Do you need a real estate agent to buy or sell a house? These readers bought their home and sold a vacant lot without the help of any real estate agents.

Q: My husband and I sold a vacant lot in Texas this past year without any agents being involved. We have followed the market closely. We agreed on a price, filled out the documents and closed in an attorney’s office for a total cost of $250. We also purchased our present home in 2007 without a real estate agent. It’s possible that we may have paid too much, but we live in our desired neighborhood, close to parks and city center in a property we love. At 80, we have seen and heard of many incompetent or inept agents who are not good with details. 

Do You Need a Real Estate Agent to Buy or Sell a House?

A: When it comes to buying and selling real estate there are sellers that can – and do – sell their homes on their own, without using an agent or attorney. There are also home buyers that purchase homes on their own without the aid of a real estate agent or attorney. In fact, there is a whole industry that has emerged, referred to as iBuyer companies, that buys homes directly from sellers and turns around and sells them to unagented buyers. 

Sellers who sell by owner are frequently referred to as FSBO sellers (an acronym that stands for “For Sale By Owner”). These sellers advertise the homes themselves, pay whatever fees might be out there to list their homes in the multiple listing services (if they choose to do that), show their homes and handle whatever paperwork they need on their own. 

The one thing they don’t do is pay is a full commission to sell their home. They may pay a commission to the broker that brings them a buyer or a fee to list their home in a multiple listing service, but if the buyer finds the seller on their own, no commissions get paid. It is potentially a huge savings, since the cost for a full-service agent is typically 4 to 6 percent of the sales price, a cost normally paid by the seller (although not always). 

On the buying side, the internet allows buyers to search online for homes anywhere in the world, but buyers regularly drive by a FSBO sign in neighborhoods they’re exploring. 

How Many Homes Are Sold Without the Help of Real Estate Agents?

Most real estate closings have one real estate agent representing the seller and one representing the buyer. In some cases, the same agent may represent both sides (which is often referred to as dual agency, transactional agency or non-agency, and we’ve written extensively about what sort of representation a buyer or seller can expect in that situation).

The number of FSBO closings varies from time to time. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, FSBOs accounted for 8 percent of home sales in 2020 (that number was 15 percent in 1981) with a median home price of $217,900. According to the Realtors, FSBO homes sell for less than agented homes. 

The Realtors say that 89 percent of homes were sold with the help of an agent last year, which leaves a missing 3 percent of sellers unaccounted for (assuming that the 8 percent of sales attributed to FSBOs is correct), so the number might be a little higher or lower. (So-called iBuyers, which purchase homes and sell them directly to buyers, are a growing factor.)The Realtors website still shows that at least 20 percent of FSBOs advertise their homes on multiple listing services and many more rely on yard signs (31 percent) and other ways of getting the word out that they are selling a home. 

Pros and Cons of Buying and Selling Without a Real Estate Agent

As we have often said, if you can sell by owner, why wouldn’t you? We’ve sold property by owner over the years and enjoyed saving on the commission. Sure, you’ll save the commission and some sellers feel they know their home better than any agent ever could, so they’ll do a better job of showing the property. You seem to fall into this category and have ventured into the real estate world without working with real estate agents or real estate attorneys. Good for you. 

But many buyers and sellers run into problems when trying to buy or sell by owner. Buyers often pay too much for the property because they don’t have access to all of the information that’s available to buyers through their agents (who presumably have worked in the business for a long time and have a good sense of neighborhood valuation). 

You mentioned in your letter that you may have paid too much on your home purchase. One mistake some home buyers make is not knowing the real estate market well enough to make an informed decision on the value of a home. Frequently, real estate agents and real estate attorneys are there to help buyers and sellers avoid costly errors in the home buying and selling process. 

Sellers who sell by owner often misprice their home. They price it too high or too low because they don’t understand enough about how their home compares to others that are currently for sale or have recently sold. You can only learn so much from an online listing (or even a 3-D walk-through or video) of a property. 

While there are bad real estate agents and bad real estate attorneys out there, we have found that the majority of agents and attorneys work hard to serve their clients. There is no law that requires home buyers or home sellers to use agents or attorneys, but faced with making the single largest purchase that most people will make in their lives, most home buyers and sellers elect to use real estate agents. In those parts of the country where real estate attorneys represent buyers and sellers, most home buyers and sellers choose to work with attorneys.

We’re delighted it worked out for you. But as long as real estate agents and real estate attorneys can bring some value to the transactions, they’ll continue to be a part of most real estate transactions. 

More on Topics Related to Do You Need a Real Estate Agent to Buy or Sell a House?

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