I recently came across a home that was for sale by owner. My client and I had been out looking at properties, and she later drove back through a neighborhood she particularly liked. She noticed a For Sale sign partially obscured on a home, which we had not noticed. I searched the internet for information about the home, but found nothing indicating it was for sale. I called the very nice owner, but when we finally connected my client had already flown back home and he did not want to cooperate with agents.
I know there are many agents out there who specifically seek out for sale by owner (or FSBO) properties, and many of them make it a priority to get those homes listed. But there are some big problems on both sides that need to be considered before hanging up a FSBO sign.
Issues Owners Must Consider
1. Exposure. As indicated in my example above, if you are going to sell your home it is extremely important to get exposure. The MLS is the number one place to showcase your listing, as thousands of property sites (where the buyers are looking) link to the MLS. Most active buyers have searches, oftentimes multiple searches, set up on agent sites and other house hunting sites like Zillow, Trulia and Redfin. If your home is not there, these buyers have NO idea it is for sale. In today’s market, where there is little inventory in most places, and where there ARE active buyers (and many multiple offer situations), it is simply silly not to have your home on the MLS.
If you still insist on trying to sell yourself, my best advice to you is to get your listing on the MLS. There are brokerages that will charge a small fee to do so, without doing any other work for you. It is well worth the expense.
2. Calls from LOTS of agents…who will want to know if you are willing too cooperate with them should they bring a buyer to your home. Most buyers DO work with agents, and if you are not willing to do so yourself you could be losing qualified buyers. An agent will not show your home if s/he will not get paid for making a sale and doing all the work involved in an escrow.
3. Unqualified buyer issues. If you do find buyers who are interested and not represented by an agent, you will be responsible for making sure they are qualified. This requires a lot of leg work, which most agents do before showing homes to their clients. You could take your home off the market for weeks assuming your buyers are qualified, only to find they are not. During that time you could have found other buyers, and then you will have to start all over.
4. Possibility of no showings, as many buyers are working with agents. This goes hand in hand with some of the above points.
5. Loads of paperwork and legal ramifications. If you are representing yourself in the sale of your home, you’d better be careful. You need to fill out a disclosure packet, and if you leave out crucial information it could come back to bite you down the road. An agent on your side is there to make sure you have filled out the disclosures correctly, and that all the paperwork is in order. Also important, if there ever is a legal problem down the road (and this is not a rare occurrence), it is nice to have the brokerage on your side to help you.
6. Other warnings. It is very important to note that if you are delinquent in your mortgage and are trying to do a FSBO, BEWARE. This is not something you should attempt on your own. You need to find a local agent who is experienced in delinquent properties so that you can discuss your options. If a short sale is an option I advise you to not even contemplate attempting one on your own. There are people who are experienced with short sales who can help you, providing a much stronger chance of approval.
Issues Buyers Must Consider When Purchasing a FSBO
1. No representation = Possible Legal issues. As discussed above, if you are a buyer purchasing a FSBO without an agent to represent you, you need to be very careful. If the owners do not fill out paperwork correctly and fail to disclose something, which later becomes an issue, you could be stuck with a legal dilemma. If you have an agent on your side to review all documentation and make sure you are legally protected, you will be in a much better position.
2. Escrow is a neutral party. It is important to know that the escrow officer can help you in some ways, telling you what paperwork you need. But keep in mind that escrow is a neutral party, and cannot give you any legal advice – they do not represent the interests of any single party to the sale.
3. Pricing. Make sure, if you are purchasing a FSBO property, that you have a copy of recent sold comparables in the area, and that you understand the prices and reasons for them. You obviously do not want to overpay for a home. This is not something you have to have an agent to do, but local area agents are usually very in touch with area sales and could explain to you why a particular home sold for more or less than the comps, and in doing so figure out the “right” price for a home you are thinking of purchasing. Most FSBO owners are savvy and know the neighborhood comps, but it is still important to study them yourself, especially if you are purchasing the property with a loan – lender scrutiny is rigid, and if the home doesn’t fit in with the recent comparables your loan will be denied (unless of course you renegotiate price with the seller at that point…something you need to be prepared to do well).
4. Must-Do’s in Buying FSBOs. If you are a buyer contemplating a FSBO purchase, it is imperative you do the following: get pre-approved with a lender first, get a good comparable market analysis – CMA (which you may be able to get from a local area agent even though they are not representing you), make sure you connect with escrow to understand what paperwork is needed, and have a home inspection.