Is a for-sale-by-owner home the right move for you?

May 26, 2016

By Pam Leibfried

Is a for-sale-by-owner home the right move for you?

FSBO pros and cons

If you’re thinking of selling your home, you may be considering the do-it-yourself route:  a For Sale by Owner (FSBO) home listing. FSBOs represented eight percent of U.S. home sales in 2014.

FSBO sales can save a seller thousands of dollars in commissions, which is a great selling point. But they take a huge commitment of time and energy, along with negotiating skills and business acumen.

Pros of For Sale By Owner 

FSBO could save you money. It’s all about the Benjamins! You’ll save a lot of money by not paying a sales commission to a real estate agent. How much will you save? Commissions are generally four to six percent of the sale price. If you’d be paying six percent on a $300,000 home, you’ll save around $18,000 in commissions!
Pro tip: Keep in mind that part of that savings will be offset by the expenses you will incur in the process of selling the home yourself.

You know your home best. You know your home’s sales pitch by heart. Unlike an agent who represents multiple sellers and is selling many homes at the same time, you don’t have to consult notes to remember what features your house has. You can enthusiastically point out all the great things about your home.
Pro tip: Just because you love a certain feature of your house, that doesn’t mean that every potential buyer will love it too. Remember that the customer is always right, so you’ll need to bite your tongue and nod politely when a buyer expresses dislike for something in your home.

You're in control. You gain control over the process of selling your home. If you are the agent, you can schedule showings when they are convenient for you.
Pro tip: You can’t be too inflexible about schedules or it may frustrate potential buyers, making it harder to sell your house.

Research is easier now. If you’re interested in a FSBO, the internet makes it easier than ever to bring yourself up to speed on the sales process and on prices of comparable homes in your neighborhood.

Cons of For Sale By Owner 

FSBO could cost you money. It’s all about the Benjamins! The average FSBO home sale price in 2014 was $210,000, while the average sale price using an agent was $249,000. That sizeable difference would more than cover a six percent agent commission.
Pro tip: Do your research on comparable homes in your area so you don’t under-value your home.  If you’re really unsure of how your home should be priced, it may be an indicator that you shouldn’t attempt a FSBO sale.

Who has time?! Selling a home yourself is a huge time commitment. With an agent, you have someone else to do the legwork for you. Without an agent, you are responsible for doing it all: pricing research, taking and posting photos, getting signs, taking calls and scheduling all the showings.

No go-betweens. Real estate agents can help you negotiate with buyers and their agents, making the sales process easier once you start getting offers. If you are uncomfortable with negotiating price or with executing contracts, FSBO is probably not a good idea for you.

Cost of getting FSBO home listed. Although there are now FSBO websites that offer MLS-listing services for flat fees, those fees eat up part of the money you’re saving by doing it yourself. MLS-listing package prices I found for selling my suburban Chicago ranged from a monthly fee of $99 to a $600 flat fee, and prices may be significantly higher for a pricier single family home. When you use an agent, the MLS listing costs are included in the agent’s commission.

Marketing costs. Agents pay for advertising and marketing costs incurred during the sales process, so if you go it alone, you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket for fliers, ads, etc. And you’ll be buying your own yard signs, too.

Lack of staging advice. A professional real estate agent can provide valuable advice to their sellers on how best to “stage” a home. They also tend to know what buyers in your market are looking for because the other part of their job is representing buyers who are in the market for homes there. 

Buyer misconceptions. Some buyers associate FSBO homes with so-called distressed sales, so they’ll expect a bargain and lowball their bids. Other buyers may be reticent to even consider FSBO homes because they think that the sales process, negotiations and closing will not go as smoothly as they would with a professional agent.

Splitting the difference

If saving on the agent commission appeals to you, but you still want some help with the sale, there are services that offer limited professional help for a flat fee or a reduced commission rate.

  • The service provides some agent services, and then splits their commission with the client after the sale is completed, effectively giving you a 50% discount on commission costs.
  • Some real estate sites like Redfin and Virgent Realty offer the option of a hybrid experience – part DYI and part agent-assisted. That may be the perfect answer if you want to be listed on MLS and need expert advice about the best time to put your home on sale, but you still want to handle the showings yourself.
  • Will you be out of town for a week, but want interested buyers to be able to view your home while you are gone? You can arrange for an agent to show the house in your absence for a flat fee.
  • Some sites offer packages including flat-fee MLS listings along with FSBO signage/flyer packages.

There is no right answer when it comes to knowing if a FSBO sale is a good option for you. Ultimately, it comes down to how comfortable you are with going it alone, and how much professional help you need. 

Pam Leibfried is a marketing content specialist whose love of words led to a writing and editing career. After a brief stint teaching English, she transitioned to corporate communications and spent 20 years at The Nielsen Company before joining Alliant’s content development team. Early in her work life, Pam’s friend Matt explained the benefits of a 401(k) and her dad encouraged her to start a Roth IRA. Their good counsel prompted her to prioritize retirement savings, which just might enable her to retire early so she can read more and live out the slogan on her fave T-shirt:  “I have a retirement plan: I plan on quilting.”   

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