How to List a Home For Sale By Owner and What to Know

Open house sign for sale by owner

What is FSBO?

Deciding whether you want sell your home with or without a real estate agent is one of the preliminary decisions homeowners have to make when selling their home. When you go the route of selling your home on your own this is called “for sale by owner” or “FSBO” for short. FSBO (pronounced “fizz-bo”) homes aren’t sold the same way as with a real estate agent so like most things there are pros and cons. This also goes for home buyers but we’ll save that for another time. FSBO is also a more arduous process for home sellers than working with a real estate agent so take the time to really reflect if it makes sense for you.

If it does make sense, here is what to know and how to list a home for sale by owner! No real estate agent supervision required.

Does FSBO make sense for you?

Selling your home yourself could cost you even in a hot market. It takes more than placing a sign on your yard or firing some emails to potential buyers. Ask yourself these questions before deciding to moonlight as your own real estate agent.

What is your home worth now?

Is your housing market hot to trot or not? No one wants to receive less than what they paid for and the market dictates how much you could potentially make off your home. This is why researching your local housing market and finding comparable homes for sale is crucial. You don’t want to give your competitors leverage by overpricing your home. An appraisal from a licensed appraiser could be beneficial. In addition to the home appraisal, check out these other three sources to help determine your home’s value.

  • Automated Valuation Model

  • Comparative Market Analysis

  • Broker Price Opinion

Are you willing to work with a buyer’s agent?

Most home buyers do hire an agent so you might have to work with a third party regardless. And a buyer’s agent will expect a commission from the seller usually. This is how a traditional real estate transaction works. They typically charge 3 percent of the sales price if they line up a buyer but you can refuse to pay the commission. However, refusing to pay the commission will automatically cut the amount of potential buyers. Making your job that much harder.

Can you market your home for sale?

You are going to have to become your own marketing department to sell your home. This is no small feat. It could require substantial time and effort to attract buyers. Below are some typical FSBO duties.

  • Taking hi res pictures and writing appealing descriptions of your home’s best features

  • Placing “for sale” signage with contact information in appropriate high traffic areas

  • Listing your property online through various websites (Homefinder.com, Zillow, Realtor.com, etc.)

  • Creating flyers with those hi res images and description copy

Can you handle showing your home to strangers?

Having thick skin is a must. Home buyers are going to be unapologetically critical of your home in hopes of negotiating a better price. This is why you need to make your home presentable before they step through the front door. Remember that all their input, good and bad, is valuable to your bottom line so pay attention. You’ll also have to work around their schedules to show your home if you want to increase your chances to close.

Can you screen and supervise potential home buyers?

Real estate agent usually screen home buyers and supervise them during home showings. They do this to make sure the seller’s time isn’t wasted and that no one walks out with their belongings. These responsibilities will be yours if you decide to go the FSBO route.

Make sure you’re dealing with serious home buyers by requiring them to provide a mortgage pre-approval letter or at least a pre-qualification letter. Remember that neither letters will guarantee that the buyer’s lender will finance their loan, but it will indicate that they have the potential backing of a mortgage lender and make their offer stand out.

You can deter visitors from stealing by checking their identification for their name and address before showing your home. This can be accomplished either by requiring them to send over a copy of their identification or simply reviewing their identification at your door prior to showing your home. Speaking of showing your home. Don’t forget prep your home for buyers with a thorough cleaning, great lighting, and comfortable ambience.

Benefits of For Sale by Owner (FSBO)

Save thousands in commission

The primary reason home sellers consider doing it themselves is simply due to the money they can save by avoiding agent commissions. In traditional real estate transactions, 6 percent of the purchase price goes to the buyers agent and sellers agent. If your home sells for $400,000 and each agent gets their 3 percent, that will cost you $24,000 in commissions. The prospect of pocketing 6% of the purchase can be very appealing.

Complete control over the selling process

Be the captain of your own ship. You can decide anything that ranges from whether to even bother with an open house to how you want to negotiate with home buyers.  

Flexibility and variety of FSBO resources

What if you want the best of both worlds? You can still FSBO your home and outsource some of those FSBO responsibilities to third parties.

