If you sell your home yourself, without the assistance of a real estate agent, you can save a bundle on commissions. However, make sure you know what you're getting into first. Learn about what the process entails, whether it's a good idea for your situation, and where to get help if you do decide to go it alone. Above all, get to know the market well enough that you don't end up selling the home for less than it's worth.
No law requires you to hire a real estate agent when you sell a house. Some states, however, particularly in the eastern half of the country, require a real estate attorney to handle the transfer documents and closing. Check with your state department of real estate to find out whether an attorney is required in your state.
The closer you look, the more little tasks are revealed as crucial in preparing, marketing, and successfully selling your home. The most important tasks that a real estate agent will normally perform for you include:
Sound like a lot? Indeed, it can be a full-time, nights and weekends job in the days and weeks while your house is on the market. And, as any agent will tell you, it's not all glamorous. Some have been known to get out a mop and give a house a last scrubbing before the open house (but don't count on this!) or drag their own furniture over if it will make the house look better.
Selling a house without an agent is called a FSBO (pronounced "fizzbo") -- For Sale By Owner. As you might have already guessed, people who try it usually develop some appreciation for how agents earn their commission. If you want to go it alone, be sure you have the time, energy, and ability to handle all the details.
Before you dive in, you should also evaluate the market and your schedule. FSBOs are usually more feasible in sellers' markets where there's more competition for homes, or when you're not in a hurry to sell.
To sell your house by yourself, you must learn the legal rules that govern real estate transfers in your state, such as who must sign the papers, who can conduct the actual transaction, and what to do if and when encumbrances are discovered that slow down the transfer of ownership. Try searching for information online, talking to friends with expertise (unless you already happen to be a lawyer or similarly informed professional), or hiring a lawyer for a few hours' consultation.
You also must find out if there are any state-mandated disclosures as to the physical condition of your house. (For information on disclosures, see Required Disclosures When Selling Real Estate.)
List your home on the MLS. For maximum exposure, you can list your house on the MLS, which many real estate agents use to advertise available properties. There are several options for getting your house listed on the MLS:
To save on commissions without getting in over your head, you might consider doing most of the work yourself -- such as showing the house -- and using a real estate agent to help with such crucial tasks as:
Negotiate a lower commission. If so, you may be able to negotiate a reduction off of the typical 5% to 6% commission agents charge, or you may be able to find a real estate agent who charges by the hour for specified services, such as reviewing the sales contract.
If you decide you don't want to sell on your own or use a real estate agent for limited services, you can hire one to provide the traditional services, including listing your home for sale, showing it to prospective buyers, and negotiating on your behalf. Keep in mind that you don't have to decide this right away. If you have time, you can try selling on your own first, then choose an agent if that doesn't seem to be working.
For advice on hiring a real estate agent and all other aspects of selling your home, see Selling Your House: Nolo's Essential Guide, by Ilona Bray.