Selling Without an Agent

The pluses and perils of selling your home on your own.

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David Smythe was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to sell his Toronto home without a real estate agent.

In 2013, Smythe and his wife eyed a larger house that was under construction in their neighbourhood. The builders were willing to sell. That Saturday night, he wrote a Facebook post, saying he wanted to put his duplex up for sale. “I thought, you know what, I have nothing to lose,” he says. “I’ll take a crack and try to sell it.”

His neighbour then shared that post, and a co-worker saw it. “She contacted me on Tuesday and came to look.” By Thursday, she and Smythe had started paperwork for the sale. He avoided a standard five-percent commission and saved almost $30,000.

One of the hardest parts about selling – DIY or not – is pricing the abode. Most people think their home is worth more than it is.

The pressure to automatically use a real estate agent can be immense. Smythe asked that his real name not be used, as he has family members in the industry who are upset he didn’t use an agent. However, it also seems everyone knows at least one David Smythe: that person who avoided a commission and saved thousands. But is it really that easy to sell your own house?

Personal-finance blogger Barry Choi, who writes at Moneywehave.com, says that while going the DIY route can help people save money, potential sellers should proceed with caution. “It’s a lot of work, and you have to know what you’re doing,” says Choi. “I think some people overestimate how easy it is.”

If you are wondering whether you should skip the agent, then here are a few things to keep in mind.

The price is right

One of the hardest parts about selling – DIY or not – is pricing the abode. Most people think their home is worth more than it is, says Choi. “You can attach a price to it that may or may not reflect reality,” he says. “You might value something much more than what it’s actually worth.”

Smythe did his homework. He tracked open houses and sales in his neighbourhood and noted that a similar house down the street sold for $532,000. He also knew that going beyond $600,000 would price younger buyers out, so he settled on asking $560,000. “I knew that my house was a first-time-buyer’s house,” he said. “That was my target market.”

Consider a service

ComFree, a flat-fee real estate company that operates in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, offers a suite of services to sellers who want some professional help. For up to $2,900, or less depending on the services you choose, the company provides pricing consultation with a real estate expert, professional photos, a lawn sign, and help negotiating and closing a deal. “If you can show your home, we can help with the rest,” says Randall Weese, the broker of record for ComFree in Ontario.

Be aware that many flat-fee services require payment up front. If you aren’t successful and decide to switch tactics, you will be out that money.

You’ll probably need MLS

While Smythe found a buyer immediately through his social network, most people start searching on the Multiple Listing Service at Realtor.ca. “Ultimately, you can have the right price, but if no one is seeing it, it doesn’t matter,” says Weese.

ComFree and other for-sale-by-owner real estate services, such as PropertyGuys.com or FSBO.ca, include an MLS listing as part of their package. Some real estate brokers might also list your property on Realtor.ca for a flat fee.

Consider your time

Even flat-fee services require legwork. If you’re still working, do you have a job that allows you to take calls or answer e-mails on company time? Weese says some ComFree clients enlist friends or family members when they can’t make a showing. “A neighbour or friend could let someone in,” he says.

Of course, it’s important not to forget what real estate agents bring to the table. They can bring existing clients – and serious buyers who have already qualified for a mortgage – to a property. Many have expertise in an area of the city a buyer may be interested in, and they have easy access to sale-price data, among other information.

While Smythe said the experience was positive, and would sell his next property himself again, Choi, who used a real estate agent to purchase his current condo, says he’ll continue using agents when he one day sells. “Even though there is potential money saved,” he says, “I’d rather pay the service charge and have someone market it properly.”

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