So, you’re ready to list your house for sale and move on to the next chapter of your life.
There’s just one problem: You really, really don’t want to fork over 3% of the sales price — the customary seller’s agent commission — to the professional who helps with the sale. In fact, you’re pretty sure you don’t need professional help at all. You’ve got this.
That may well be the case. With all due respect to real estate professionals, selling a house is not rocket science. But it does take work, from setting a realistic price and preparing the home for sale to setting up showings, fielding and negotiating offers, and making sure everything is in order for a smooth close.
You can do this all yourself. If you’re successful, you’ll almost certainly save money doing it. But you will need to stay organized and keep your eyes on the prize: a successful and, hopefully, profitable sale.
How to Sell Your House Without a Real Estate Agent — Process and Costs
In roughly sequential order, here is what you’ll need to do to shepherd your FSBO home from pre-listing prep to closing day — and roughly how much you can expect it to cost.
1. Get Your Home Ready
Start to prepare your house for sale well before you list it. Begin with a thorough decluttering campaign. The goal is to make it easier for potential buyers to envision themselves in your home, rather than seeing signs of your personality everywhere. Remove anything that contributes to the home’s lived-in feel, such as family photographs. Hide these personal items away in locked closets, storage areas, the garage, or an off-site storage unit. Take the opportunity to sell or give away possessions you no longer need; use eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or an old-fashioned garage sale to offload them quickly.
Next, scrub the place till it shines. If you’ve been reticent to spend the money on professional home cleaning up to this point, you might want to make an exception here. (Use a labor marketplace like Handy to find reasonably priced help; Thumbtack estimates the cost to clean a 2,000-square-foot home at $150 to $250.) Prospective buyers can tell the difference between a well-meaning amateur cleaning and a professional deep clean.
Now, tap at least one objective source — at minimum, a friend who doesn’t mind offending you, but ideally, someone with real estate experience — to walk through the home with you and identify issues you might overlook. Common projects to tackle before listing include:
- Repainting Interior Walls. A neutral color scheme, like off-white or beige, is often best. Expect to pay between $2 and $6 per square foot to repaint, depending on your paint choice and whether you hire help or do it yourself, per HomeAdvisor.
- Rearranging Furniture. Your goal here is to fill larger interior spaces and accentuate smaller ones. If you’re using existing furniture that you can move yourself or with help from friends or family members, this won’t cost anything but your time. Hiring a professional decorator to stage your home costs about $1,500 on average but may be more expensive for higher-end homes, per HomeAdvisor.
- Replacing Outdated Appliances or Fixtures. You don’t need to invest in a full kitchen remodel, but upgrading your beat-up range to a nicer, newer model — that the eventual buyer will keep, of course — could help your home sell. The cost of new appliances varies widely by brand, size, and function, but you should expect to pay more than $400 each to replace a refrigerator and range and more than $300 to replace a dishwasher, according to HomeAdvisor.
Unless you live in a condo, you can’t neglect the home’s exterior, either. If the exterior clearly needs work, such as a new paint job or driveway, address those issues first. Otherwise, your primary goal should be to accentuate your existing landscaping and appurtenances to enhance curb appeal. If you have a traditional lawn, a sprinkling of grass seed or sod application won’t hurt; for flower beds or xeriscapes, fresh mulch and gravel, respectively, should do the trick.
2. Research the Market and Set Your Price
Now it’s time to run an objective analysis of your local housing market and set your home’s list price. The key word here is “objective.” FSBO sellers all too often let emotion interfere with what should be an entirely rational exercise. Your love for your home has no bearing on its market value.
Review recent sales of comparable homes in your area to get a sense of where you should price your home. Look for sale prices for homes with similar finished square footage, bedroom and bathroom count, and lot size. You can use the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s HPI calculator to refine your pricing, but don’t take its word as gospel.
Don’t bother with a professional appraisal at this stage. You’ll spend $300 to $500 to confirm what you’ve already determined, and the buyer’s bank will send out its own appraiser during underwriting, anyway.
With the results of your market research in hand, set a list price that reflects your objectives and time horizon. If you need to be out of the house as soon as possible, perhaps due to job relocation, price it to sell quickly. If you can afford to wait for the right buyer, set a higher list price. In hot sellers’ markets where homes routinely sell above asking price, a lower list price may trigger a bidding war that ends with your home selling for far more than it should.
