Lots of answers here, but only one (Tim) appears to have read your question which was how to get listings BEFORE it goes to the MLS. Not after. And I'm not sure his response gave you any tools to do so.
If you want to identify properties before they're listed on the MLS, then you need one or more ways to identify properties before they're listed. It's that simple. How?
Some properties will be listed on the MLS, but they aren't yet short sales or REOs. A typical scenario (around Northern Virginia, at least): Someone bought a house in 2004 for $400,000. As the bubble expanded, the "paper" value of the house probably rose to $500,000. Then the bubble burst. The owner had an adjustable rate mortgage, saw the handwriting on the wall, and tried to sell. Problem is, there wasn't much equity, and the owner was following the market. So, looking at the MLS, I can see that the property was listed at $525,000 in the fall of 2006, and slowly reduced to $475,000 in the winter of 2006, when the listing was withdrawn. It was listed again at $465,000 in the spring of 2007, and reduced down to $430,000 by the fall of 2007. That's a house heading to a short sale or foreclosure. You won't see any mention of that in the "Comments" section of the MLS. But to an experienced agent, it's screaming out.
Problem with that type of listing is that there's no equity left. And so you'd have to try a short sale, which the seller might or might not be willing to do.
However, the market is filled with these. Any Realtor can set up a screen for that type of property. I'd start with a purchase date of between January 2004 and January 2006 with DOMP (days on market for the property) at 100+. Then I'd fine-tune the parameters. If you're working with a particular price range or location, I'd plug those in. Then I'd look at each one for the particular pattern I described.
A second strategy is to track "Notices of Default" and follow up with the owners. Another posting below mentions RealtyTrac. That's one source; there's debate here on Trulia and elsewhere about the quality of RealtyTrac's data. But you can do that. Also, such notices are published in newspapers serving the geographic area; it's required by law that such notices be "published," which usually means in the classified ad section of a newspaper. Or, what real investors do is go down to the courthouse once every few days and go through the records. Most courthouses have very helpful, friendly personnel who'll show you where the documents are. All that's important because not all preforeclosures are listed on the MLS. The owner knows he/she has fallen behind on the mortgage and has received a notice from the lender. But that doesn't necessarily mean the owner's listed the property for sale. Often, she/he hasn't. So: That's another way to identify properties before they go on the MLS.
Another way is to network with loan officers and Realtors. When someone's in financial trouble, one of the first things they think of is refinancing their loan. And so the first place they go to is a mortgage broker or loan officer. Very often, however, the owner can't refinance. They've missed payments, and/or there's no equity in the property. The mortgage broker is unable to help.
Similarly, one of the first reactions of a distressed owner is to sell the property. But if the owner owes $400,000 on a property that's only worth $375,000, most Realtors can't help unless they try a short sale.
If you network with Realtors and mortgage brokers, you may be able to get leads regarding owners they're unable to help.
Another technique is to market for such properties. You can do it; some Realtors may do it. Many investors do. Try direct mail. Or advertise on CraigsList. Advertise under "Real Estate Services" as well as "Housing Wanted."
People are already doing it. Here are a few from the Minneapolis CraigsList:
we want your house...
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 2008-06-19, 9:23AM CDT
if you are in foreclosure or just want to get rid of a house we are the people to call. This is no gimmick, we will pay you CASH for your house. Feel free to email me if interested. Thanks
Need to Sell? We buy Houses too. (Twin Cities)
Reply to: email@example.com
Date: 2008-06-19, 8:19AM CDT
My name's xxxxxxxxxx, I'm an investor/entrepreneur. If you need to Sell your house or property, Give me a call.
-non-MLS properties preferred.
-Get out of a bad situation and on with your life.
-I work with hundreds of investors all over the Country
I also offer paid referrals if you know someone who needs to sell.
Hope that helps.
The likelyhood of getting in on REO listings before they hit the mls is slim. Lot's of promises of that out there, but typically, they are assigned to listing agents by the bank and then listed on the mls. Tim's point on working with a qualified Realtor is accurate...that'd be your best bet!
Thanks, Todd Norsted
There is a paying site called Realtytrac.com they track preforeclosures as well as foreclosures. So you could pick up and maybe get a short sale. Just beware they do take a long time and it can be a drawn out process.
Coldwell Banker Triad