Fewer Sellers Are Trying “For Sale By Owner” — Here Are Some Reasons Why

There will always be people who are comfortable with selling their home without the assistance of a real estate professional. In 2019, 8% of sellers chose the For Sale By Owner approach. That’s an increased from 2018’s record low of 7%.

Here are some of the things with which you need to be comfortable if you choose the FSBO approach to selling your home.

Commissions: You will save on commissions, but not as much as you probably think. Listing commissions are negotiable, and the average commission is below the 6% you may think it is, and the listing commission includes the “co-op” commission paid to the buyer’s agent. In our market, that co-op commission is typically 2.8%.

Since most buyers choose to be represented by a buyer’s broker, you can expect that you won’t be able to save more than about 3% on commissions. Then you need to calculate whether selling without professional representation of your own is worth that reduced savings.

Net proceeds: It’s possible that you won’t get as high a price for your home without the marketing advantage of being listed on the MLS, which could attract multiple offers and even a bidding war.

Putting aside that bottom-line calculation, here are some other elements to be considered by the unrepresented seller.

Showings: How will you handle showings, including screening those who will be walking through your home? This is handled nicely by ShowingTime, the service utilized by virtually all agents in the Denver market. They make sure that only licensed agents are approved for showings. All licensed agents have been fingerprinted and passed a background check. In two decades of listing homes, I’ve never had an incident of theft or other crime associated with an agent showing of my listings.

Your time: Another consideration is the convenience of showings. Yes, you could purchase a lockbox and allow agent showings when you aren’t home, but you don’t want to give the lockbox code to buyers who don’t have an agent. Someone has to let them in.

Feedback: Another service provided by the showing service (only available to agents) is obtaining feedback after each showing and forwarding it to both seller and agent.

Disclosures: There are strict rules regarding disclosures of “adverse material conditions,” which real estate agents know well. If your home was built before 1978, there’s a 5-figure fine associated with failure to disclose possible lead-based paint hazards in your house, even if the disclosure would say there are no such hazards.

Pricing: Even in a seller’s market, an overpriced home can sit on the market for a long time and end up selling for less than if it were priced correctly in the beginning. Priced correctly, your home may attract competing offers, and an experienced agent (like us at Golden Real Estate) knows how to play those buyers against each other to get you the highest possible price.

But it’s a seller’s market”: Yes, it’s easier in our long-running seller’s market to sell a single-family home (condos are stalling because of Covid-19), but that makes it all the more important to get your home in front of the full market to stimulate competition, which only a listing agent with access to the MLS can do for you. It’s no surprise that the number of FSBOs has fallen, not risen, because of this dynamic. Your net proceeds, even with a higher commission expense, could be much higher.

Off-Market Transactions Hurt Sellers By Shutting Out Buyers Who Might Pay More

The sale of homes without listing them on the MLS frustrates would-be buyers who are waiting for just such a home. Those frustrated buyers might have paid more than the actual buyer, in which case it’s fair to say that both buyers and sellers have been harmed.

This is an update of a column with the same headline published exactly a year ago. On March 22, 2018, I wrote that in January and February of that year 4.4% of the sold listings were only entered on the MLS after closing. It’s even worse this January and February, when the percentage of Denver sales showing zero days on market rose to 6.3%. Another 2% sold in one day, which is still not enough time to expose a listing to all potential buyers.

I have determined that with proper exposure, 4 days is the “sweet spot” for listing a home and getting the highest possible price for it. That is office policy at Golden Real Estate, violated only when the seller insists on selling sooner for one reason or another, such as to a friend.

Analyzing the 101 Denver sales in January and February, the median sale was for full price, which makes sense. However, half the 86 Denver homes which sold after 4 days on the market garnered from 1% to as much as 10% above their listing price. That can amount to a lot of money “left on the table” by sellers who chose (or were convinced by their agent) to sell without exposing the home to more buyers via the MLS..  

It’s reasonable to ask how listing agents may have profited (at their seller’s expense) from keeping listings off the MLS. An analysis of the Denver listings that were entered as sold with zero days on market this January and February reveals that 20.8% of them were double-ended, meaning that the listing agent kept the entire commission instead of sharing it with a buyer’s agent. Not one of the homes that sold after 4 days on the MLS was double-ended. It seems obvious to me that many listing agents are convincing their clients to sell without putting their home on the MLS so they can increase the chance of doubling their commission. Putting their self-interest ahead of their clients’ is a serious violation of both ethics and law.

This is not to say that zero days on the market is never in the best interests of the seller. For example, the seller and buyer might know one another, or otherwise found each other, and simply asked an agent to handle the transaction without seeking other buyers.  Or perhaps it was a for-sale-by-owner property where an agent brought the buyer and entered the sale on the MLS after closing as a courtesy to other agents and to appraisers. Or a seller might ask to keep the home off the MLS because he/she does not like the idea of opening their home to lots of strangers.

One would hope, however (and sellers should expect), that when a broker double-ends a transaction, he or she would at least give the seller a break on the commission, rather than keeping the portion (typically 2.8%) that would have been paid to a buyer’s agent. This practice is referred to as a “variable commission” and is office policy at Golden Real Estate. Unfortunately, however, only two of the 21 listings that was double-ended and sold without being put on the MLS offered their sellers this discount. The other 19 enjoyed the windfall of keeping the full commission to themselves, without sharing that windfall with their sellers.

Some agents put listings on Zillow as “coming soon” while holding them off the MLS as a technique for attracting a buyer before other agents know about the listing. The Real Estate Commission addressed this practice in a 2014 position statement, stating that “if the property is being marketed as ‘coming soon’ in an effort for the listing broker to acquire a buyer and ‘double end’ the transaction, this would be a violation of the license law because the broker is not exercising reasonable skill and care.”  Further, the commission stated, “a broker who places the importance of his commission above his duties, responsibilities or obligations to the consumer who has engaged him is practicing business in a manner that endangers the interest of the public.” 

Sadly, that is still happening.