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Ask HN: What's the best way to buy a claimed domain name?
54 points by gautamnarula on Nov 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments
I've found a domain name I like that somebody else owns. There is no website (just a completely blank page), and the WHOIS contact information is protected by a proxy company.

Domain registars (GoDaddy, NameCheap, etc.) offer domain agency services where, for a price between $20-$60, they'll attempt to contact the domain owner and present a bid for the domain.

What's the best way to bid on the domain? Contact the proxy company and try to go through them? Or are the registrar affiliated domain agents worth the money?




The best way is don't because the domain owner is likely to demand a retarded price now that s/he knows someone is interested in it. They are hoping for an outrageous bid from a large corporation or government institution. IME, they are just not worth the trouble from a bidders perspective.

Many squatters register domains when registrars offer have specials like "50 domains for $10!" Those domains never gets renewed by the squatter and instead they are just hoping for one profitable sale. So it's entirely possible that the domain you're interested in will expire naturally and then you can pick it up.

Also, don't visit the squatters domain in a browser. The blank page is there to measure how many hits the domain gets to estimate popularity and therefore also value.


Some student contacted me about buying mine. He offered like $80 and I agreed. Free money. I'm pretty sure I had lofty plans when I registered the name, but in reality I ended up just sitting on it, which isn't a fun situation for anyone. So along with the $80 I got to feel good about no longer being a squatter. Win-win.

Just make an offer. You may be surprised to find it's accepted.


Actually, some owners are OK if you tell them the domain is of personal importance. I lost my domain name a few years ago and after a year or so tried to email the guy. He was kind enough to give it back to me for mere $90. I guess it depends if the domain is not as hot for them they might consider doing a favor.


You got lucky. With most domain owners, your personal connection will just cause them to up their asking price.


So, the solution is to just not even ask? Honestly, if you are going to lose the domain anyway, what's the harm in asking once?


You can save yourself a lot of money and a lot of detective work by simply registering a similar name that is not already taken. If you really want exactly that name, check the expiration date and set up a reminder on your calendar.

If the current owner were really in a selling mood, the squatting/parking page would have instructions on how to make an offer.


I routinely buy domains I don't use - not to be a squatter but my imagination gets away from me. I imagine most HNers have dozens of domains they don't use. Someone emailed me recently for a pretty good one and offered $500, I countered at 3k and we settled at $1,500.

Most people will be sensible about it.


You may not have the intent of squatting but your anecdote makes you sound exactly like a squatter.


Yes, $1500 for something you paid almost nothing for, and were doing nothing with, is sensible.

I get that this is the world we live in, but it's madness.


A few years ago I purchased a really nice old music box in great condition at a garage sale for about $4. I didn't know anything about them, it just looked nice. Some time later, I noticed a maker's name on the bottom and I googled it. Similar boxes were selling on eBay in worse condition than mine for around $1,000.

I will not part with the music box for less than $500. If someone actually offered, I'd probably hold out for more than that.

Is this madness?


I wouldn't be surprised if the average is less than 1.


less than 1 domain? I have like 25 personally... and responsible for another 20 or so company wise.

Raising the average.


Picture this. Twenty years ago, you had the opportunity to lease premium real estate - a massive storefront, open to billions of people - for only $10 a year.

The catch? There's already an equally massive sign above the storefront - Accelerated Pneumatic Deliveries.

You can't move the sign, cover over it, paint it, etc. But the lease was so low you couldn't help but purchase it, and now, as long as you pay your $10, each year you can own this storefront.

A few decades later, Bill Pneumatic, the owner and son of the founder of Accelerated Pneumatic Deliveries, comes along. He wants to purchase your storefront.

Here in lies the rub. You've put roughly $200 into your storefront at this point. Clearly $1000 - a 400% ROI - would be a fair price. But you know:

1. The value of the storefront to APD is nearly priceless. Your storefront is unique, but it will only ever have one interested buyer.

