Real estate agents can be a big help in selling your home, but they can also take a good chunk of your sale price, too. That begs the question – can you – and should you – sell your house on your own? The answer is yes, but you really need to have your ducks in a row.
Before you embrace the idea of selling your own house, know that the home sales landscape is a tough one right now. According to the National Association of Realtors, home prices slid in eight out of every 10 U.S cities in the third quarter of 2009. The median homes sales price was also 11% lower than in the third quarter of 2008.
That means selling a home at the price you believe your house is worth is, well, a tough sell. So having a seasoned realtor in your corner may know how to push the right buttons to get your home sold at the price range you want.
Of course, realtors are mainly in business to make a buck. So while it might not be in your best interest to sell your home at a lower price, it’s not in the real estate agent’s best interest to sell your home for less money either. That’s how they generate commissions, wich are approximately 5% or 6% of the sale price. So if you sell your home at $300,000, at minimum, you’re going to pay your realtor $15,000.
Consequently, if you take the solo route, at least your selling the home on your terms, and you’re likely saving thousands of dollars in the process.
To start selling your home, sans realtor, take these steps:
Figure out the value of your home. You’ll need to peg the approximate value of your home before you put it on the market. To do so, you can use Internet real estate sites like Zillow.com that “ballpark” the value of just about every home in the U.S., most likely yours included. You can also check the local real estate sales in your neighborhood, via the local newspaper, and see what houses on your block go for when they’re sold. If you have a good relationship with a local real estate agent, pay him or her a small fee - $150 or so should do the job – to appraise your home (called a comparative market analysis in the real estate industry). Most realtors have thorough home sales listings in your community and can fairly easily peg the value of your home. Be upfront, though, and let the realtor know you’re selling the home on your own.
Clean it. Once you have a good grip on the value of your home, scrub your home, inside and out, from top to bottom. Make a list of needed repairs and get them done. Hire a professional cleaning service – expect to pay up to $500 for a deep cleaning of your home, or do it yourself. Outside, make sure your property is clean and landscaped – your yard and your house are the first things a potential buyer sees when they pull in your driveway. Nothing will drive them away quicker than a shaggy lawn or a front door with peeling paint on it. Realtors call the cleaning process “staging”, i.e. allowing buyers to easily imagine themselves living in your home.
Put your house on the market. Go to the hardware store and get one of those “For Sale by Owner” signs and stick it on your lawn – securely. Then place an ad in your local paper and on key real estate web sites like Craigslist.com. Make flyers and put them on community bulletin boards. You can also use a buyer’s agent to get your house on multiple listing services that professional realtors use.
Host an “Open House.” Place an ad in your local paper, preferably on Sunday when more eyeballs will see your ad touting your open house. Schedule it for a Sunday afternoon, again, for maximum impact. Have a “takeaway” in the form of a brochure or glossy photo of your home, with relevant information (square footage, number of rooms, finished basement, etc.) Have some fresh flowers on hand to make your home even more natural and agreeable to potential buyers. Play some jazz or classical music to set a comfortable tone for your open house.
You’ll need to hire a lawyer – it could cost $1,000 or so – to handle the title, disclosures, home sales agreement, and other critical paperwork. Also, when you get an offer, check to see if your buyer has been pre-approved for a loan (ask the buyer for his or her mortgage lender, then get a letter from the lender stating the buyer is pre-approved).
Once you finally sell the home, you should realize thousands of dollars in savings. Use $30 of it to buy a good bottle of champagne. Pop the cork and celebrate – you’ve earned it.