For sale by owner

Barring the unforeseen we’ll close the sale of our house on August 27. When we sold our first house 14 years ago we used a realtor. This time around we used the web. Here were the three pillars of our online marketing strategy:

A website. I made it with WordPress and packed it with lots of information. In addition to photos, I included floor plans (made by an architect who considered buying the house for himself), an article about our European wood boiler, a page about the historic flag that belongs to our house, and a page about the neighborhood.

Zillow. It’s a great marketing tool, but also a great research tool. I was able to compare our listing to other listings, then tweak ours to differentiate it in the best possible ways. And when I wondered, for example, how significant a factor our barn might be, I was able to search Zillow to find out. Of 150 homes for sale in Keene, only 5 included the word “barn” in their descriptions.

Facebook. We’re moving from a big house to an apartment, so a lot of stuff has to go. Luann organized a series of in-home sales for which she staged the living room, the dining room, and an upstairs bedroom. She artfully arranged and decorated these rooms and put a price tag on everything in them. Facebook was the bast way to advertise these sales. And of course everyone who came got a tour of the house.

The in-house sales began in the spring. On June 25 we listed on Zillow. On July 26 we got an offer that we wound up accepting. There are too many variables in this equation to draw sweeping conclusions. And too few data points: we’ve only owned two homes. But for me the biggest difference between a realtor sale and an owner sale is that realtors don’t want you around for showings. This now seems crazy to me. We love our home, we’re proud to show it, you can’t outsource that love and pride.

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8 thoughts on “For sale by owner

  1. > But for me the biggest difference between a realtor sale and an owner sale is that realtors don’t want you around for showings. This now seems crazy to me. We love our home, we’re proud to show it, you can’t outsource that love and pride.

    I agree with the sentiment, but having recently bought a house I have to say its uncomfortable interacting with the current owners during the viewing. For the realtor ones where the owners were home, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it didn’t add any value. The one FSBO we went to was really weird.

    The owners really loved this house, gutted it and made it their own. It was out of my price range for sure. The tour was very orderly. There was little wandering. Even in a non-staged realtor sold house I could wander without the agent yapping away about this and that. The guy seemed insulted when I said I’d have to rip out the basement carpet because my wife is super sensitive to dust. It got to the point where I felt uncomfortable commenting on the house.

    If you want me to fall in love with your house, and make an offer, I have to be able to go in guns a blazing looking for faults. I have to be able to wander around without being too supervised (and you’ll never let a stranger do that in your own house the way a realtor would).

    So my one data point to counter your data points is don’t be home to show your house.

    1. It sounds like you’re qualified to more or less do your own inspection, in which case, yeah, you’d want to be able to take your time and look around on your own. For somebody who’d be hiring an inspector, and who wanted the inspection done before making an offer, an owner showing might just be a way to learn enough about the house to decide whether to invest in that inspection. I’m not sure it’s always a good idea, but I don’t think it’s always a bad one either. There are a lot of variables in play. In our case, though, it felt like a net positive.

      1. I’m not as good as a good home inspector. I don’t know everything there is to know, but yes I do flush toilets, look at plumbing, etc. I’m not comfortable doing my own air mold tests, and I don’t own the equipment to do an oil tank sweep.

        I find it curious that you get the inspection before you make an offer in your state. In NJ we get the inspection after the offer is accepted. When problems are found, the seller can fix them or offer credits, or the buyer can walk away. I think the realtors like it that way because the credits are a side transaction, and don’t subtract from their commission. I could see in a FSBO setup how that makes less sense.

        I generally don’t think realtors add much to the transaction, especially in a slow turnaround situation like yours where it takes a month from a showing to accept an offer. I do think having a disspassionate guide to the house make it easier for me to picture myself living there.

      2. There’s no rule about when inspection happens, and in fact ours happened after acceptance of the offer.

  2. The next time I buy a house, I want to talk to the owner. Not so much to talk about the house: my own and paid for inspections will cover most of that. I want to ask about the neighborhood, and the neighbors! At minimum, visit the property at various times of day, and at least once on the weekend.

  3. You wrote: “But for me the biggest difference between a realtor sale and an owner sale is that realtors don’t want you around for showings.”

    That’s interesting, and I’d be curious to know why do you think that is?

    Is it because owners are too honest? Or they don’t know how to pitch the house to the visitor’s personal needs?

    Or is it that it’s potentially uncomfortable knowing you’re evicting someone from a place they love?


  4. When we sold our house, the realtor showed the house. Twice I was out front repainting the white picket fence. We talked and a neighbor came by and talked too. Those were the two who made offers. I wasn’t hovering during the house tour, but was available for questions. And as someone else remarked, most of the questions were about the neighborhood.

  5. Hi Jon,
    Nice article, and congrats on the sale! I work with For Sale by Owner sellers very often through my website… I just wanted to point out that while Zillow is definitely a very useful tool, 1.) Sellers should be careful of the Zestimate when pricing as it’s not always accurate, and 2.) There are hundreds of similar websites that buyers can choose to search on, so it is possible that many buyers would miss your listing.

    A more comprehensive strategy would be to list on the Multiple Listing Service for a flat fee (I charge $199), which would then syndicate your listing to hundreds of similar websites. Depending on whether you would be willing to offer a commission to a buyer’s agent (representing about 80% of buyers), you could reach them directly as well, with their buyer’s search criteria saved in the database.

    There is a map on the video on my homepage (linked here) which illustrates this point more visually. I honestly think we’ll be seeing a significant change in the real estate industry in this direction. Hope this helps!

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