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I'm working on a small start-up company and need a good domain name for it, but as expected all domain names and reasonable variables have been taken years ago. Most of the addresses are empty, or have just simple placeholders, leading me to believe that they're available for sale.

My question is, how do I contact the seller (whois information is of some generic company, likely a squatter), how do I avoid paying through the nose for it, and how do I avoid being scammed? Should I use some 3rd party service to make the deal? I'm willing to pay some hundreds of dollars for it, but obviously I'd rather use the money on developing the site.

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Unfortunately it is very much a case of first in best dressed when it comes to domain name registrations. It is quite common for companies to set up their entire business model on owning a massive collection of domain names waiting for the day that someone may want to purchase it in which case they can sell it for much higher than it costs to register it.

The first step would be to contact the "generic" company who's details you found on whois as they are either going to be the registered owners of the domain name or they will be acting as agents for the registered owner and enquire about how much they would be looking for to sell the domain name to you, if you don't like the price they are wanting for it you may have to look for another domain name or use an alternate gTLD.

If on the other hand you are okay with the price they are asking for then as suggested above use an escrow service to make sure you get ownership of the domain name and require a tax invoice and receipt for the domain name and keep all documentation regarding the purchase to make sure you are covered.

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My question is, how do I contact the seller (whois information is of some generic company, likely a squatter),

Because it likely is a squatter. If not the generic email will be because the owner has privacy enabled and that is the best email you are going to get. If privacy is enabled, it is safe to assume the owner doesn't want to be contacted.

how do I avoid paying through the nose for it,

If you think the price is too high, don't pay it.

and how do I avoid being scammed?

In what way? If you are worried that they will take your money and not hand over the domain, go through an escrow company.

Should I use some 3rd party service to make the deal?

No.

I'm willing to pay some hundreds of dollars for it, but obviously I'd rather use the money on developing the site.

Why not consider one of the hundreds of new gTLD extensions e.g. .surf, .foundation, .hundreds_of_others

  • Domain privacy is often enabled because the owner don't want their personal details to be published in public record, not necessarily because they don't want to be contacted. Many domain privacy services will forward incoming mails to the whois registered email address to the domain owner. – Lie Ryan Apr 12 '16 at 15:31
  • Possibly @LieRyan, however if you are trying to sell a domain, it would be in your best interests to have a real email address, especially since only many (not all) forward emails. – Steve Apr 12 '16 at 21:48

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