For Sale by Owner: Do it Right!

OK, so last week we talked about the many reasons why hiring real estate agent is a good idea, whether you are buying or selling a house.

It is true, however, that an agent’s services are not free. If you believe you can save a chunk of cash, or you can’t find an agent you feel comfortable with, or you’re simply determined to place a For Sale by Owner (FSBO) sign in your yard, make sure you’re prepared. Know that numbers may not be on your side; only 8% of homes sold nationwide were FSBO, and that number is decreasing year after year. Doing a little homework can drastically improve the outcome of the sale and help avoid unnecessary delays. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Price your house right. A common mistake sellers make with the FSBO approach is overestimating and inflating the value of their homes. Here is where you are going to have to do a little research and not just rely on online pricing tools (which can be a good starting point). If you can, find out what other homes in your neighborhood have sold for, especially homes of comparable size and condition. Check local listings. Get an appraisal. Understand that lowering your listing price can expedite the sale.

2. Whip your home into shape. Want to sell your home quickly? Give it a makeover. If you are going to show off your home, it has to be looking great. Really great. Like, about-to-get-married great. I could (and will) write a whole post on getting your house ready to sell, but for now just know that you have to clean it down to the bone. Get rid of clutter. Make sure all light bulbs and appliances are in working order. Wash the windows. Remove any lingering odors. Weed the garden. Remove dated wallpaper. Apply a fresh coat of paint.

3. Market the heck out of it. The FSBO sign is a great start, but don’t forget the other tools at your disposal. Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus are platforms that will allow you to market for free. With some of the money you are saving on an agent, you could pay to place your listing on a number of real estate sites, like Trulia and Zillow. Also, spring tends to be the best season to sell a home, so make sure the timing of your marketing campaign is right. If you are not handy with a camera, it will pay to hire someone to take pictures that are stunning and suitable for marketing purposes.

4. Hire a lawyer. I know, you’re trying to save money here, but a real estate lawyer can help guide you through the arduous paperwork process and clear any legal hurdles that may arise on your way toward completing the sale.

5. Sell like a pro. You’re not a professional agent, but you can sure act like one. Dress nattily when showing your home. Keep your files organized. Be flexible when scheduling a showing. Let the buyer lead the walkthrough. Don’t take it personal when they poke and prod at your house and all its features. Most of all, keep your emotions in check. We all develop a bond with the houses we live in. All of the care and work and money we pump into a home creates attachments that are difficult to turn off when the time comes to sell. Still, don’t be insulted when a buyer makes an offer you find laughably low. Stay cool and calm and simply make a counter offer.

Look, as a professional agent, of course I recommend hiring someone with the experience to help you through the biggest sale of your life. If you are determined, understand that FSBO is not an easy way to sell a house. You are looking at a full-time job that will require you to keep track of your marketing and networking efforts, call potential buyers, work with Realtors® to find the right buyer, and navigate the nerve-wracking paperwork-filled process of closing on a house with skin in the game. Also be warned: you will be dealing with professional buyers agents who are trained negotiators. That is the buyer’s trained negotiator, not yours. That is pretty much like going into a divorce with just your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s lawyer! Finally, be aware that FSBO can result in leaving as much as 25% of the selling price on the table. If you are getting 25% more on the sale of your house using an agent, a 6% agent’s commission may not seem so big. Just sayin!

Still, it may be that you get top dollar selling on your own. I wish you the best of success if you go the FSBO route, but do yourself a favor and at least interview a few agents so that you are making an informed decision when you go solo, and then make sure to put the time and effort into doing it right!