovations,’’ Collins said. “The [woman] who commented on Facebook needs to be on our Christmas card list.’’

Collins is an educator, and she said COVID-19 forced her to think creatively at school — and, as it turns out, in real estate.

“What COVID has taught me as a school leader is just because something’s the way it’s always been doesn’t mean it’s the best way. The methods we always used were incredibly competitive. Can you sell and post a house on your own? Is “for sale by owner’’ more accessible now? Flip the script. Think outside the box,’’ she said.

As for Raiter, he’s still in his Waltham ranch, and he doesn’t remember the model or make of the car that approached him.

“It was probably something like a Honda Accord,’’ he said. “But I wish it had been a Lamborghini.’’

Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.