Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For Sale by Owner: How to Sell Your Own House Part II

In last week's installment about How to Sell Your Own House, I talked about how to get your house ready to go on the market. This section is all about how to actually put it on the market.

If you sign with a realtor and agree to pay them 3% of your house's selling price, they offer a full range of services, including photographing, marketing, holding open houses, connecting with other agents, and listing your house on the MLS. If you opt to sell your house yourself, you have to undertake all these components on your own. Here are my recommendations:
  • Get a professional photographer: Although professional photography is expensive, good photos will bring in the buyers. Fortunately, we are friends with a professional photographer, so he agreed to snap some shots for us in exchange for a tutorial about how to do Montessori in the home. Even if you have to pay for it, it's worth it. It's one of those upfront expenses that pays off later. You'll need high-quality photos for your MLS listing (research shows: the more photos, the better), your flyer, and your website.
  • Make high-quality signs: We made our signs (a for sale sign, as well as an open house sign) using templates from Build a Sign. We believed that professional, sturdy, customized signs would represent our home better than a sign from the hardware store with a handwritten phone number.

  • Design high-quality flyers: We looked at other realtors' flyers (from our initial meetings) to get inspiration for our flyers. We printed them in color. We opted not to leave these next to our sign outside because they're so expensive per copy. Instead, we posted the link to a website on our sign (for folks who wanted more information) and left the flyers inside on the dining room table, so people could take one with them during a showing.

  • Set up a website: We used Blogger to set up a website (that didn't look like a blog). We included a letter about all the things we love about living in our house.
  • Write compelling copy for your MLS listing: I looked at the listings for other houses in our neighborhood for inspiration (these were the same houses that I had the flyers for and the same houses that I toured during open houses).
  • Get your house listed on the MLS through a company, like If you want to sell your home in the most efficient way possible and reach the widest audience, you need to get it listed on the MLS. However, only realtors have access to the MLS.We used a website company to list our house for us. I don't necessary recommend the company we used, but I did appreciate the option for signing up for Centralized Showing Services. They mailed me a lockbox, so I could put the key on the front door and they would dole out the combination to any realtors who were interested in showing the house. This meant we would get a call a couple hours in advance, and we could completely evacuate the house. The folks at Young House Love did not go this route (they showed the house themselves), but I think this piece was key for us. Realtors are already wary of dealing with For Sale by Owners; I think it's important to make the process as professional and normal as possible.
  • Build relationships with realtors: We did not do this, but I'm convinced we would have sold our house more quickly if we had. In retrospect, I wish that we would have held a special open house just for agents. We would have lured them in with free food and drinks. This practice is common in the real estate world. Realtors like to do a preview before they bring by clients. I'm not sure if this would actually work for an FSBO seller, but it's worth a shot. Additionally, I wish we would have sent flyers to all the local agents and written them a note emphasizing that we were welcoming buyers' agents and were willing to pay the standard 3%. Many agents are reluctant to deal with FSBO sellers because they can be very unprofessional. I think this kind of proactive relationship-building would do a lot to prove that you are, in fact, professional and will be easy to deal with. You want to convince the realtors to bring people to your house.
  • Hold open houses: Many people in the real estate world say that open houses are not actually effective for selling homes (they say they are more effective for realtors to meet new clients). However, I enjoyed dressing up in professional clothes, putting out our open house sign (with balloons), and holding open houses (we did six of them). Although you may not get much bang for your buck, it only takes one buyer to sell a house. Matt and I attended open houses in order to figure out how to run one. We garnered tips from paying attention to what the real estate agents did or did not do.
  • Keep your house spotless: I do not envy those of you who are trying to sell a home in this market. It is extremely stressful to keep your house in show-ready condition. We did it, however, for the sake of trying to sell our house. I have many memories of getting a call from Centralized Showing System letting me know that a realtor wanted to come by in an hour. It would throw Henry in the Ergo on my back and run around the house like a madwoman vacuuming, fluffing pillows, spraying cleaner on the countertops and in the sinks to make the house smell good, checking inside the shower and major closets, moving the dog bed to the car (we really tried to present a de-cluttered home), etc. The more showings you have, the greater chance you have to sell your house (except it means more cleaning!).
  • Know your bottom line: At the FSBO seminar I went to, I learned that you should have a bottom line in your mind--your lowest price. The idea is that if you receive an offer at or above your bottom line, you should accept it. Matt and I received an offer that was slightly above our bottom line (but significantly below our asking price). We negotiated a couple thousand dollars up. Then we had to concede a couple thousand down after the inspection came back. In the end, we were $1,000 above our bottom line.
The rest of the process will vary from state to state. Texas makes real estate transactions very easy. The buyer's agent submits a contract, you negotiate the price via e-mail, you revise the contract by crossing out numbers and initialing next to it, the buyers schedule an inspection, you negotiate again, the buyers schedule an appraisal, the title company contacts you about your next steps, and you show up at the closing to sign papers (and at any step of the way, you can ask the buyer's agent, the title company, or the person who listed your house on the MLS for help). Seriously, the rest of the process was that easy.

