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FSBO: Should You Sell Your Home Through an Agent?

Five Key Factors for FSBOs to Consider Before They Try to Sell Their Homes Themselves

Five Key Factors for You (FSBO) to Consider
Before You Try to Sell Your Home Yourself


Quick Fact: 90% of Home Sellers Use a Listing Agent.1 And there’s a good reason why.
Keep reading to learn more (and to find out if you’re within the limited 10%).

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“I’ve had a real estate license for 30 years. If I were to put my personal residence on the market today,
I’d use an active real estate agent who knows his or her stuff in the marketplace.
I’d gladly pay them their commission, too.”

—Dave Ramsey, American Financial Author, Host of The Dave Ramsey Show

So, you’re thinking about selling your home by yourself, right? But is it a good idea? The short answer is: It depends. Sometimes it’s a great idea. Most of the time it’s not. There are no laws against selling your home yourself, and a certain percentage of people (8% in 20141) do take that route. The important thing is that you’re doing it for the right reasons. What’s even more important is that you know what you’re doing (or you’re prepared to put in the work to learn). Below are the five most critical factors to consider in making your decision. And, if you decide to take the “For Sale By Owner” (FSBO) route, this will also serve as a primer for the critical areas you will need to learn. *If you do decide to go it alone, be sure to check out this post: Top Ten Tips for Selling Your Home.”

  1. Saving Money on Commissions. The number one reason people choose to sell their home themselves is because they don’t want to pay the commission (usually 6% [which is 3% to the seller’s agent and broker and 3% to the buyer’s agent and broker]). You cannot control whether or not a potential buyer wants to use a Realtor (the buyer’s agent) and, therefore, most everyone accepts that they will have to pay the buyer’s agent a 3% commission (“87% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker—a share that has steadily increased from 69 percent in 2001.”2). But some people figure they can avoid paying another 3% to their own agent (the seller’s agent)—and they can! But is it really worth it? Let’s take a closer look. The following are the two basic ends (extremes) of the home selling continuum, and the best choice given the situation.
  1. Scenario 1: You list your home online and it sells the following day. You know a lawyer who can take a look at the contract and paperwork to make sure everything is legit. The buyer, obviously, knows that you do not have an agent, but they somehow fail to ask you to reduce the price you are asking by the 3% that you saved by going without an agent. In this case, you did not need an agent and you saved yourself a worthwhile sum.
  2. Scenario 2: You list your home online and weeks go by and nothing happens. You decide to try to do more to sell it. You find more places to list it for sale. You take more photos. Maybe you even create a video. Still nothing. You decide to lower the price. Finally, after it’s been listed for months, someone comes by to see it. They seem interested, but when they ask you if you will reduce it by 3% (since you don’t have an agent), you politely decline. You never hear from them again. You learn about “staging” and the value of home improvements, and you decide to do some more work to sell your home. You post some new, improved photos. Finally, a few people ask to see your home. Still no offers. You again reduce your price (now well below the money you would of paid the listing agent) and, finally, after over a year on the market, someone agrees to buy your home. Clearly, in this case, you would have been better off with an agent. In fact, not just because of the reduced price, but the money and the sheer number of hours you spent marketing, staging, showing, selling and negotiating the deal would of alone likely covered the real estate commission. (Keep in mind that unique or expensive homes can take years to sell on your own.)

The first scenario is highly unlikely. In fact, the only time that really happens is when the house is priced significantly below the market for comparable homes (i.e. the seller left money on the table), and it’s in a great area. The second scenario is far more realistic (and common), but does generally represent the other end of the continuum (i.e. it takes a long time, it’s a lot more work than anticipated, and the seller ends up with less money for their home than if they listed with an agent—even with the commission).

The vast majority of homes fall somewhere in between these two scenarios, but here’s the kicker: National real estate data shows that on average when all of the homes sold are taken into account, those who sell their homes themselves end up making significantly less money. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtor’s data, “The typical FSBO home sold for $210,000 compared to $249,000 for agent-assisted home sales.”3 That’s a 15.6% drop! Which is far more than the 3% commission these FSBOs would have paid to their listing agents (and without all the extra work, hassle and risk!)! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these FSBOs just didn’t know how to price their homes appropriately either. Undoubtedly, it’s a combination of factors (keep reading to learn more), but the bottom line is that they didn’t get what their home was worth.

