Should you sell your home yourself?
A recent ruling by the Competition Bureau has opened up the Multiple Listing Service to the public, making one of the prime venues for advertising homes for sale available to private sellers. But is it really a good idea to sell your home without the aid of a professional realtor? The answer is a definite maybe.
The advantages of selling with a real estate agent
Realtors typically earn a commission of 3 to 6% when they buy or sell a home, a hefty percentage of the transaction: on a $500,000 home, that’s as much as $30,000 off the top (plus HST, in some provinces). But what do they offer for their fee? A realtor is a specialist who knows the market, has access to resources that you don’t (such as up-to-date MLS listings and a wide pool of serious buyers), and can help guide you through the sometimes bruising experience of selling. They have an objectivity that many homeowners don’t, and can help you prepare and price the home properly. They’ll take care of the sometimes complicated legal aspects of the transaction, especially if problems arise with title or finances. And they can help negotiate the best deal for you, especially when working with other realtors.
‘For Sale by Owner’ homes
There’s another factor you should be aware of. Most realtors don’t take kindly to “FISBOs” (“For Sale By Owner” homes). Many buyer’s agents steer clear of them altogether, not just because they’re bad for business but for fear of any issues that may arise from dealing with “amateurs.” Other buyers (whether agents or private) may try to take advantage of the fact that you’re not paying out a commission, and be motivated to negotiate with you more aggressively. For this and other reasons, it takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to take on selling by yourself.
However, a number of services have appeared in the last few years that, for a flat fee, help with the basics. This can include advertising on their website or publications, advice on preparing and pricing your home, access to MLS advertising and legal professionals, and a lawn sign.
Even armed with these services, be prepared to do a fair amount of homework before you begin. Perusing the MLS website will help you arrive at a ballpark price, but that’s just the beginning. Research what homes in your area are selling for (and, just as important, how much recently sold homes went for), and visit open houses to see how your house compares. It might be worthwhile to hire a professional appraiser, though those who specialize in mortgage appraisals tend to err on the low side.
Putting your house on the market
As soon as your house goes on the market, it’s no longer your home; it’s a product. Examine every inch inside and out as a buyer would, and paint, repair or upgrade anything that isn’t in tiptop condition. Consider a professional home inspection to take care of any hidden problems in advance. Do at least some basic landscaping, to maximize curb appeal. Hiring a stager is pretty much a must nowadays; he or she will advise you if the flowery wallpaper in the hall has to go or whether your shabby sofa belongs in storage, and can supply accessories, artwork and even rented furniture to make your home look its best.
Showing your house
Once all that is in place, you need to be available to show your home whenever prospective buyers turn up. That can range from open houses every weekend, to evening appointments, to allowing in the occasional prospect who knocks on your door. For security reasons, be sure to screen all visitors by taking down their name, phone number and the number of their agent, if they have one. (Even for homes listed with an agent, this can be a dicey business; criminals sometimes visit open houses to “shop” your possessions.)
If you’re willing to do the work involved with selling by yourself, the financial rewards are substantial enough that it’s worth investigating this option, especially if you anticipate that your home will sell quickly and without difficulty. But if you have any doubts about your ability to handle what can sometimes be a complicated and even traumatic experience, you may be better off leaving the legwork to the pros.