real estate

Should you sell home without agent?

Highlights
  • FSBO process takes a lot of legwork, offers no guarantees.
  • Mispricing home is common mistake that stalls sales.
  • Thick skin necessary to handle criticism of home.

In today's tough housing market, some sellers are looking to cut costs by selling their property without using a real estate agent.

Sellers who skip the listing agent and offer their home as a "for sale by owner" -- or FSBO (pronounced FIZZ-bo) -- have the potential to save thousands of dollars in agent's fees, says Piper Nichole, author of "The For Sale By Owner Handbook."

But FSBO sellers should be prepared to do a lot of legwork to manage the sales process, with no guarantee of a final sale, she says.

Here are five questions experts say homeowners should ask themselves before selling a home on their own.

5 questions to ask
  1. Do I know the value of my home in today's market?
  2. Am I ready to work with a buyer's agent?
  3. Will I take charge of sales and marketing responsibilities?
  4. Can I bear criticism of my home?
  5. Am I willing to screen potential buyers?

1. Do I know the value of my home in today's market?

A common mistake FSBO sellers make is to price their home too high, Nichole says. As a result, the property languishes on the market.

"When a home sits for a long while, buyers start to wonder what is wrong with it," she says. "The best option is to come out of the gate priced right."

To market a home competitively, sellers should research the final sales price of similar properties in their community.

Updated sales information is available to agents through proprietary reports, but individual owners can also dig up sales data from public sources, says Amy Bohutinsky, vice president of communications for Zillow.com, a Seattle-based online real estate service that provides data on homes.

Online real estate sites may offer sales trend information for local neighborhoods, sales prices for comparable homes in the community, known as "comps," and the average length of time homes have remained on the market, Bohutinsky says.

"It takes a lot of work to look at this data and figure how to price your home, but it's important in order to come up with the right value," she says.

It may even be worthwhile to purchase an appraisal from a certified licensed appraiser, says Dale Siegel, a mortgage broker and author of "The New Rules for Mortgages."

Buyers eventually have to pay for their own appraisals. But homeowners who buy an appraisal before putting their home on the market can eliminate the risk of a pricing surprise when a buyer applies for a home loan, Siegel says.

Even if sellers think they've arrived at fair home values, potential buyers may still try to negotiate prices downward.

According to Bohutinsky, a report from Zillow determined that 23 percent of real estate listings nationwide had a price cut in August 2009. And nationally, homeowners are selling for less than 3 percent of their listing price on average, Zillow says.

"If you want to sell quickly, the strategy is to sell about 5 percent below the most recent comps in your area," Bohutinsky says.

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2. Am I ready to work with a buyer's agent?

In a typical real estate transaction, the listing agent represents the seller. But the buyer may choose an agent to represent his or her interests, too.

When a real estate deal is made, the seller usually pays both agents involved a commission based on the sale price of the house. That commission is negotiable, but it has traditionally been about 6 percent of the purchase price, says Nichole. The buyer's agent and seller's agent generally split the commission in half.

As a FSBO seller, you may decide not to use a listing agent, but you can't control whether or not a potential buyer wants to use a buyer's agent.

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