3. Gather Information and Draft Your Listing
Next, gather the information you’ll need to create your listing, including:
- Home Data. This includes quantitative information such as year built, finished interior square footage, lot size, and bedroom and bathroom count, plus details such as heating and cooling configuration and parking arrangements. These days, many homes not presently active on the MLS nevertheless have existing “listings” on housing market sites such as Zillow and Trulia. If this is the case for yours, you can simply pull that data after checking for accuracy. But be sure to look at active MLS listings to confirm that you’re not missing anything important.
- Photos. Your home’s photos can make or break your listing. If you’d prefer not to shell out several hundred dollars for a professional photography package, do your best to replicate it. HGTV recommends incorporating plenty of natural light, emphasizing sweeping views over close-in shots, taking more photos than you intend to post, and using editing software to touch up the photos you do plan to post. You’ll want at least one shot of every room and hallway in the house, plus multiple exterior and outbuilding photos.
- Description. Your description should mix factual information not covered in the standard listing data with sales copy that grabs buyers’ attention. Sit down and brainstorm your home’s selling points with your objective friend; as you did in the preparation phase, your goal here is to see your home through prospective buyers’ eyes. Your home description isn’t poetry, nor should it drag on for more than a couple hundred words, so don’t bother hiring a professional to write it. But do make sure your words help buyers see themselves in the home. If you’re stuck, read comparable listings’ descriptions.
4. List Your Home on the MLS
You’re not required to list your home on the MLS, and many FSBO evangelists swear it’s not worth sellers’ time. But an MLS listing is the easiest and probably the most cost-effective way to gain serious exposure for your listing without using a professional broker — and, more importantly, to get your listing in front of buyers’ agents.
Listing on the MLS isn’t exceedingly expensive. MLS packages from reputable FSBO service providers such as MLS My Home typically start at about $100 for six months, not including the buyer’s agent commission if there is any.
5. Advertise Elsewhere
Your MLS listing — and a yard or sidewalk sign, which you can find for less than $20 online — shouldn’t be the end of your FSBO marketing campaign. Consider also advertising your home on some or all of these options:
- FSBO Sites. FSBO sites abound, but to control costs and keep logistics manageable, you’ll probably want to stick with a couple of the best-known ones. On FSBO.com, the FSBO.com-only listing package costs about $100 for six months; the MLS and Realtor.com package, which includes syndication on Zillow and Trulia, costs about $400 for six months.
- Real Estate Sites. If you choose not to spring for a pricier FSBO package, you can post your FSBO listing directly on consumer-facing real estate sites such as Zillow and Trulia. It’s free to post FSBO listings on both of these sites, which collectively reach millions of prospective buyers. For more, check out Real Estate Witch’s comprehensive guide to listing your FSBO on Zillow.
- Local Classified Websites. Craigslist and Nextdoor are both free, heavily trafficked classified websites popular with home sellers and buyers — although Nextdoor’s real estate listings aren’t available everywhere.
- A YouTube Channel. Post a professional-grade video tour of your house on YouTube. But don’t bother with a shaky, handheld camera phone walk-through; if you don’t want to spring for a professional videographer, ask a friend or colleague with video production and editing experience.
- A Dedicated Website. Although a dedicated website requires more effort than a turnkey FSBO listing or basic Craigslist ad, creating one may be worthwhile in buyers’ markets and for valuable or distinctive homes in general. Some sellers’ agents do this, and the domain for [youraddress].com is almost certainly available. If you’re not an experienced Web developer, use a plug-and-play hosting and site builder package; Wix’s base plan costs $11 per month, for instance. Remember, you’ll only need to host your site until the house sells.
6. Hold an Open House
Hold an open house soon after your home officially hits the market. To prepare for your big debut, visit a few open houses in the area, FSBO or otherwise, and take notes.
Then, create a glossy sales sheet and make a few dozen copies. Plenty of sellers simply print their MLS or Zillow listings, but consider going the extra mile and adding more peripheral details about the home, such as its backstory, as well as neighborhood amenities, especially those that appeal to your home’s likely buyers — for example, parks and schools for families and nightlife for younger singles.
Schedule your open house for a weekend late morning or early afternoon. The typical run time is two to three hours, but feel free to go longer if you want. Assuming your home is already cleaned, decluttered, and staged, your primary responsibility before the open house is spreading the word. Consider:
- Putting up an ad on Craigslist and Nextdoor, even if you don’t have listings on those sites
- Posting the details on your social media channels and asking your followers to spread the word
- Sending out a mass email to your contacts
- Posting flyers in community spaces around town
You need to be present and “on” for the duration of your open house. Dress professionally and devote your full attention to everyone who walks through the door, no matter how serious they seem about actually buying the place. Answer questions patiently and thoroughly.
