For Sale By Owner posts about her experience :
“This is a good post as it shows someone with no experience can sell their house by them selves.
For Sale by Owner Part one :
We did it, friends. Matt and I sold our house by ourselves without listing it with an agent, which saved us approximately $7,500.
I have to confess that I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to pull it off. Our house was on the market for 2-3 months. At the two-month mark, we started connecting with a realtor. We came very close to signing with them. In fact, their forms were in my e-mail inbox; I just didn’t have time to deal with them because I was scurrying to meet my book deadline. And then we received an offer.
Selling a house is hard, hard work, but it’s hard whether you work with a realtor or not. The hardest parts of selling our house included:
- Getting our house ready to go on the market (purging, decluttering, organizing, and cleaning)
- Keeping our house in show-ready condition constantly (daily vacuuming, clearing off the bathroom sink, putting away Henry’s changing table, etc.)
And we would have had to do those things even if we went with a realtor.
If you’re on the cusp of wondering whether or not you should try to sell your home yourself, this series is for you. I’m going to do a couple posts about how to sell your own home (including things I wish we would have done but didn’t). An important point to remember is that trying to sell your house yourself does not mean that you can’t later list it with an agent. The only things you have to lose are the money you spend making signs, the small commission you pay to list your house on the MLS, and the extra time it might take.
Step One: Get Your House Ready to Go on the Market
Oh, boy. The pretty much joyless process of selling your house begins. Whether you list your house with an agent or not, you still need to get your house ready to go on the market, which entails the following:
- Make a list of everything you want to fix before listing your house. You don’t need to fix everything that’s wrong (just be prepared to disclose the things that are wrong), but you should repair obvious things.
- Once you make your list, reorder everything from most important to least important, since you might not be able to get to everything. Then start working on the projects or calling folks to get quotes. For us, we needed to fix things like a broken outlet on our front porch.
- Go through every room and purge, purge, purge. I can’t emphasize this enough. Even though Matt and I try to purge pretty regularly and keep an ongoing “Donations” box to collect stuff, we still had to get rid of a lot of unused junk.
- Once you’ve pared down your stuff to things you actually use and need, then it’s time to declutter and reorganize. For us, this looked like stripping down nearly every surface of our home to the bare minimum. In the bathroom, for example, we put away our toothbrushes, soap, and other personal belongings every single day, so that the counter looked clear, clean, and beautiful. In the kitchen, we stopped storing our cutting board on the counter. We moved a basket of Hoss’s toys from the dining room to the attic (sorry, Hoss!). We stopped storing Henry’s carseat in the house (which we had to do all summer long to keep it cool). In other words, we tried to make our home look like a model home, even though all six of us were still living in it day in and day out (Matt, me, Henry, bloodhound, plus two chickens in the backyard).
- Go through your home and try to depersonalize it as much as possible. Apparently, it’s hard for people to envision themselves in other people’s homes if the owners leave out too much of themselves. To combat this problem, we replaced all of our framed photos with pictures cut out of magazines. We also stopped hanging things like bathrobes on a hook in our bedroom.
- Make more space in your home by taking things out. You honestly might have to store large pieces of furniture elsewhere. The goal is to make your house feel as light, airy, and spacious as possible.
- Once your home is purged, decluttered, organized, and de-personalized, it’s time to clean it like your life depends on it. We did things like scrub the baseboard edge with a toothbrush (and by “we” I mean “Matt”).
- Focus on the curb appeal of your home, since it matters tremendously. We hired professional landscapers to spruce up our front yard. We also hired someone to pressure-wash our house and repaint the front of it.
- Once you think your home is as beautiful as possible, ask an honest friend or neighbor to walk through and give you additional suggestions for how to make it even less cluttered and more organized and beautiful.
Once you have prepared your home as much as possible, I suggest that you meet with a realtor. When we met with a realtor, we honestly didn’t know whether we were going to sign with her or sell it on our own. Here are the questions we asked:
- How is the market doing right now in this neighborhood? Is it improving or worsening?
- How many comparable listings are there? What does our competition look like?
- What would be the best time to put our house on the market?
- What changes would you recommend we make in order to help our house show as well as possible?
- What do you think are the best features of our house?
- What do you think would hold someone back from purchasing our home?
- At what price would you recommend we list our house?
- What percentage do you charge?
- We’re thinking about trying to sell our house ourselves at first. What are the benefits and drawbacks to selling it ourselves?
We only met with one realtor, but I would recommend meeting with at least three. That way, you get diverse perspectives and as much information as possible. Also, even if you decide to sell your house yourself, I don’t think it’s sneaky or dishonest to meet with realtors during the information-gathering stage. Just because you try to sell your house yourself doesn’t mean that you won’t ultimately sign with a realtor. You’ll need to have these meetings anyway, so you might as well do it early in the process.
