Here’s How Much Selling Your Own Home Can Cost You

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  • Homes sold by owners receive, on average, 11% less than homes sold by agents.
  • If you're going to go it alone, you'll have a lot of homework to do first.

Going it alone is not always the best move.

Pre-internet, my husband and I sold our first two homes without the assistance of a real estate agent. We were young, in college, and sure we could save money by bypassing Realtor® fees. I have no idea how much money we left on the table by going it alone, but it's fair to say we did not know what we were doing.

Fast forward to yesterday when we signed an exclusive listing contract with a real estate agent. What we've learned through the years can best be summed up by the Spanish adage, "Lo barato sale caro," or "The cheap comes out expensive."

Often, to save money, we take shortcuts that end up costing us. And according to data collected over the years, selling a home by owner is one way to lose out.

Average loss

On average, homeowners who sell their property get 11% less than they would if they had an agent representing them. There are several reasons for this, including the far reach an agent has in advertising your home, as well as their expertise in staging, drumming up interest, negotiating the sales price, and filing all necessary paperwork to make the transaction legal.

Let's look at what that 11% difference could mean to you. Say you sell your home, and the buyer pays $300,000. If an agent sold your house for 11% more, the house would have sold for $333,000. Even after paying sales commissions of 6%, you'd end up with an extra $13,020 to put down for the mortgage on another house or invest in your future.

The challenges of going it alone

Is it possible to sell your own home? Absolutely. However, it's not without its challenges. Let's take a look at a few of them.

It's a full-time job

If you're serious about selling, the house needs to be ready to show 24 hours a day, and you have to be around to lead total strangers through the property. I'm not writing this to scare you, but to say that, in my experience, it's creepy to allow anyone who calls into your house. I look back and wonder what we were thinking.

Selling faster isn't always better

In a red-hot market, most homes sell quickly. But during a "normal" housing market, for sale by owner (FSBO) houses sell a week faster than agent-sold homes. And when they do sell quickly, it's typically to a buyer already known by the seller. Here's the rub: If you sell your home fast but for 11% less than an agent would have sold it, does that extra week really matter? Plus, if you're selling to your brother, cousin, or best friend from college, are you willing to bruise the relationship by avidly negotiating the price?

It's stressful

Both my husband and I are obsessively tidy, and still, keeping the house in pristine condition while holding down jobs and trying to market the property was intense. Say one of our boys had a 6 p.m. soccer game, precisely when a caller wanted to tour the house. One of us would have to stay behind to show it. Actually, because my husband coached our kids’ teams, I stayed behind. I've already mentioned how creepy the experience could be, but it was also stressful. I compare it to learning how to balance dinner plates on a pole. It could be done, but felt more challenging than it should have.

The legalities are a bear

Back when we sold our own homes, we didn't have the internet around to consult regarding the legalities involved. Instead, I spent time in a library, pouring over real estate books. As delightful as that was, I always had a nagging sense I was missing something, an important detail that could make a difference. I was also afraid we'd be sued if the new owners found something they didn't like after we left. One of my favorite things about having an experienced agent representing us today is that she's the one to look after those details.

Even if you have a buyer lined up, it's hard work to sell your own home. The knowledge that there's no agent there offering advice and safeguarding you against liability adds to the stress of the situation.

While I understand the motivation for selling your own home, you may want to check with an agent before going it alone. If for no other reason than to make sure you're not leaving money on the table.

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