2. The downside potential should you decline is nearly nothing. Three less coffees a year, or skimping a bit one night out a year for the rest of your life, and you can keep that storefront until you're buried in front of it.

Welcome to the world of domain ownership, where the owner has no rational basis to sell to you a domain for anything but a ludicrous price. I know of a handful of established companies that have changed their name over domain availability. I know about a dozen more that have paid thousands for a domain. If those purchasers make up only 15-20% of all businesses, the domain owners are making comfortable, easy money.

-----

Do not go through GoDaddy or Namecheap. Their services are a flat fee plus commission - why would you want to pay someone commission to buy something for you that you already know is going to be unreasonably priced? Especially a company who specialized in commoditizing their services.

I would recommend contacting the proxy and trying to make contact with the owner. It will take longer, but you have a much higher chance of success.

But you should probably just find a different domain.


> Do not go through GoDaddy or Namecheap.

A few years ago I was desperate to get the .com of a .com.au domain I had. The guy had his contact details in the Whois information, so I contacted him asking to buy it. I got no response. I relied a month or so after with a price to try and get his attention, no reply.

A few months after this I decided to try the GoDaddy service to buy domains that are already owned (the domain I wanted was registered with GoDaddy). The initial fee was about $60. They made contact and got him to sell - for a price lower than I had offered via email: great!

Maybe my experience was different to most, but I got the domain for less than I was willing to pay.


This is a great post, particularly the top comment http://avc.com/2011/04/finding-and-buying-a-domain-name/

Art Of Negotiating A Domain Name Purchase

This is the step that 99% of people SCREW UP.

I see so much bad advice about how to approach someone to buy their domain... "contact them and say I see you're not using xxxxx.com, I have a little project I'd like to use it for... would you be willing to let it go?" etc. etc. etc. HORRIBLE ADVICE.

People that are sitting on domain names don't keep paying the registration fees every year for fun, even if they aren't using the name. They know it has value. So don't insult their intelligence making them think they should do you a favor by letting you have their unused domain.

Many Domain Owners Think They're Sitting On A Lottery Ticket

Many domain owners think that one day someone is going to come along and give them millions for their .Com no matter what it is. The fact is, domains are only worth what someone is ready to had you a check for. (A tip to all you wannabe speculators.) I've seen many GREAT domains never get sold, so always keep that in mind. Anyway, because domain owners have this thinking, they are very reluctant to NAME A PRICE. So forcing them to start by naming a price isn't something they want to do, because they're hoping YOU offer some ridiculously high price that they will then counter to go much higher.

Because of this, you MUST start out on first contact with an offer (more on this in a second). The approach of "would you be willing to sell xxxxx.com? If so, how much?" isn't going to cut it; one of the main reasons is that domain owners of decent domains get TONS of emails all the time asking them that, and when they've replied in the past with a price or try to start negotiations so many people are only willing to pay $100 or some insulting price.

So what do most domain owners do? IGNORE YOU. That's right. So if you've ever contacted a domain owner after looking them up with a Whois search and they didn't reply, it's not because they didn't your email (which makes you think that follow-up fax or phone call will do the trick; HINT: it won't.) It's because they think you're like everyone else that thinks they can buy the domain for $100 or so.

Here's how you get their attention and get the ball rolling...

Rule #1: You must start out by making an offer in your initial email.

Rule #2: This offer must be high enough to get their attention and make them at least THINK.

NOTE: Rule #2's amount will depend on how great the domain is.

The two magic price points I have found that work the best (they depend on how valuable the domain is) is either $1,000 or $2,500.

If it's a great domain then $5K-$10K is usually the starting point. These amounts are enough to get anyone's attention. I've bought many $100K+ value domains for $15K-$20K by starting with a $5K or $7K offer.

By starting with at least something that gets their attention they will take you seriously. This is the first step or you have no chance to make a deal.

In most cases for decent 2 words domains, the $1K to $2.5K opener works best.