The three parts of selling a home are price, condition, and location. You absolutely have to get the price right. If you set your price too high, you will struggle to get showings. At the same time, there will likely be negotiation involved (both with the initial offer and then once the inspection report comes back), so try to set the price above your bottom line if possible.
At the end of the day, the market determines the price of your home. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter how much you love your home or how beautiful it is to you. The only thing that matters is what someone else is willing to pay for it. The folks over at Young House Love described their process, which included setting the price too high initially.
Many realtors will do a free analysis of the comps in your area to recommend a listing price. If you talk to three different realtors, you should get a good sense of what price to start with. I also recommend that you scour the MLS website for your area and spend a Sunday going to open houses in the neighborhood. Open houses will help you get a sense of what’s available in your area, will give you ideas about how to host your own open house, and will help you set a fair and reasonable price tag for your house.
After you meet with the realtors, spend some time implementing any suggestions they have for staging your home even better. For example, the realtor we met with recommended that we replace the plastic panes on our front door with glass and repaint the whole door.
This first part is really time-consuming and difficult (and potentially expensive) if you do it right. However, investing upfront will pay off later down the line. During this stage, I recommend that you learn as much as possible about how to sell your own home. I read For Sale by Owner, as well as House Selling for Dummies. Also, I connected with someone in my neighborhood who had sold her own home (way more informative than the books!) and attended a free seminar hosted by For Sale by Owner (also very helpful, although this book looks even better).
It’s true that it takes extra legwork to sell it yourself, but for a stay-at-home mom, the legwork was worth $7,500.
Stay tuned for Part II next week!
For Sale By Owner part two;
In last week’s installment about How to Sell Your Own House, I talked about how to get your house ready to go on the market. This section is all about how to actually put it on the market.
If you sign with a realtor and agree to pay them 3% of your house’s selling price, they offer a full range of services, including photographing, marketing, holding open houses, connecting with other agents, and listing your house on the MLS. If you opt to sell your house yourself, you have to undertake all these components on your own. Here are my recommendations:
- Get a professional photographer: Although professional photography is expensive, good photos will bring in the buyers. Fortunately, we are friends with a professional photographer, so he agreed to snap some shots for us in exchange for a tutorial about how to do Montessori in the home. Even if you have to pay for it, it’s worth it. It’s one of those upfront expenses that pays off later. You’ll need high-quality photos for your MLS listing (research shows: the more photos, the better), your flyer, and your website.
- Make high-quality signs: We made our signs (a for sale sign and a sign for our website as well as an open house sign) using templates from a local sign company. We believed that professional, sturdy, customized signs would represent our home better than a sign from the hardware store with a handwritten phone number.
- Design high-quality flyers: We looked at other realtors’ flyers (from our initial meetings) to get inspiration for our flyers. We printed them in color. We opted not to leave these next to our sign outside because they’re so expensive per copy. Instead, we posted the link to a website on our sign (for folks who wanted more information) and left the flyers inside on the dining room table, so people could take one with them during a showing.
- Set up a website: We used Blogger to set up a website (that didn’t look like a blog). We included a letter about all the things we love about living in our house.
- Write compelling copy for your MLS listing: I looked at the listings for other houses in our neighborhood for inspiration (these were the same houses that I had the flyers for and the same houses that I toured during open houses).
- Get your house listed on the MLS through a company, like whymls.com: If you want to sell your home in the most efficient way possible and reach the widest audience, you need to get it listed on the MLS. However, only realtors have access to the MLS.We used a website company to list our house for us. I don’t necessary recommend the company we used, but I did appreciate the option for signing up for Centralized Showing Services. They mailed me a lockbox, so I could put the key on the front door and they would dole out the combination to any realtors who were interested in showing the house. This meant we would get a call a couple hours in advance, and we could completely evacuate the house. The folks at Young House Love did not go this route (they showed the house themselves), but I think this piece was key for us. Realtors are already wary of dealing with For Sale by Owners; I think it’s important to make the process as professional and normal as possible.
- Build relationships with realtors: We did not do this, but I’m convinced we would have sold our house more quickly if we had. In retrospect, I wish that we would have held a special open house just for agents. We would have lured them in with free food and drinks. This practice is common in the real estate world. Realtors like to do a preview before they bring by clients. I’m not sure if this would actually work for an FSBO seller, but it’s worth a shot. Additionally, I wish we would have sent flyers to all the local agents and written them a note emphasizing that we were welcoming buyers’ agents and were willing to pay the standard 3%. Many agents are reluctant to deal with FSBO sellers because they can be very unprofessional. I think this kind of proactive relationship-building would do a lot to prove that you are, in fact, professional and will be easy to deal with. You want to convince the realtors to bring people to your house.
