When you need to sell your house, you'll find it most common for homeowners to go through the traditional route of hiring a real estate agent to help out with everything from the initial market analysis and valuation to the closing process. However, if you don't mind doing most of the work on your own and learning the steps of the process, you can sell your home yourself and seek professional advice as needed.
While this alternative route can help you get more money from the sale, it does come with risks and requires some expertise. Here's a look at what you need to know about selling your own house.
Understanding the Home Sale Process
Whether you use a real estate agent or put your home up "For Sale By Owner" (FSBO), you can expect to go through a similar series of steps to sell your home. The steps start with preparing for the sale process and end with closing.
Here's an overview of what happens during each of these stages:
- Preparing: During the preparation stage, your house has not yet hit the market for potential buyers to see and make offers. Instead, this is the stage where you prepare your property for the listing process. You might give it a thorough cleaning, declutter to get rid of unnecessary items, add a fresh coat of paint and fix problems that could lower the value. You might also stage the home and work on curb appeal to make an appealing first impression on prospective buyers.
- Listing and showing: The work you have to put into this stage depends on whether you have a real estate agent to help or proceed with the FSBO option. The listing step requires doing market research to determine what home values look like in the area and then coming up with a suitable price given the home's overall features and condition. A pre-listing inspection can also happen to make note of any issues that the property might have that should be disclosed to potential buyers. A listing and images of the home are created and posted to appropriate channels like real estate websites. Potential buyers can also check out the home through open houses and personal tours.
- Taking offers and negotiating: During this stage, offers start coming in from potential buyers, and the seller needs to consider them for acceptance, counteroffer or rejection. This stage is heavy with paperwork, such as home purchase contracts and disclosure statements, so this is where the seller needs to pay close attention to the seriousness of buyers to avoid an offer that later falls through. The length of this stage depends on how many times offers go back and forth or fall through. Once the seller accepts an offer, the buyer needs to get appraisals and inspections as well as handle the financing process.
- Closing: When the real estate transaction enters the closing process, the buyer should have all their financial steps handled, and the final paperwork should be ready for signing by parties such as attorneys, any real estate agents and the lender. This culminates in the seller getting the money for the property sale, and arrangements are made for the buyer to get the keys and move into the property.
Real Estate Agent vs. FSBO
When a home sale happens with a listing agent, the seller can save a lot of time and work and get professional expertise during the process from preparation to closing. For example, the real estate agent helps the seller decide when and if to sell their home, helps determine how to best present and price the home, creates and places the listing and helps potential buyers explore the property. The agent also comes in handy during the offer and negotiation steps, serving as a mediator and helping with all the paperwork required to perform a home sale. This option usually involves around a 6 percent commission.
Without a real estate agent, the seller becomes responsible for all these steps, but they can always choose to seek professional advice – and often need to do so – if they're willing to pay a fee. Putting up an FSBO property requires the seller to wear many hats. These may range from acting as a researcher in pricing the home to acting as a legal advisor when dealing with home purchase contracts and state laws regarding home sales. Even though the seller might not seek an agent, a buyer often does, which means the seller needs to coordinate with the buyer's agent and give them around a 3 percent commission.
FSBO Pros and Cons
Selling your home yourself can offer benefits in terms of less commission, full control over the process and the opportunity to take advantage of your knowledge of the home and any skills you have. By selling the house yourself, you can often cut the commission you pay by half if the buyer uses an agent. You could avoid commission entirely if the buyer also foregoes an agent. Since you do the listing, you can market your home and price it on your own terms and leverage your knowledge of the property. You also have access to plenty of resources during the process and several places to advertise your home.
However, you need to be prepared to take on the work of the real estate agent and seek professionals such as real estate attorneys when needed. Dealing directly with buyers can become time-consuming to FSBO sellers, and you take on the role of determining what makes a good offer. You can run into limitations if you struggle with sales and marketing skills or aren't comfortable with negotiating. Dealing with all of the paperwork can require seeking professional help. There's also the risk you might price your home lower than its true market value.
Read More: Advantages of Acting as One's Own Real Estate Agent
Getting Your Home Ready
If you decide to sell your home yourself, you start with the general preparation steps to get your house ready for the pictures for the listing and ultimately an open house or private buyer tours. You might clean the home, touch up old paint, gather up items to donate or throw away or move extra items to a storage unit temporarily. Depersonalizing the home can help potential buyers more easily imagine themselves living there, so this can help add appeal. Finally, you can stage each room with limited items to make the place look inviting to visitors.
Determining the Home List Price
To determine the asking price for your home, you can take advantage of real estate data available online to get an initial estimate of the value and see how much similar homes have sold for. For example, you can use a website like Zillow to search for your home's address and see an estimated value that the site generates from public records data.