As I type this post, I count my lucky stars that we were able to sell our house ourselves in a down economy. And, honestly, there were times throughout the process when I didn't think I was going to be able to write this post. I thought we were going to have to sign with an agent.

This post reminds me how many steps were involved in this process. It did take a lot of work. But as I've mentioned before, the hardest parts were things we would have had to do with an agent anyway.

As with any big, scary endeavor, I think the key is taking it one step at a time. I kept a list of everything that had to get done, prioritized the list (in case not everything got done), and scheduled each task on a particular day, so I could just take it one step at a time.

I've tried to share as much as I can think of, but please ask me clarifying questions if there's anything you want to know!

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Abby said...

I can't really tell you how comforting these Sell Your Home posts have felt for me. Thank you for the straightforward and oh so helpful info. Your house website was beautiful, too.

Kelsey said...

One idea I thought of, you could use Google Voice service to get a free phone number that rings to your personal cell phone. That way you could have a voicemail just for house inquiries that would say, “Thanks for inquiring about our house. We’ll get back to you soon but in the mean time please check out our website at (website)”

All of your tips are so great, you guys were so professional!

Carissa L. said...

Your tips are very helpful. I read your post when you originally posted it -- but have now gone back to re-read it as I began my own FSBO process. I have one question if you are interested in sharing -- how much would you estimate you spent on all of the marketing? I'm wondering if estimating about $1,000 is a safe amount to use when deciding if we should go this route or use an agent. Thanks!

Jessica R said...

A few thoughts from a real estate agent :) These are GREAT tips! Keeping your house spotless, using a professional photographer, good signs, and a lockbox are all essentials. Very good advice. Don't waste your time with an open house. Any serious buyer has a realtor and is not spending gas or time driving around on Sundays! You will get tire-kickers who a) aren't serious and b) aren't preapproved. Also, don't bother mailing flyers. Agents are busy, won't read them, and will toss them. Putting it in MLS is the only way I know about your listing. Carissa, professional photography $75, flyers $25, signage $50 if that helps! Awesome post!!

Kim said...

Your post has been super helpful, we are going to try the FSBO route! We were wondering if the signs you ordered were aluminum or corrugated plastic? What do you recommend? Thanks so much for your advice!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Kim! We just got the corrugated plastic ones. They were fine. We did have a nice metal frame around them (also ordered from the same place).

Best of luck to you!

tamara s. said...

This is so helpful, Sara. We're still at least a year (more likely two years) away from selling our home, and we've been tossing around the idea of doing it FSBO. We've been intimidated by the idea, but your posts make it seem manageable, and with a real estate agent father-in-law, I'm sure we'll be fine. Thanks for the information and inspiration!

EmilyAnn said...

These posts are really helpful. I have a question for many showings were you doing per week? Thanks!

blogs said...

Thank you very much for this great post. sell my house quickly

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