- Hold open houses: Many people in the real estate world say that open houses are not actually effective for selling homes (they say they are more effective for realtors to meet new clients). However, I enjoyed dressing up in professional clothes, putting out our open house sign (with balloons), and holding open houses (we did six of them). Although you may not get much bang for your buck, it only takes one buyer to sell a house. Matt and I attended open houses in order to figure out how to run one. We garnered tips from paying attention to what the real estate agents did or did not do.
- Keep your house spotless: I do not envy those of you who are trying to sell a home in this market. It is extremely stressful to keep your house in show-ready condition. We did it, however, for the sake of trying to sell our house. I have many memories of getting a call from Centralized Showing System letting me know that a realtor wanted to come by in an hour. It would throw Henry in the Ergo on my back and run around the house like a madwoman vacuuming, fluffing pillows, spraying cleaner on the countertops and in the sinks to make the house smell good, checking inside the shower and major closets, moving the dog bed to the car (we really tried to present a de-cluttered home), etc. The more showings you have, the greater chance you have to sell your house (except it means more cleaning!).
- Know your bottom line: At the FSBO seminar I went to, I learned that you should have a bottom line in your mind–your lowest price. The idea is that if you receive an offer at or above your bottom line, you should accept it. Matt and I received an offer that was slightly above our bottom line (but significantly below our asking price). We negotiated a couple thousand dollars up. Then we had to concede a couple thousand down after the inspection came back. In the end, we were $1,000 above our bottom line.
The rest of the process will vary from state to state. Texas makes real estate transactions very easy. The buyer’s agent submits a contract, you negotiate the price via e-mail, you revise the contract by crossing out numbers and initialling next to it, the buyers schedule an inspection, you negotiate again, the buyers schedule an appraisal, the title company contacts you about your next steps, and you show up at the closing to sign papers (and at any step of the way, you can ask the buyer’s agent, the title company, or the person who listed your house on the MLS for help). Seriously, the rest of the process was that easy.
As I type this post, I count my lucky stars that we were able to sell our house ourselves in a down economy. And, honestly, there were times throughout the process when I didn’t think I was going to be able to write this post. I thought we were going to have to sign with an agent.
This post reminds me how many steps were involved in this process. It did take a lot of work. But as I’ve mentioned before, the hardest parts were things we would have had to do with an agent anyway.
As with any big, scary endeavor, I think the key is taking it one step at a time. I kept a list of everything that had to get done, prioritized the list (in case not everything got done), and scheduled each task on a particular day, so I could just take it one step at a time.
I’ve tried to share as much as I can think of, but please ask me clarifying questions if there’s anything you want to know!
I can’t really tell you how comforting these Sell Your Home posts have felt for me. Thank you for the straightforward and oh so helpful info. Your house website was beautiful, too.
One idea I thought of, you could use Google Voice service to get a free phone number that rings to your personal cell phone. That way you could have a voicemail just for house inquiries that would say, “Thanks for inquiring about our house. We’ll get back to you soon but in the mean time please check out our website at (website)”
All of your tips are so great, you guys were so professional!
Carissa L. said…
Your tips are very helpful. I read your post when you originally posted it — but have now gone back to re-read it as I began my own FSBO process. I have one question if you are interested in sharing — how much would you estimate you spent on all of the marketing? I’m wondering if estimating about $1,000 is a safe amount to use when deciding if we should go this route or use an agent. Thanks!
Jessica R said…
A few thoughts from a real estate agent These are GREAT tips! Keeping your house spotless, using a professional photographer, good signs, and a lockbox are all essentials. Very good advice. Don’t waste your time with an open house. Any serious buyer has a realtor and is not spending gas or time driving around on Sundays! You will get tire-kickers who a) aren’t serious and b) aren’t preapproved. Also, don’t bother mailing flyers. Agents are busy, won’t read them, and will toss them. Putting it in MLS is the only way I know about your listing. Carissa, professional photography $75, flyers $25, signage $50 if that helps! Awesome post!!
Your post has been super helpful, we are going to try the FSBO route! We were wondering if the signs you ordered were aluminum or corrugated plastic? What do you recommend? Thanks so much for your advice!
Sara E. Cotner said…
Hi, Kim! We just got the corrugated plastic ones. They were fine. We did have a nice metal frame around them (also ordered from the same place).
Best of luck to you!
tamara s. said…
This is so helpful, Sara. We’re still at least a year (more likely two years) away from selling our home, and we’ve been tossing around the idea of doing it FSBO. We’ve been intimidated by the idea, but your posts make it seem manageable, and with a real estate agent father-in-law, I’m sure we’ll be fine. Thanks for the information and inspiration!