Many people interested in a specific home will drive by the property several times a week hoping for the slim chance that one day there will be a “for sale” sign on the front lawn. Rarely, does the “for sale” sign ever go up.
There are other avenues that an interested buyer can take to find out if the homeowners are interested in selling. Depending on what type of community it is, sometimes it is appropriate for the interested party to simply knock on the door of the home and ask for a moment of the owners' time. Let the owners know that you find their home very appealing. Then request that if they ever consider selling their home, they contact you first. Leave a business card or simply a piece of paper with your contact information on it; thank them for their time, and hope they consider your offer.
If the community is not one in which that type of direct interaction would be welcome, try sending a letter to the owners. Find out the owners' names and send them a letter stating that you are very interested in buying their property should they ever choose to sell it. To find out the names of the owners of a piece of property, look the property up by its address in the records of the county recorder. You could also an address search in the records of the county tax assessor.
If that sounds like a lot of leg work for a house you may or may not get to even bid on, contact a real estate agent and ask him to inquire for you. A personal inquiry from a real estate agent informing the owners' that there is a serious buyer interested in their home may be more impressive than a letter from you personally. It will let the owners know that your intentions are more than just a passing curiosity, and the homeowners may be more inclined to reply to a real estate agent, even if their answer is no. As well, a real estate agent is highly motivated to change the owners' answer from “no” to “yes” by the prospect of a commission.
There are also websites, such as reply.com, that will make offers for you on homes that are not currently for sale. They will contact the owners of any home(s) you request for a small fee, and let the owners know that there is a serious buyer interested in their property.
None of these avenues may generate the response you are hoping to get from the current home owner, but there is nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I like your home. If you ever decide to sell, please consider contacting me first.” The worst they can do is say no.