* TIP: Always know your seller if possible. Do a Whois on who owns the domain, visit the domain in their email address or do some Google searches, etc. You'll often find a struggling Web designer is sitting on a great domain. $1,000 cash to that person is a lot of money. So this also goes into the process of deciding what to open the offer with.

The key here is not to insult someone with a lowball offer, but offer enough to make them know you're a serious buyer.

So here's a sample initial contact email to send... (and I'll explain the rest of the language I use)...

Subject Line: Whatever.com ($2,500?)

Hi,

I see you are the owner of Whatever.com. I'm in the process of trying to find a domain name for a client I am building a web site for and think your name could be a good fit. I am contacting different domain owners as we have it in the budget to buy a cool name and Whatever.com is on the list we came up with.

Would you be interested in selling it for $2,500?

Let me know and I can have the funds wired to you next day or PayPal'd to you. Just let me know your PayPal address.

Thanks for your time.

-YOUR NAME -------------------------

Let's breakdown why I used that language...

1. You've positioned yourself as not the future 'owner' of the domain. You're just managing a budget for a project. This helps because as they will usually counter with a higher amount, you'll play the "sorry, I just don't have it in the budget to go that high" to work towards a price you want. You'll also be able to play the "let me see if the client can approve a budget increase to accommodate that price" etc. etc. This also allows you to play Good Cop, Bad Cop in a way. You're just someone trying to get the deal done to do your job (build the site). You're also presenting yourself as someone LESS EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN THE NAME -- which will potentially keep the price down. (Trust me, it works very well.)

2. You mention that you're contacting several domain owners (i.e. making multiple offers). You're playing up SCARCITY, one of the most powerful emotions when it comes to sales. For all this person knows they could reply and say "okay, I'll sell it" but you may come back and say, "sorry someone replied to our email first and now we have a domain."

3. By closing with the "we'll pay you right away" it makes the offer more REAL. Many of these domain owners get offers that people back out of and have no intention to actually pay. And you're also ASSUMING THE SALE by saying, "what's your PayPal address?" :-)

Again, all of these things are very, very powerful and I have tweaked this initial contact email over the years.

ADDITIONAL TIPS

Let's say you initially offer $2,500 on a great name and the owner counters with, "I couldn't sell it for that, I've had higher offers. I would never sell it for anything less than $10K."

FIrst, you must IGNORE anything they say. You'll get the "I've turned down higher offers" response a lot. In the example response about $10K above, unless you would love to have it for $10K, just reply with something like this... "While I do think your name is possibly worth $10K to someone, we just don't have the budget for that much, sorry. I could probably get something more like $5K-$7K approved, but even that's pushing it. Anyway, thanks for your time."

That's it. Cut them off. Trust me, they'll come back to you 90% of the time. Sometimes you just have to be a little PATIENT and you'll save a fortune. Remember to always play up the SCARCITY. "That's just too much for our budget... looks like we'll just go with an alternative name that we've been negotiating for a lot less, even though we preferred your name. Thanks for your time and at least trying to work something out." That's NOT what they want to read from you. ;-)

There are THOUSANDS of amazing domain deals out there waiting to happen. I, personally, buy domains all the time this way. In fact, this is probably a good time to negotiate some deals as many people need the cash more than in recent years.

FINAL TIP: It's not uncommon to settle on a final price that is 30% of what their original asking price was. Keep that in mind as a general rule of thumb. I've had many deals for great names where someone "really wanted $60,000" and we closed the sale around $20K.

Hope this long novel will help some people. Best of luck to everyone.


This is fantastic advice, thanks. Unfortunately, I can't really afford a "bargain" deal of even a few thousand dollars. Still, I'll keep this in mind.

Also, a lesson for everyone out there: I was about to buy the .co of the domain name but hesitated for a day to ask this question, and it was purchased by somebody else today! Don't hesitate if there's a domain you want.


Could your showing interest in it have caused it to be registered by someone else?

Always take precautions: http://www.thesitewizard.com/gettingstarted/precautions-to-t...


I have a habit of buying domains on a whim. Figure <$12 is peace of mind for 12 months if you are going to use it.