Of course, it’s not just about the money. Let’s look at some other factors to consider before deciding to sell your home yourself.

  1. Doing the Work of Selling a Home. If you are not already working full-time, and you enjoy doing things for yourself, you may also enjoy the work of selling your home. Just be sure that you understand that, during the time leading up to and while your house is on the market, selling a home is a full-time job. Consider, for example, this list adapted from Nolo.com,4 which outlines the most critical tasks that a real estate agent will normally perform for you:
  1. The Market: Understand and evaluate local market conditions and comparable home values. This is one of the most important factors and where a significant part of the real estate agent’s “value-added” comes in.
  2. Listing Price: Suggests an appropriate listing price, backed by a clear rationale. This is a big one, and not nearly as easy as most people think (not least of which is because markets are in constant flux), which is why access to the MLS is so important. It can be difficult to get information on recently sold properties. And recently sold properties are the single most important piece of information needed to value a home. Agents have access to other sources of crucial data through MLS as well as proprietary reports on the local market, but it is possible to scour the internet to find public sources for much of this other data. Of course, you still have to understand, analyze, and interpret it. “It takes a lot of work to look at this data and figure how to price your home,” says Amy Bohutinsky, Vice President of Communications for Zillow.com, “but it’s important in order to come up with the right value.”5 Unfortunately, most FSBO sellers price their homes too high and then spend months wondering why it won’t sell. Don’t let this happen to you—it will stigmatize your house, making it much more difficult to sell. Other FSBOs will sell for less than what their home is worth and walk away poorer as a result.
  3. Staging: The way your house appears to the buyer is the second most critical factor in creating value in their eyes. A real estate agent will advise you on how best to present or “stage” your home. You’d be surprised what a difference this can make (Try a Google images search for: staging homes before and after).
  4. Recommendations for Home Improvements and/or Repairs: There are some things that you can let go, but there are other issues that will need to be fixed before you can hope to sell your home at the best price. Your agent can help you decide which is which, as well as provide trustworthy referrals for appraisers and contractors to get the work done (e.g. painters, roofers, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, repair persons, and more).
  5. Legal Disclosures: Helping coordinate preparation of disclosure and other legal forms and documents.
  6. Photography: Creating advertising materials and arranging for photographs (interior and exterior, as well as relevant neighboring sites or views from the house) and possibly an exterior drawing of your home, a floor plan, and, ideally, a video or 3D walkthrough.
  7. Advertising: Placing ads on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), real estate websites, multiple classified ads, and other paid media, spreading the word through social media (including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc.), installing a “for sale” yard sign and keeping it updated with promotional flyers, and sending out emails and postcards to potentially interested buyers on the agent’s and/or their broker’s mailing list.
  8. Showing: Arranging for individual visits to the property — if you’re no longer living there, most likely by providing a lockbox for use by other realtors, and meeting with individuals who don’t yet have their own agent.
  9. Pre-Selling: Answering questions and providing documents such as disclosure packets to potentially interested buyers and their agents.
  10. Open Houses: Holding one or more open houses, possibly including weekday open houses for other real estate brokers to visit and weekend open houses for the public (which itself involves many tasks, such as arranging for and putting out signs in advance, and providing food for the broker’s open houses, as is traditional in some areas.)
  11. Pre-Screening: Pre-screening potential buyers to make sure they are qualified to buy your home before you make the mistake of signing a contract and taking your home off the market (You’d be surprised how many potential buyers think they are qualified when they’re not.). “It’s harder to get a mortgage these days because the bar is higher,” says mortgage broker Dale Siegel, author of The New Rules for Mortgages.. “Applicants need better credit, higher salaries and a bigger money reserve than they needed just three years ago.”6
  12. Deal with Low Appraisals: If your buyer needs a loan to buy the house (or they just want a loan—sometimes is pays to borrow), you’re going to have to get your home appraised. If the appraisal comes in low, the buyer is going to ask you to reduce the price (even if the home was appropriately priced). Agents know how to be proactive with appraisers and challenge an appraisal if it comes back too low.
  13. Selling: Receiving offers to buy your house, whether via email/mail or in person if other agents wish to formally present their offers
  14. Assessing Offer: Helping you evaluate the strength of each offer and strategize on issues like whether to accept or reject an offer outright or make a counteroffer, and whether to also look for or arrange a backup offer.
  15. Negotiating: Negotiate with the buyer’s agent until the purchase contract is complete. This is yet another factor that helps to explain why FSBOs get so much less money for their homes than seller’s who have an agent. The buyer of your home is represented by a real estate agent who has their best interests in mind, and you are not. Who would you guess will have the upper hand throughout the selling process and negotiations?
  16. Handle the Contracts: The state contracts alone can be a lot of work, and may include numerous addendums and disclosures. Your agent will know what to look for in each, and whether or not you or the buyer typically pays for what, and when the cost is usually split.
  17. Closing Tasks: Coordinate with the buyer’s agent throughout the escrow period, helping to make the house available for inspections and appraisals, selecting a title company, and helping you make sure you’re doing your part to close the deal.
  18. More Negotiating: Help you strategize over counter offers, such as a reduction in purchase price due to repair issues revealed in the inspection, and negotiating such issues with the buyer’s agent.
  19. Attends the Closing: Available to make sure there are no hiccups at the end. Handles any last minute issues, answer any remaining questions.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Well, it is—especially if you don’t have any knowledge or experience with the real estate market or selling a home. The truth is, in the words of Nolo, “it can be a full-time, nights and weekends job in the days and weeks while your house is on the market. And, as any agent will tell you, it’s not all glamorous.”7 In fact, if you do decide to sell your home yourself, you are sure to walk away with a whole new appreciation for how real estate agents earn their commissions. As Nolo advises, “If you want to go it alone, be sure you have the time, energy, and ability to handle all the details.”8

