Real estate listings have migrated to the Internet, where interested buyers can find your house in a single click. Could selling it be more difficult than selling an antique through an online auction site? Is the money you’d save on paying a real estate commission worth the extra time and effort?
Just as the Internet has made it easier for buyers to find homes, it has also changed the game for sellers. Marketing a house online is dramatically different from the days of putting an ad in the local newspaper and a sign in the front yard.
The biggest hurdle “for sale by owner” (FSBO) properties face is some 90 percent of listings use a multiple listing service (MLS)—and only brokers who are members of the MLS have access. Only a few national sites, such as Zillow, take FSBOs. That’s one major reason only 9 percent of homes were sold by owners in 2014, down from 17 percent a decade ago.
However, a more important factor is the housing market. When it’s harder to sell their houses, more homeowners turn to professionals. In a buyers’ market, where there are many homes from which to choose and few buyers with which to compete, going FSBO is much more difficult than in a sellers’ market, where there are few homes for sale and many buyers competing for those homes. In a buyers’ market, it takes more work to price, sell, and market your home.
Because prices have been rising over the past two years, some sellers are again looking into FSBO. If you are thinking of selling your house on your own, consider the following:
1. Price your home to sell. The biggest mistake sellers make is mispricing their homes. Don’t rely solely on the home valuation calculators found on real estate sites. Instead, do your own legwork by finding three or more comparable homes—homes of the same size with similar amenities—that are close to you and that have sold recently.
2. Get on the MLS cheaply. Although FSBO listings are usually excluded from the MLS, a handful of real estate brokers are willing to list FSBOs for a flat fee that is much less than the commission you would pay a full-service brokerage. You can prepare your own photos and provide the content for the listing. Make sure you hire a Flat Fee MLS broker who is both licensed in your state and a member of the MLS where you want to be listed.
3. List on a FSBO site. Several companies, including websites that feature FSBO properties, provide marketing services to those wishing to sell their homes. These sites may not get the traffic that the big real estate sites enjoy, but they do attract buyers looking for bargains. FSBO marketing companies also are good sources of advice and information.
4. Use tried-and-true tactics. Put together marketing collateral to get the word out about your home. A brochure, a website, yard signs, flyers—if you use them in a coordinated campaign, they can all be very effective.
5. Get great photos. Good photos are the key to real estate marketing, whether online or in print. When it comes to selling your home, a professional photographer who can make your house look like a show place is more than worth his or her fee. Don’t skimp on the photography.
6. Take advantage of direct mail to get the word out. You can reach hundreds of potential buyers with a targeted direct mail campaign that includes flyers and postcards that you can bulk mail to specific zip codes. You can also target buyers with online or postal mailings using lists from direct mail vendors.
Selling your home on your own may not be easy, but it can be a great way to save a little money in the form of a real estate commission. Would you sell your home on your own, or would you hire an agent? Have you sold your own FSBO? Share your story in the comments.
Steve Cook is editor of Real Estate Economy Watch and covers real estate and mortgage finance for leading news sites. He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Twice he was named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. Cook was vice president for public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.