Real Estate 101 – Listing Agent vs FSBO

Rick Magliano

The number of property owners selling their land independent of a realtor has seen a sharp decrease in recent years. In fact, it has dropped six percentage points over the last decade, according to the latest numbers from Chicago-based National Association of Realtors. As of the beginning of 2007, a mere 12 percent of all real estate transactions were for sale by owner, or FSBO.

One factor influencing the statistics may be owner frustrations with a fluctuating housing market. Owners have other things working against them, too. They cannot register property in the MLS listings, one of the most popular search tools for property shoppers. It takes a real estate agent to get property included on that list. Realtors may also have more connections and more techniques, experience and training that could net higher offers.

Property owners, on the other hand, will know more about factors like the home’s specific strengths and weaknesses, the neighbors and the schools. They may, however, shy away from pricing their house high and may agree to come down too quickly. From mid-2005 to mid-2006, five percent of real estate transactions were closed by realtors who took over a FSBO that fizzled. Only one percent of transactions within the same time frame were sellers who started with realtor representation and later switched to FSBO, according to the NAR.

FSBO transactions – particularly when handled by first-time sellers – have been said to sit longer, sell for less, cause more headaches and increase confusion. So why would sellers even want to try? The average real estate commission is about six percent and many property owners see FSBOs as a way to pocket more cash. In reality, however, NAR statistics show that homes generally go an average of about 16 percent higher when sold by realtors.

For sellers absolutely determined to go it alone, there are a few key points to remember. There are some Internet web sites available now that are very professional in appearance and offer FSBOs an alternative to the elusive MLS listings. Plenty of high-quality photos are crucial with any marketing, and Internet marketing is undoubtedly one of the most effective methods. Many of these FSBO listing web sites will now offer extra perks, like yard sign rental and print advertising.

It is important to be patient, price your home fairly but also allow a little wiggle room for the inevitable price haggling and be extra cautious to avoid unqualified buyers. This can help prevent deals from falling through. To get a deal in the first place, however, sellers must market their property and don’t shy away from offering incentives like a decorating allowance or paying the fees of the buyer’s agent. Among the buying community, FSBOs are notoriously associated with great deals. Make sure you arm yourself with the tools to avoid becoming a casualty of that mindset.

FSBOs also have a reputation for misleading buyers on such things as the true condition of the house or the severity of the house’s problems. This is not always intentional. Many homeowners really don’t know the extent of the damage and do not intend to mislead. This is where a crackerjack home inspector can come in handy. Not only can a home inspection help justify the home’s price, but it can also set the buyer’s mind at ease and perhaps help close the deal faster.

Another good reference tool is a local competitive market analysis. This can help ensure that a FSBO is selling for what it is truly worth. The lender’s desk is the worst possible place to find out that a seller overcharged for a home, but it happens all too often.

Realtors are immensely more experienced and knowledgeable in all things real estate – from selling techniques to legal matters. However, at the very least, a seller would be wise to bring in a real estate lawyer to ensure the legality of the transaction. It is also a good idea to involve a bank, as opposed to the seller alone, in the process of handling escrow funds.

FSBO transactions can be smooth if the seller has related experience. FSBOs can save money if the seller avoids backing down on price too much. If, however, the seller finds themselves stalling with no end in sight, it is best to turn to a realtor as soon as possible. The longer a house sits unsold on the market, the worse position the seller will be in. It looks bad to potential buyers and they will wonder why the home hasn’t sold. In reality, it may simply be a matter of ineffective marketing on the seller’s part. Time is money, and a house sold on commission is better than a house not sold at all.

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