Years ago, I sold my home without a real estate agent. It went smoothly. I saved about $25,000. And my only expense was a $16 “For Sale By Owner” sign.
I’m not bragging. While I think I got top dollar, a real estate pro might argue that I left money on the table. And if an agent had used a multiple listing service to spread the word, perhaps I could have fielded more and better offers.
Yes, selling a home on your own takes time, energy and grit. My buyers were nice, reasonable people (a married couple in their 40s), but moments of stress arose as we finalized the price and haggled over contingencies in the contract.
If I were retired, it would’ve been easier for me to research recent home sales (to set my price) and navigate the process (to avoid hiccups). So that raises the question: Should resourceful retirees consider for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) or hire a real estate agent?
If you’re thinking of selling soon, your timing is excellent if you choose the do-it-yourself route.
“In a normal market, there might be 100 homes for sale [in your area],” said Ilyce Glink, chief executive of BestMoneyMoves, a financial wellness platform. “Now, it’s 30 homes for sale. So there’s a lot of demand and very little supply. That makes it a great market for a FSBO.”
Other variables kick in. Do you live in a desirable neighborhood where there’s high interest in buying residential property? Does your home have curb appeal? How quickly do you want to sell?
Then there’s the harrowing task of negotiating with buyers. I treated it like a character-building exercise—a test to stay calm and genial even when making concessions worth roughly $1,000.
“You need to have the right temperament to sell on your own,” Glink said. “Agents are well versed in the psychological game that buyers and sellers play with each other,” but you may find it unfamiliar and unwelcome.
Retirees with decades of history living in their home face a special challenge. They may struggle to maintain objectivity when strangers criticize their taste and reveal ambitious tear down plans.
“People are so emotional about their house,” Glink said. “Maybe you raised your kids or took care of elderly parents there. It can be hard to detach yourself.”
What’s more, you may need to spend money to update bathroom tile or repair cracked windows. It’s tempting to scoff at such investments, but buyers will notice problems that you overlook or shrug off.
Glink suggests hiring a professional home inspector to conduct a pre-listing inspection. Armed with a list of to-do items, you’re better prepared to identify what fixes may or may not be necessary to sell your property.
Real estate agents pride themselves on helping sellers arrive at the right asking price. It’s more art than science, and it’s tricky to compare outcomes: I will never know the sales price an agent would’ve secured for me, although I doubt it would’ve exceeded the money I saved on commission.
“Can you sell your home on your own? For sure,” said Jonathan de Araujo, a real estate agent at Vantage Point Team in Lexington, Mass. “But are you maximizing the price?”
He has found that many do-it-yourself sellers set their price too high. But he says that’s a mistake—and underpricing makes more sense because you can orchestrate a bidding war and wind up with a better deal (especially if you’re selling into a hot market).
Another factor is your motivation to sell. If you’re not in a rush, you have the luxury of pursuing a FSBO or listing with a discount broker like Redfin to reduce your commission.
“If you don’t really care, you might set a pie-in-the-sky price and if you get it, great, and if not, fine,” Glink said. “But if you need to move for a new job or some other reason where the timeline is important,” an agent might help you get fast results.
Some money-conscious sellers figure their safest bet is to hire a real estate agent, but negotiate a lower commission. As much as that may seem like a sensible middle ground, it can come with a hidden cost.
“Commissions are negotiable, but do your research first,” said Caroline Feeney, senior managing editor at HomeLight, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based real estate technology firm. She warns that even if sellers persuade their agent to reduce the commission, it can also reduce the agent’s marketing and promotion of the property.