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Solo home sellers find FSBO help online

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"If you're already with an agent, and you want to switch to selling on your own, check your contract," Mangan says. "Most people are under a time-frame commitment. If you want to break the contract, that's something you have to discuss with your agent."

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Otherwise, you could pay to sell your house on your own, and end up owing the agent their full commission.

Secondly, sellers must determine a proper sale price for their home. A lot of FSBO companies offer a comparative market analysis on your home for about $25, Irwin says.

"In today's market, prices are falling in several areas," Irwin says. "You have to stay ahead of the curve, regardless of the method you use to sell your home. That means if prices are falling 5 percent a year in your area, you may need to price your house for 5 percent less than last year's prices in order to sell your home faster."

FSBO sellers also are responsible for showing the home to prospective buyers. Another responsibility for the seller is to lead the buyer through the process, if necessary.

"When a potential buyer wants to come see the house, the seller should have a list of two or three mortgage people to refer the buyer to, if necessary," says Malkasian. "The seller should also have blank contracts for the buyer to fill out, and the names of one or two real estate attorneys (who can handle the closing)."

FSBO sellers also should be sure to have enough cash on hand to cover last-minute costs. Don't forget that whether you choose to use a full-service real estate agent or FSBO company, you'll still have to be responsible for the seller-paid closing costs such as home warranties, homeowner's association dues and taxes.

Measures of success
How much can you benefit from using a FSBO company?

"We conduct exit interviews and we've found that over 50 percent of our people have successfully sold their home before they deactivate (their Web site ad)," says Mangan. "As for everyone else, are they deactivating because they want to rent their house or they just don't want to sell it anymore? That's the information that we don't have."

More formal analysis of these organizations is harder to come by.

"There is no statewide or national independent study that I've seen that details the success of 'for sale by owner' services," Irwin says.

Real estate agency organizations have released studies showing that only 15 percent or fewer properties are sold by the owner, Irwin says. On the other hand, he saw one small, independent study that statistically looked at properties, comparing those listed with agents against those offered "for sale by owner."

"The study found that the 'for sale by owner' homes took longer to sell, but got higher prices," Irwin says.

Experts stress that one key to success is doing your homework before choosing a FSBO company. Because many of the costs associated with the FSBO process are prepaid, be sure to research any company you plan to use before paying them.

Check to see if they have a live customer service representative to answer any of your questions. Read the privacy policy and terms of use on the company's Web site to see how they plan to keep your personal information secure.

Check the site's "frequently asked questions" section to see how problems will be resolved. Also, look at how much instruction they provide online.

Irwin says that the amount of information on the company's site is a good indicator of the quality of the service.

"Fly-by-night businesses typically do not have the wherewithal to post a lot of educational material on their Web pages," he says. "The companies that have been around for many years have instructional articles on their sites. They want to provide information because when they have an educated customer, it ends up being a win-win situation."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: March 5, 2008
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