I have never tried to grab an expiring domain before, so here are some thoughts on the matter. I do IT stuff for family, friends, and non-profit organizations like churches (especially those I attend). Commonly, those making decisions about an organization's web site do not know how web sites work, so sometimes we go off in a direction and have to backtrack.
Suffice it to say that a new church plant registered one domain name specific to a region, but then saw indicates it may be too specific. We went from "Church Name At City" to "Church Name at City and City" to "Church Name (at city and city)".
Unfortunately, I had registered ChurchNameAtCity.TLD as requested, and as ChurchName.TLD was taken I could not register it as well. But as Providence would have it, several day ago I decided to do a WhoIs lookup on ChurchName.TLD, and found that it was already PendingDelete.
Back when I was told to register our domain, ChurchName.TLD was three months from expiration, and I had no reason to think it would expire. My WhoIs lookup of ChurchName.TLD showed this:
Updated Date: 2014-02-11T11:07:05Z
Domain Status: pendingDelete
I did some Google searches and found that there are no hard-and-fast rules on what a domain registrar may do once a domain expires. However, once it enters PendingDelete, then six days after the "Update Date" the domain is released for registration or auction.
First, the time was in "Z" or Zulu time (that is, GMT). I did the math and realized that six days from the would be a little past midnight my time on 2/17.
Second, I considered the possibility that the original registrant just messed up. Also, if I contact them, even if they don't have the church they may keep the domain. And how would I feel if someone snatched my own domain from me while I was on a missions trip? So I looked on Google, Facebook, and yellow page entries for a church at the registrant's address. I found that the Facebook page had been closed and merged with a school page, the church was listed as closed on a review and on Foursquare, and that the registrant is now the pastor of a different church (with a functioning web site). I concluded that the domain is fair game.
At this point, I considered using a domain purchase service, or a domain auction service. The TLDs I was most interested in were .ORG and .NET, but I would bundle .COM and .INFO to be thorough. I looked up registrant information on all the domain names were minor permutations, and found that most of the relevant ones were registered by one person.
I considered the possibility that too many WhoIs lookups may make some domain parking service grab the domain I am interested in acquiring. So I used my go-to registrar and tried to register it at 00:08 on 2/16 my time, and it wasn't available.
Yes, that wasn't six days, but since there were no hard-and-fast rules, I figured I would play it safe. Again, I though about using a domain acquisition service, but didn't want to spend the money.
I tried registering again at 06:08 on 2/16, then 00:08 and 00:15 on 2/17, then 06:08 on 2/17. It was STILL not available, but the registrant hadn't changed.
Briefly, I flirted with acquiring .Org and .Net with a domain service, but dismissed it again. I tried registering at 15:00 on 2/17 and found a curious result... most of the ChurchName.TLD domains were available except for .Com and .Org. I watched .Org change registrants twice in 15 minutes, then it seemed to settle on NameBright.com. That makes me think that a registrar or a service acquired that domain moments before I was able to do so. And, the .Org domain was registered by someone in Japan. So, I got ChurchName.Net and .Info, but not the .Org I wanted (and not the .Com I would just park).
I had also kept an eye on TheChurchName.TLD, and I was able to acquire all the TLDs I was interested in for TheChurchName, so I did. It is now likely that I will push the church to use TheChurchName.TLD instead.
Would I have acquired ChurchName.Org if I had used a service? I cannot know for sure, but had I spent the $60 per domain name, I have spent at least $120, maybe $240, and I got all but one of the desired domain names without paying the fee. I would have like to sit on ChurchName.Org and .Com, but frankly if someone else has a real use for it, I would rather it be in the wild.
If there is an expiring domain name I really, really want, I'll probably try the auction service next time. Otherwise, I'll just keep trying to register it on day 6 every few minutes or so.