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Selling a Home Without an Agent: Hard Work, but Rewarding

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You can get a job, sell a car and find true love online — certainly you can sell your home online, too. After all, that’s probably where you’re looking for your next home. And without employing an agent, think of the real estate commission you’ll save.

Do-it-yourself real estate service Owners.com says sellers saved an average of $9,500 in commissions by selling their own home online last year. And nearly 30% of all home sales in the U.S. are “self-directed,” the company says. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Well, let’s think about it for a second.

Make sure the price is right

Going the “for sale by owner” or FSBO (pronounced FIZZ-bo) route might seem like a lock. But Eric Eckardt, vice president of online properties for Owners.com, says the first step — setting a price — is the most challenging for DIYers.

“One misconception is that you need a licensed real estate professional in order to derive at an attractive market price,” Eckardt tells NerdWallet. That’s just not so, he says. These days, transparency is the rule, with comparable prices and real-time market values all available online.

“On all sales in the U.S., the average sale to list price is roughly 97%,” Eckardt says. “You go to the self-directed model, it’s actually slightly better — it’s at 98%. That’s demonstrating that consumers have become empowered. They have access to a wealth of information” they can use to set a good price.

A good idea, though an added expense, is to order an independent appraisal of your property.

“I think it’s being proactive. It will help eliminate a lot of the potential risks,” Eckardt says. But that could cost you $300 to $400. “[A seller] could even entertain getting a comparative market analysis from a Realtor, [and] they’re not obligated to use that Realtor,” he adds.

It takes more than a yard sign

Online exposure is the key — getting your home in front of as many potential buyers as possible. Real estate pros use the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS. Eckardt says you can access that same source, for a price.

“The only way you can list your home on a Multiple Listing Service is to be with a licensed real estate agent or use a site like Owners.com that is a licensed real estate broker,” he says. “Once the home is on MLS, it effectively puts every buyer’s agent in the local market to work to sell your home. It’s also the best way to make sure your home sells quickly.”

But buyer’s agents don’t work for free. They’ll require a commission on any sale — typically 2% to 3% of the sale price, Eckardt says.

Users of websites like Owners.com or ForSaleByOwner.com pay a fixed fee to have their homes placed on MLS, rather than using a traditional real estate agent and paying 5% to 7% in commissions to list and sell the property. And online listings can also be syndicated to leading real estate sites, such as Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow.

Ready for a part-time job in real estate?

Selling your home on your own is like taking on a part-time job. Considering the money you can save — and make — on the sale, it’s probably worth it. But there’s no denying the commitment you’ll have to make:

  • Can you drop everything and show the house on short notice?
  • Are you ready to dedicate your weekends to open houses? And nights to last-minute showings?
  • Are you a good negotiator?
  • Can you deflect negative comments regarding your home’s décor with a smile?

Real estate agents typically qualify buyers before a showing. Are you willing to ask the hard questions? (For example: “Do you have a prequalification letter from a lender?”) Ready to vet strangers standing at your door before you let them in?

Ball-parking your bottom line

One important consideration that can help you make a good decision on whether to go FSBO is calculating your bottom line. There will be expenses along the way, from a “For Sale” sign to promotional info sheets and everything else, many of which a real estate agent usually takes care of:

  • Possibly hiring a real estate attorney to help you create the necessary paperwork, such as legally mandated disclosure documents that can include particular language required by state and local law.
  • Advertising and other marketing costs. And most likely a professional photographer to take “beauty shots” of your home.
  • Repairs and minor upgrades to maximize mass appeal.
  • Home staging. You’ll spend a few bucks sprucing up the place with a coat of paint here and there and buying some nice accessories to take the place of all of those personal photos that have been boxed up. You may even need to rent a storage unit to stash the closet clutter, extra furniture — and that exercise bike that’s been stuck in the corner forever.

Selling your home without using an agent is definitely doable. It’s a matter of determining how much time, talent and money you’re willing to spend on the task.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.


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