Risks of For Sale by Owner (FSBO)

Less marketing resources

Established real estate agents have a slew of resources and network connections that most FSBO sellers simply don’t have. These lack of resources will basically guarantee that your home will receive less visibility than it would if you worked with a real estate agent. FSBO sellers also don’t have access to their local MLS so pay to list your home in the MLS at the very least to increase your chances of securing a sale.

Lack of housing market knowledge

Having a tangible understanding of a specific housing market is a must for any real estate agent worth their salt. Since you won’t be working with one, gaining that market insight is paramount. Knowing the market and choosing the right price can be a real challenge. The wrong price will scare home buyers away.

Legal liability for transaction

FSBO sellers also have to concern themselves with preparing all of the legal forms and disclosures as well as the guidelines and requirements of the entire selling process. Therefore, you take the risk of financial and legal liability when you represent yourself in a real estate transaction.

What’s your time worth?

Time is money and your time could be worth more to you than you know. Selling a home can be a full-time job even it’s just your home. Especially if you currently have a 9 to 5 already so be mindful if you’re biting off more than you can chew.

How to solo selling your home

Prepare your home for sale

Some cherish their home as if it were their child, “quirks and all”. While homeowners learn to deal with these quirks, home buyers will probably not and quickly notice that painfully awkward paint job or unfinished basement. They will notice things you might have missed although you’ve been living there for years. Bottomline, you should do a meticulous walkthrough of your home to find these quirks and address them as best you can to help stage your home for buyers. Take care of any health and safety issues related to your home to start with. Recruit family and friends to get a fresh pair eyes if you have to!

Market your home successfully

Got to spend money to make money. Budget for advertising dollars when preparing to sell your home and focus particularly on online advertising. After all, “among nearly all generations of home buyers, the first step taken was to look online for properties, except for buyers 71 years and older who contacted a real estate agent first”, according to a 2017 National Association of Realtors report.

Open house or no open house

Many FSBO sellers are on the fence when it comes to whether or not to hold an open house. It honestly depends. If your home is on the MLS and you provide pictures and even a virtual tour then you probably don’t need an open house to attract home buyers further. If you decide that an open house is worth the effort then be prepared do check IDs, monitor walkthroughs, and answer questions from potential buyers or agents.

Evaluate offers and counter them

What’s important to you? Are you willing to take a smaller all-cash offer with a fast closing date over a higher sales price that comes with contingencies that will slow down the selling process? This is when your housing market knowledge comes to play so use it to leverage negotiations in your favor.

Whether you have one offer or multiple offers, learn in advance how to write an effective counter offer. In addition, always counter offer if you can because you could be leaving thousands on the table otherwise.

Can your buyer afford your home?

Make sure any serious buyer is pre-qualified by a mortgage lender. Also, require an earnest money deposit that the buyer will forfeit if he or she doesn’t adhere to your contract and close as agreed. Don’t forget that buyer contingencies give them the opportunity to be freed from contractual obligations so keep a close eye on those. If a buyer makes a contingent offer, make sure you can accept a better one or require the buyer to remove the contingency to close. This is called "right of first refusal" and is a key negotiations tactic.

Home inspection perception and repairs

Similar to the open house issue, FSBO sellers also need to weigh whether or not to get a home inspection before putting their home home on the market. You can get ahead of potential problems with a home inspection prior to listing the property for sale. However, practically all states require that you disclose any problems with your home. More than likely, any issues found will have to be either fixed or disclosed as a result so educate yourself on the required FSBO paperwork and disclosures. On the bright side, providing a copy of your home inspection could reassure buyers and contribute to the closing on your home.

Your contract should set a limit on the amount of repairs you’re required to complete prior to close. Most buyers pay for their own home inspection so there could be repair costs found through their inspection that exceeds the contractual limit. If this is the case, you might have to either lower your sales price or find another buyer.

All the hard work aside, there is definitely a strong case for sale by owner. Literally, thousands of dollars could be saved and used towards an even better home. Just make sure to tread carefully because you could end up falling short of the amount to you were expecting to save if corners are cut.