When deciding to sell a home, many sellers have the thought that it might be easy and cost effective to sell the home themselves rather than engage the services of a realtor. It seems like it’s not that difficult, but then, most professionals make their jobs look easy. With realtors, it’s because they have the knowledge, experience and tools to manage all the details without breaking into a sweat (at least not while you’re watching). How hard could it be for typical homeowners to sell their own homes? Which is the best approach? Let’s look at the process.
Let’s talk first about selling on your own, since this is often the desired outcome. If you are a first-time home seller, this will be more difficult for you than for someone who has real estate experience. You’ll need to do a lot more homework and ask a lot more questions. Frankly, you’ll need a lot more time to understand and get through the process.
If you have plenty of time and enjoy researching, comparing home values, understanding the process, paperwork and legalities, and marketing your own property, this might be doable for you. Meanwhile, you’ll need to do all the prep work at the home, such as making repairs, painting, cleaning and sorting, packing things up, staging the home, sprucing up the lawn and landscaping, and making repairs to the exterior. Depending on the condition of the home, some of these items can take a lot of time, patience and know-how. Only you will know if you’re up to it.
To see how much work is involved in getting your home ready for a sale, make an honest assessment of what needs to be done before listing it. Check on these items to decide if you’re capable of handling it on your own. You might need help in certain areas depending on your skills, equipment and time available.
It takes some real work to get a home ready for a sale. Once you figure out how much time is needed and who will do the work, you’ll need to decide on a timetable for projects. Figure out the best time of year to market your house and coordinate the work so projects can be completed in time. The next step is determining an asking price. Research nearby, comparable houses that have sold recently and compare prices, square footage, lots, location, age, and features.
For more comprehensive information, you can hire a home inspector to evaluate the home’s condition. If there are issues, you can take care of them before anyone sees the home. An appraiser can give you an approximate value which would also help you price the home. Once you are reasonably sure you have a fair asking price, you can design a marketing plan.
How will you promote your sale? Ads, brochures, flyers, Facebook, word of mouth, websites? You can list your property online, including the MLS (Multiple Listing Service). This gets a little tricky since most sellers intend to save on commissions by selling the property themselves. Realtors who see a listing by owner without a commission may decide not to show it (meaning fewer potentials for you) or they may ask for a commission if they bring in a buyer. That is their job after all. You can offer a commission or a flat fee if you like.
For marketing, decide when and how you will show the home. What times will be available for showings and who will walk the potential buyers through the house and answer their questions. It’s a nice touch to have a binder available with pictures of the home in different seasons and pictures of the landscaping, especially if selling in the winter. Choose pictures that make the home warm and inviting. You can also include receipts of new appliance purchases or repair work.
Create a resource sheet that buyers can take home with them. The sheet should give basic statistics like age of the structure, square footage, size of rooms, data on appliances, special features and price. You can also provide information on the neighborhood, schools and taxes. When you speak with potential buyers, you can paint an inviting picture of living on your street, and in your home.
What do you do when you get an offer? This takes pre-planning as well. Are you planning to research the documents needed or will you hire an attorney to handle that for you? When making a sale, you want to be sure you have a valid contract and all the necessary paperwork for the closing. If you can get this far on your own, it might be money well spent to have a real estate attorney manage the legalities for you. Or, you can hire a realtor to manage the paperwork for you, for a flat fee.
There is one instance when selling your own home is quite reassuring. That is when you already have a buyer and don’t need to “sell” the house, market the property or open your home for showings. If there is a buyer who has approached you with a verbal offer that you feel is fair, it’s like winning the real estate lottery. You can skip all the difficult, time-consuming steps and move right on over to the final negotiations and transaction. Allow room in the price to hire a real estate attorney and you’ll be home free (or free of a home!).
Selling your house with a realtor is less complicated—for you. Realtors are used to it. It’s their job to understand the process and the market, and many of them delight in it. They represent you and will make fair comparisons to help you find the right price and maximize your dollars. The main caveat here is that you want to make sure you are hiring an experienced, full-time realtor. Interview several, ask for references and read reviews.
A highly recommended, a local realtor will know the neighborhood, understand the demand, and research recent sale prices for comparable homes. This will raise your confidence in the price you set: not too low, not too high. You can discuss details of the home and what changes should be made to make it even more enticing. Agents know what appeals to buyers and what will turn them away. Their advice will help you prepare your home for a faster, less stressful time on the market.
The realtor will arrange for professional photos and possibly video, design a brochure and advertise your property on the MLS for a far-reaching, online, visual promotion. Depending on stipulations in your neighborhood, you will have a sign out front or in a window, and signs on the main streets to promote open house showings. They may also use a transmitter for radio descriptions, a flyer box or cell phone text messages to gain the attention of people driving by.
In larger offices, realtors work in teams, and team members will likely view the home and promote it. There are occasions when a realtor or a team member already have a client who is looking for the type of home you have for sale, which can shorten the time to sale.
Your realtor will deal with all the showings, however inconvenient they may be, and will be able to tell serious buyers from curious busybodies. When selling on your own, this task can get to be a bit annoying because it can be difficult to know if buyers are really interested and qualified to buy.
You can do the math and figure out what you might be saving (or not) if you choose to sell on your own. Real estate agents generally earn commissions of 4%-7% which are often split between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. They are experienced, understand market values and how to show your property to its best advantage. As a seller, you can benefit from their knowledge by pricing it correctly and negotiating intelligently.
Negotiations can be stressful. Some people are less skilled when it comes to negotiating high stakes, and homeowners can be caught off guard by comments made by potential buyers. Selling a home can be a highly emotional endeavor, and a realtor can take the sting out of the trivial and cut to the chase. They will talk with buyers, evaluate offers and guide you on making effective counter-offers. They also take care of the transaction, making sure that all paperwork is properly processed and that your closing is managed professionally.
There are times and reasons when a For Sale by Owner (FSBO) transaction makes sense. Depending on your background and level of real estate knowledge, combined with how much free time you have, you might be a good candidate for going that route. Go into it with eyes wide open. It’s a complex process, with financial and legal ramifications, so you need to get it right. If you already have a buyer, it makes the process much easier. Just hire a realtor or real estate attorney to handle the transaction.
For most people, hiring a trusted real estate agent will provide confidence, professional guidance and time to manage the home-selling to-do list. It’s usually enough pressure to get the house in order, cleaned, decluttered and personal belongings out of sight for the typical, hard-working homeowner. For all their industry knowledge and marketing skills, it is often well worth it to benefit from the expertise realtors can provide to minimize stress and maximize the value of your investment.
If you have enjoyed this article and it has helped clarify your perspective on whether you can manage a sale by owner or if you would do better working with a realtor, please share it with a friend who might also benefit. Thank you and best of luck with your sale!