  1. Marketing and Sales: Understand: There is an art and science to marketing. Most FSBOs have no idea the time and effort involved in effectively marketing a home. In fact, this is probably one of the most underestimated aspects of the job, and helps to explain why so many FSBOs are still trying to sell their homes many months, if not years, later. People have some pretty wild ideas about what can happen online, failing to recognize how difficult it has become to rise above the heap to get in front of people’s eyeballs. And yet, in the words of author Dave Ramsey of the Dave Ramsey Show, “Market exposure is everything in the real estate game!”9
  2. Access to MLS is another big advantage that agents can provide. FSBOs do not have direct access to MLS. However, there are ways to get your house in the MLS, which can be a worthwhile advantage: (a.) Pay a fee (average prices are $299—$499 for six months) through an FSBO website (make sure you research the company first—they are not all reputable or legit—and there may be additional charges for items like lock boxes, photos, staging, etc.), or (b.) Pay a real estate agent to do it for you. Just don’t make the mistake of excluding the buyer’s agent’s fee, otherwise no agent will bother to show your home. “If you’re thinking about listing in the MLS, be aware of low cost providers. If you find it for $199 or less, expect the service to reflect the price you’re paying. Even though it may seem a simple task to simply add your home to the MLS, there is considerable initial and follow-up work on the listing agents behalf.”10

    Unfortunately, FSBOs will never get the same response even if their home is listed in the MLS. Why? Because buyer’s agents will not be eager to show their clients an FSBO deal. And why is that? Because they know there won’t be a professional on the other end—which translates to numerous headaches and risks involved in trying to close the deal without professional representation for the seller. In the words of Atlanta, Georgia Realtor Bruce Ailion, “There are only two reasons why I show an FSBO: There is no other inventory available or the price is ridiculously low.”11

  3. The Time Involved: Days on Market. If you want to sell your home yourself, and you are not in a hurry, that’s one major advantage. If you have time to do what needs to be done, it can be a great, meaningful learning experience. Who knows, perhaps you will end up wanting to become a real estate agent yourself (let me know if you do, I’d love to welcome you to the Keller Williams family and help you get started). There is one qualifier, however: The longer your home is on the market, the harder it is to sell. There’s nothing magical happening here, just basic human psychology. People want what others want and they don’t want what others don’t want. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, calls this “social proof.”12 “When people are uncertain about a course of action, they tend to look to those around them to guide their decisions and actions.”13 Therefore, if, after being given ample opportunity, no one else wants to buy your house, they won’t want to buy it either.
  4. Unfortunately, there is another of Cialdini’s principles working against sellers in this situation: the principle of scarcity.14 People want what they can’t have or what is in limited supply. A home that has been on the market (or a popular website, or just in people’s minds) has this factor working against it. This is a home that seems to be forever available. Therefore, there is no urgency to buy or even see this home. People start to assume there is something wrong with the home and that’s why it’s still on the market. The only time people will want this home is when it’s no longer available (now it is scarce).