Remember, the goal of your open house is to give the market a positive first impression of your home, and you’re competing against professional agents who do this for a living. Act accordingly.
7. Show Your Home
Once your open house is in the books, it’s open season for private showings. Buy a lockbox, which you can find for less than $15 at Amazon.com, to keep spare keys secure or install a numeric keypad lock on your front door; you can get a basic multi-code lock from Amazon.com for $50 or less.
When buyers’ agents contact you, verify their identities by checking their license numbers against state records. In California, for instance, you’d check with the California Department of Real Estate. You’ll then work out showing times with each agent; evenings and weekends tend to be more convenient for buyers.
Ideally, you’d be out of the house — or, at least, out of sight — during the showing because your presence may put off some prospects. Also, remember to keep your home spotless and clutter-free until it sells.
8. Be Prepared to Field and Negotiate Offers
When you go FSBO, you commit to acting as your own agent. That means fielding and negotiating offers with buyers’ agents who negotiate real estate deals for a living.
If that sounds daunting, brush up on these effective negotiation strategies. Above all else, keep two main truths in mind:
- You’re Not Obligated to Respond to Low or Unserious Offers. That a buyer’s agent takes the time to send you an offer has no bearing on the offer’s quality. Feel free to reject unrealistically low offers out of hand; more often than not, the same buyer will come back with something more in line. The same goes for highly leveraged offers (when the buyer’s down payment is far lower than the 20% standard) or seller-unfriendly offers (when, for instance, the buyer asks for a ton of seller-paid closing costs).
- Patience Pays. Motivated buyers are out there, even in down markets. Don’t be discouraged by what seems like anemic interest in your listing; you can always drop your offer price if it comes to that.
9. Retain a Title Company or Settlement Agent
Listing and marketing your home is straightforward enough to handle on your own, but you’ll need professional help to close the sale.
Specifically, you’ll need an escrow agent to help facilitate the process. Depending on your state’s laws and customs, your escrow agent may be a title company representative or a real estate attorney. Use the American Land Title Association directory to find registered title companies or refer to your state’s real estate regulator for assistance.
Your escrow agent will be your main point of contact for all closing paperwork and associated closing costs, which the buyer usually covers but which you may agree to split or assume to encourage the sale. In most cases, the buyer will be responsible for performing a title search on the home and underwriting its title insurance policy.
10. Complete the Requisite Legal Paperwork and Close the Sale
A patchwork of state and federal laws govern real estate transactions in the United States. No matter where your home is located, you’ll be bound by federal statutes such as the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits sellers from discriminating against members of certain protected classes.
Your state real estate regulator — for example, the California Department of Real Estate — is the controlling authority for state-specific legal issues. In most jurisdictions, buyers and sellers use a standard real estate sales contract; FindLaw has a detailed description of what that contract should include. Even if you use a free or cheap form from the Internet — like ForSaleByOwner.com’s Independent package — it doesn’t hurt to run it by a real estate attorney or, at the very least, your escrow agent.
Your escrow agent and real estate attorney, if you have one, must ensure that all closing paperwork is in order, because anything out of order could delay or jeopardize the sale. If you’re not comfortable managing everything, consider hiring a fee-only broker to wrap up the sale. Expect to pay $150 to $350 per hour for a qualified real estate attorney, per Thumbtack, or 1% of the sale price for a discount fee-only broker through a clearinghouse like Clever.
Need even more information on selling your home without using an agent? Read “Check, Check, Sold: A Checklist Guide To Selling Your Home For More Money Without An Agent,” a comprehensive road map to a successful (and profitable) FSBO experience.
The potential financial benefit of selling without an agent directly correlates with the selling price. Agent commissions are higher in more expensive housing markets — such as big coastal cities like San Francisco and New York or highly desirable vacation communities with limited housing supply — than in rural areas and smaller cities. But expensive housing markets tend to be more competitive for buyers and sellers alike. That increases agents’ utility on both sides of the transaction — and, for sellers, raises the chances that listing agents’ services pay for themselves.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re most likely thinking seriously about selling your home without an agent’s help. And if you decide to go through with it, you can use this guide as a road map. But do take the time to perform one last gut-check about what it’ll take — carefully weighing the pros and cons of selling your own home.