That said... you don't want a .co .... you want a .com - unless you are selling to developers, you can get away with something else, but for the general public always .com


vine would like to disagree


If I'm typing a URL out, I'll generally remember the name of the product but not the actual .xxx, so I'll assume .com. But I imagine Vine doesn't really drive much of its interaction through people typing out the URL.

Vine is used primarily from within apps. If anything, having a .co is a slight helper as their primary target is Twitter where characters are often a premium.

I don't mean this as opposition to you, tmmm, merely that you got me thinking on why one might prefer a .co or be fine without a .com.


I've approached a domain purchase similarly, offering right around $2500. They came back with $500,000. Bought something else. Seems to have worked out just fine.


Pure wisdom here. That's why I read HN. Thanks for sharing.


Good tactical advice here: http://avc.com/2011/04/finding-and-buying-a-domain-name/#com...

TLDR: Lead with a real offer at a price that the owner cannot dismiss out of hand, gently imply that your offer has an expiration date, don't act attached to the name, negotiate from there.


my brother recently emailed a guy about a random domain name (nothing exciting, four random letters - figured he could buy it for $500-$100 which seemed fair) the guy countered with 1.5m EUROS! and the email of contact@###.com in perpetuity!

Why you ask? wikipedia's list of most expensive domain names...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_expensive_domain_n...

you have to give credit to the guy for asking!


Well, remember that the proxy is really just a relay. If you email the proxied email address the registrant will likely get your email in their inbox. They might ignore it, but it's worth a shot as a first step. That proxy also might just be a honeypot for spammers, but it's usually worth the risk.

Also, check sedo.com, flippa, and other domain marketplaces to make sure that domain isn't listed for sale already.


Another thought is that you can check http://who.is. When you search there for the whois information, they have a history tab. Maybe the person that has the domain now has not always had the privacy protection on it. You might be able to get the phone number or original email address from that.


Also checkout backorder services in case the domain is forgotten and comes up for expiration.

This is a good list: http://www.domainsherpa.com/domain-name-backorder-services

Note: I'm in no way affiliated with the linked site or any of the services listed.


Here's an HN thread and blog post about this topic, from a few years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3613095

http://blog.domai.nr/post/17910329952/buy-a-domain-that-some...

(full disclosure: I help run Domainr)

You could also get a brokerage like https://domainagents.com/ to help you with the process.


I've been on both the buy and sell side of this negotiation quite a few times. thistleco's advice is pretty good. I'll just add one thing about the new GTLD program. Unlike the past, nowadays you are competing against the registrars themselves and the automated and MANUAL analytics they run on availability searches, whois queries and etc. As the OP said in a comment here, if you find a brand you like, don't hesitate because that name might be repriced by the GTLD operator due to your searches and activity around the domain.


FWIW, a "ludicrous" offer might not be that much, depending. I had a guy buy a domain from me a couple months ago for $5k.

If you go through a broker like DomainAgents (who contacted me and helped negotiate the sale via escrow.com) the process is quite painless - I got my money within a week and the buyer had his site up soon after.

FWIW, I likely could've pushed for more money because his business only had ccTLDs and not the .com that he wanted from me, but $5k for a domain that was expiring was totally a fair price.


I bought domain names as an investment and sat on them for years until people with lots of money wanted them bad enough. I think this is the mindset you'll be up against.


Ritch at Acquirable is probably the best you can hire for this kind of stuff - http://acquirable.com/

Probably only makes sense for domains at least 5 figures USD though.


Go to the auctions and look for a name:

http://snapnames.com

http://namejet.com

I've gotten names that I had previously made offers on there.


Usually contacting the proxy company is a bad idea, since you will be dealing with robots and not real humans.

Also, use a disposable email address, since it's very likely your email will get sold to spam lists.


godaddy offers a service where they try and contact the person behind the proxy on your behalf, and charge upon success. I tried them once to no success, the person who told me about it said it worked for them.




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