    There is also a more practical matter. The statistics show that the greatest interest in a home is in the first 30 days. This is when the brokers and agents learn about the home and, as a result, when there is the greatest buzz (word-of-mouth advertising). This is when those who are potentially interested are hustling to beat the other guy or gal to the punch. As these first few weeks begin to pass, everyone starts to move on to those homes newest to the market. A nearly identical process happens with FSBO homes online. There’s only a short window where interest is at its peak. Of course, a significant drop in price can create some new buzz, but if you’re willing to do that, then what’s the point of avoiding a real estate agent in the first place?

  5. Laws and Legal Requirements: This, again, is something that is possible to do yourself. Though it does require knowledge of the relevant federal and state laws. And since the liability is now on you, this could also be risky (not necessarily anything to fear—but definitely worth considering). If, for example, you fail to properly disclose any material facts, you could be sued. What’s more, here in Georgia, you will need to hire an attorney for the closing (other states may allow closing by a title company). Other requirements to keep in mind include the following: (a.) the home inspection (b.) termite inspection (c.) seller’s title insurance and title insurance for the lender if the sale is financed (d.) proration of taxes (e.) home owners’ insurance and possibly HOA fees (e.) seller’s disclosures, and (f.) the closing process.

In conclusion, there are situations where it may make sense to sell your home yourself, but, in most cases, you’re better off selling your home with a real estate agent. Not only are you more likely to make more money on your home—even with the selling agent’s commission—but you can also save a great deal of time and work. You are also far more likely to avoid any of the potential pitfalls and risks involved in going it alone. In the words of television host Dave Ramsey, “Research has shown that between basic mistakes, pricing errors, and lack of negotiation skills, you’ll cost yourself more than the agent’s commission by trying to sell it yourself. Trust me, you’ll get a much better deal—with a lot less hassle—by using a top-flight real estate agent!”15 If you want to learn more, or you are nevertheless determined to do it yourself, be sure to check out the post: “Top Ten Tips for Selling Your Home.” Or if you just want a little free advice, pick up the phone and give me a call. I’m here in Georgia with Keller Wiliams, ready to help you make all the best real estate moves!


 
 

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References:

  1. “Home Buyer Statistics.” Realtor.org http://www.realtor.org/field-guides/field-guide-to-quick-real-estate-statistics.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “FSBO or a Real Estate Agent? The lowdown on selling your house yourself — without the help of a real estate agent.” NOLO. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/real-estate-agent-sell-house-30259.html.
  5. Brunette, Margarette (2009). “Should You Sell Your Home Without an Agent?” Bankrate.com.
  6. Ibid.
  7. “FSBO or a Real Estate Agent? The lowdown on selling your house yourself — without the help of a real estate agent.” NOLO. http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/real-estate-agent-sell-house-30259.html.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ramsey, Dave (2010). “Real Estate Agent Vs. For Sale By Owner.” Dave Says. DaveRamsey.com. https://www.daveramsey.com/davesays/column/column/dave_says_2010-06-07/.
  10. “For Sale By Owner Flat Fee MLS Services.” Zillow.com http://www.zillow.com/wikipages/For-Sale-By-Owner-Flat-Fee-MLS-Services/.
  11. Fontinelle, Amy (2015). “8 Reasons Not To Sell Your Home Without An Agent.” http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/071514/8-reasons-not-sell-your-home-without-agent.asp.
  12. Cialdini, Robert.(2001). Influence: Science and Practice, Fourth Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Pg. 98.
  13. Goldstein, Noah; Martin, Steve; Cialdini, Robert. (2008). Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. New York: Simon and Schuster. Pg. 10.
  14. Cialdini, Robert.(2001). Influence: Science and Practice, Fourth Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Pg. 203.
  15. Ramsey, Dave (2010). “Real Estate Agent Vs. For Sale By Owner.” Dave Says. DaveRamsey.com. https://www.daveramsey.com/davesays/column/column/dave_says_2010-06-07/.

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