You can then search records of recent home sales in your area and look for homes with similar characteristics, age and condition to narrow down a price range. You can also consider houses that yours will compete with on the market so that you can avoid overpricing and underpricing.
The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance recommends doing a comparison with at least three similar homes to determine your sales price. It suggests looking for homes with a similar number of square footage, size, location, style and age and adjusting the sales price for homes in more or less desirable locations.
Preparing the Home Listing
With your home prepared and an asking price in mind, you can create a listing so that potential buyers can discover your property. Along with the asking price and address, your listing should contain clear images of the home's exterior and interior and a description of the property and location that will make buyers interested in learning more. You'll also include several basic data points about the home's features such as the number and sizes of rooms, included appliances and amenities, the square footage, lot size and any required homeowner's association dues.
You can make a listing on websites like Craigslist or Zillow on your own, or you can seek a service that allows you to put your FSBO listing on the multiple listing service (MLS). Going with the MLS option can cost more, but it can more easily spread awareness of your property since your listing automatically appears on sites like Redfin and Realtor.com. You can also put up a "for sale" sign in your yard, hand out flyers and advertise your home on social media sites.
Read More: How to List Real Estate for Sale by Owner
Showing to Potential Buyers
With your home listed, people who are interested in learning more about your home should begin contacting you. Potential buyers will want to come to see your place and ask questions about it. You can simply set up individual appointments with interested individuals. If they have a seller's agent, you might opt not to be present during a personal tour, but you might be present if the person doesn't use an agent or you don't wish to leave the property.
If you host an open house, you need to plan for the experience so that you have a way to keep track of visitors for follow up and know exactly the rooms or features about the home you want to point out. Although you'll be the host, you want to give visitors the freedom to look around at the house on their own, and then you can answer any questions they have. Alongside a traditional open house, you might host a virtual open house to reach more potential buyers.
Considering Offers From Buyers
When a buyer wants to make an offer, you need a real estate lawyer to help you with the paperwork involved, and several states require this by law. A buyer's agent usually helps the interested buyer fill out their state's version of a real estate purchase contract that you'll review and consider, but you still may want a lawyer's expertise to understand the numerous clauses in the document and get help in case something goes wrong. That way you have peace of mind that you didn't overlook anything important, and you have all the paperwork completed for a successful closing.
As you examine offers, consider both the offer price and the qualifications of the buyer. Look for buyers who have pre-approval letters or other documentation proving they have a means for paying for the home. Don't be afraid to counteroffer or decline if a particular buyer offers too little for the property. Weigh all offers carefully, since some buyers might offer a higher price but request extras like closing cost assistance or home upgrades.
Getting Through Closing
Once you accept an offer, a real estate attorney can continue to help as pre-closing steps like title checks and home inspections occur. Keep in touch with the buyer and/or their agent during each step, and keep your home prepared for inspections and appraisals. If something changes with these steps, you and the buyer may need to negotiate over things like repairs or a change to the sale price.
As the closing process continues, you need to gather documents, like your mortgage documents, the home's title, homeowner's insurance paperwork, property tax statements and any documentation related to upgrades on the home. You'll also need to hire an escrow agent who will handle the transfer of the money from the sale and who usually attends the closing meeting.
At the closing meeting, you may attend or have a real estate attorney do so. The buyer finishes completing paperwork, pays for things like a down payment and closing costs and ultimately accepts liability for their mortgage on your property. Once you get the funds through escrow, you can expect to pay off your mortgage and give a buyer's agent commission, if necessary. In the end, you need to be ready to vacate the property, and the buyer will have a move-in date.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents
- Freddie Mac: Selling Your Home
- Freddie Mac: Negotiating and Accepting the Offer
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: What Is a Mortgage "Closing?" What Happens at the Closing?
- Maximum Exposure Real Estate: House Sale By Owner: Selling a Home For Sale By Owner Pros and Cons
- HomeLight: Pros and Cons of For Sale By Owner: Weighing Your Options
- New York State: How to Estimate the Market Value of Your Home
- Zillow: How to Price Your Home to Sell
- HomeLight: How to Create Real Estate Listings That Make Buyers Drop Everything and Book a Tour
- RealtyNA: How to List a Home on the MLS?
- Freddie Mac: Preparing Your Home
- Keller Williams: The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Virtual Open House
- State of Ohio: Real Estate Purchase Contract
- Zillow: How to Sell Your House For Sale By Owner
- For Sale by Owner: How to Close on a House For Sale By Owner
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: § 1024.17 Escrow Accounts
Ashley Donohoe has written about business and technology topics since 2010. Having a Master of Business Administration degree, bookkeeping certification and experience running a small business and doing tax returns, she is knowledgeable about the tax issues individuals and businesses face. Other places featuring her business writing include Zacks, JobHero, LoveToKnow, Bizfluent, Chron and Study.com.