For Sale by Owner (FSBO): Pros + Cons
Are you prepared to sell your house by yourself? Set your expectations right. Learn what it will take to be successful, and know when the process might not be right for you.
Whether you’re buying or selling a home, the most common approach is to rely on a real estate agent to manage the listing, marketing and transaction details of your sale. A good agent is informative, honest and will do the bulk of the work while advocating for your best interests. That agent's recommendations will result in a fair sale price and a quick sale. Still, so many homeowners decide to try selling their home without a real estate agent on the assumption that they'll be able to pocket more money without paying commissions. But there are a lot of things to consider if you’re going to go the FSBO route. One of the biggest considerations is the current market and how competitive it may be for buyers. Just because it’s a buyer’s market, doesn’t always mean you’re going to have an easy time selling your home by yourself.
Individual strengths and weaknesses play a part in any big decision, so channel your inner self when you’re deciding whether or not to try FSBO and know when the job is better suited for a real estate professional.
Here are some things to consider if you want to try FSBO:
Will You Have Access to Competitive Research?
A real estate agent has access to neighborhood comps and can thoroughly gauge the best price for your home based on specific criteria. The comparative assessment they provide is usually included with their fees.
If you approach your sale without representation, you can still access a lot of public data including your own property tax data to make an informed decision, but your guesses may still be off (or motivated by emotion). If you're going to try FSBO, seriously consider hiring an independent appraiser to estimate your home and property value.
While formal appraisals help set a baseline, an advantage to FSBO is that you can leverage your knowledge of personal insights, too. Make a list of the attributes of your home and neighborhood that might not have a calculatable value, but emotional and social value. Added insights, such as the name of the contractor who gut-renovated the downstairs bathroom, or firsthand insight into the school district are very real reasons why some buyers like to meet the seller and gravitate to FSBO listings.
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Will You Have a Network of Real Estate Professionals?
Working with a good agent really means that you also have access to their wide network of trusted partners, which can include lenders, appraisers, attorneys and photographers. Furthermore, sellers agents know other buyer agents and use their networks to market new listings and MLS information which helps leverage attendance at early showings and open houses.
Without a network of professionals, you might have to shop around for partners you can trust. A real estate attorney is the most important partner for someone looking to take an FSBO approach. Michelle Corsi, a licensed real estate salesperson and team leader on the Steve Wrobbel Team at Howard Hanna warns, “to those that say ‘my attorney will handle it,’ most attorneys charge significantly more to an FSBO seller because they have much more work to do. Plus, I don’t know many attorneys readily available on a Friday evening or Sunday afternoon when there is an urgent question.” Experienced real estate agents can handle many of those questions as they arise and if they regularly work closely with an attorney on closings, they can more easily connect with them to get the answers you need.
Even if you think you already have an FSBO buyer, Corsi still encourages you to weigh the options of selling with a professional. “When consulting with my own clients candidly about the opportunities for selling FSBO, many claimed to ‘have a buyer’ that wanted to purchase their home and were prepared to sell it off-market. However, when we did go to market and leveraged my knowledge and experience in pricing and marketing the home, they netted significantly more even after paying commissions.”
Will You Have the Stamina to Market Your Home?
As we pointed out, many FSBO efforts start because a seller thinks they have a buyer in mind. Going the FBSO route when you have a buyer who is "a sure thing" is a logical reason to consider navigating the process without the help of a real estate agent. It can render higher profits, quick closing time, and prevent the hassle of having to list and show your home. If you're selling to someone you know personally, it can also take some of the doubt out of the equation, too; knowing that you're selling it to someone trustworthy and honest versus someone looking to flip means a lot to some sellers. But if things don’t materialize with your "sure thing," it’s time to get serious with marketing efforts. It starts with really great photos, which, with the right lighting and equipment, you might be able to pull off yourself. If not, photographers come with a price tag. The same can be said for home staging. If you have a lot of clutter, or if you're looking to fill an empty home to reflect that a family may still live there, consider consulting with a home staging professional who can make your home look warm and inviting.
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Promoting the sale of your home can start small with free promotion on social media or with postings on free listing sites like Craigslist. To get better visibility, you may need to invest your own dollars to promote or advertise.
When you list with a real estate agent, your MLS listing receives visibility by a larger network, and the agent works hard to promote the listing to fellow agents and across their respected platforms. We pointed out the importance of the network; a well-connected real estate agent can often create a larger open house attendance, more individual showings thus resulting in a quicker sale. The longer the house is on the market, the harder it becomes to sell at your asking price, so speed and connectivity can often pay off.
When it comes time to show your house as an FSBO seller, you’ll need to be flexible, coordinated and a good salesperson. Another advantage to FSBO is scheduling showings. For a seller who needs to show the home on their schedule, it's much easier to manage your own timeline rather than be ready to up and leave your home for hours at a time when a real estate agent wants to give a tour. Also, buyers aren’t likely to put as much pressure on you as if you were a real estate agent, which is another benefit of being in the FSBO position.
Whether you're working with a realtor or selling yourself, remember that first impressions are everything, so it's important to have a clean home and to be able to promote its attributes. With FSBO, having the stamina to show the home as well as keep it in tiptop shape is essential because you might have to coordinate your schedule for showings 5, 10, 20 or more times before you get a serious lead. This process gets exhausting for many sellers.
Are You Leaving Money on the Table?
Like many compromises, you might always question if you’re making the right decision when it comes time to accept an offer. Knowing how to close the deal isn’t instinctive to everyone who wants to sell FSBO, and might be a reason sellers want to lean on a professional.
Many offers come in low, and to some degree, you need to trust your intuition and knowledge about the property and comps when you need to counteroffer. As an FSBO seller, trust your gut on whether you need to defend a counteroffer with specific insight regarding your location. Read your buyer, and gamble on why they're considering buying your home versus any other home in the neighborhood. Lean into the benefits of the location, the quality of the neighbors, the firsthand experience with the school district, and use those reasons to defend your stance. Welcome questions and provide honest feedback. Buyers do value an honest sale made easy, so it can be advantageous to be an FSBO seller. However, if your input is inadequate, it’s possible that you might not defend the value of your property to its full value. On the other hand, if your counteroffer is too high, you might appear greedy and could drive away your potential buyer.
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Furthermore, in a competitive market, the average sale-to-price ratio can be very high with bids and accepted offers exceeding the sale price. In those scenarios, Corsi points out that "a seller can often net a higher overall sale even after factoring in commissions."
If you suspect that you’ll let emotion come to the table, or won’t have the intel you need to make informed decisions about an offer, it is best if you leave your home sale to a professional.
If you've tried again and again to sell your home FSBO, your frustrations alone might cause you to give up, but try not to look at it that way. When a home is listed for several months, it's likely that your marketing efforts have reached as many people as they can in the current marketplace. Your listing will get the reputation as being 'old' and buyers may second-guess why your home has been on the market for a long time. They might jump to the conclusion that it's priced too high or has something critically wrong with it, so they won't give it the time it deserves. Knowing when to pause on your FSBO dreams and connect with a real estate agent for a fresh perspective is important. The renewed listing with a new price and marketing position can be just what you need to get the home sold.