Demystifying "For Sale by Owner"

Monica Schaefer
MilitaryByOwner Advertising, Inc.

Let’s cut to the chase; selling a home by owner can be intimidating. Perceived as a complicated process of marketing, showing, negotiating, inspecting, and signing, there are those homeowners that wouldn’t dream of embarking on the task of selling their home themselves. Often homeowners mistaken the idea of selling their home themselves as "saving the commission" in reality you "earn" the commission.  So is selling your house as hard as it seems?

Breaking down a daunting task into manageable pieces may help make the process appear less overwhelming, so let’s start with first things first… selling your home is a business transaction! While the four walls of this home undoubtedly hold an abundance of incredible memories, it is important to go through a paradigm shift and remove the emotional tug the home has on you. Take a business-like approach to selling your home in order to maintain clarity throughout the process.  

Start compiling your "to do" list with an appointment with a real estate attorney or closing agent.  This may prevent a delay later down the road.  The appointment will disclose time critical issues such as termite inspection, well and septic inspections, radon, etc.

Prepare your home for potential buyers. Walk outside and take an unbiased view of your home from across the street. You’ve heard it before; curb appeal. It is true that every home makes a first impression and you want yours to attract buyers the moment they drive up. Trim trees and shrubs so that you can clearly see walkways and windows. Power wash the exterior of the house, clean your windows and touch up any painted surfaces. 

Step inside and assess the unique scent that every home has. Find any hidden sources of odor and eliminate them (unless, of course, Fido is the culprit). Clean your home as you have never cleaned before. Depersonalize and declutter every room. Buyers are attracted to clean, open spaces and they want to be able to envision themselves living in your home, so while the kids art is precious, it is probably better boxed away for displaying at your next home. Consider asking a friend to come by and give you their honest opinion or hire a professional stager to get your home in tip-top shape. Fix all of those nagging items that have taken up permanent residence on your "honey do" list. Buyers will notice the leaking faucet, so take time to repair those items or hire a handy man.

Now comes the moment where keeping your emotion in check is critical, setting the price. We all tend to overvalue our home, particularly if we have invested a lot of sweat equity, but this is the time to be realistic. With the vast amount of information available through internet research, you should be able to get a very good sense of the fair market value of your home. Sites such as MilitaryByOwner.com, Zillow.com and Trulia.com will provide you with the resources you need to take an in depth look at the homes in your area, their amenities and their asking price. Use the advanced search on MilitaryByOwner.com to find homes that are in the same zip code with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms and see how they compare to yours. While internet sites can give you a ballpark of what homes are valued at in your area, a more accurate assessment is available from a professional appraiser. An average appraisal can run between $350-500 in most areas, but investing the money ahead of time can save you from finding out at closing that the bank will not lend above the appraised price and will help you price your home competitively. Asking fair market value for your home will ensure that it will not linger on the market or, on the other side of the spectrum, leave you wondering if you should have set your price higher.

Once you have set a well researched asking price, it is time to get the word out. Market your home in every way you can possibly think of. You have taken this path to save money on the commission, but that only happens if the home actually sells. Reinvest some of the money you will save and put it towards an aggressive marketing strategy.

Take a plethora of photos shot from different perspectives, at various times of day including pictures taken at night and then choose the best of the best. Create a slide show or virtual tour of your home using iMovie or PowerPoint and upload it to YouTube. Advertise on MilitaryByOwner.com utilizing a package that allows you to include photos and a virtual tour link. Place a free ad on Craigslist, Zillow and Yahoo! Real Estate. Place a classified ad in your local newspaper. Create a Facebook page or website for your home. Share photos and details on MilitaryByOwner’s Facebook page and on your own wall. Ask friends to share the information with people they know that may be in the market for a home in your area. Place "For Sale" signs in your yard and at nearby intersections. Create a professional and detailed flyer including photos and place them in a waterproof container in front of your house for potential buyers to pick up. Post flyers in the housing office of the military installations near you, as well as on billboards at local grocery stores.  Consider the option to list your home on MLS (Multiple Listing Service), the system used by real estate professionals to advertise homes. There is a fee involved in listing it and if a buyer finds your home on MLS you will be required to pay a commission. Bottom line, have a creative and pervasive marketing strategy.

Be available to show your home to potential buyers. In a 9-5 world, it isn’t easy to be at someone’s beckon call, but if you don’t show it, it won’t sell. Enlist the help of family and friends in showing the home or easing the burden of the life events that keep you from being available.  Military families often face a situation where a spouse remains behind to sell the home. Taking measures to insure your safety are important, so schedule appointments to show the home and arrange them at a time when a friend or neighbor can be in the home with you.   

Ask potential buyers for their honest feedback. Set out a notebook for them to share what they did and did not like about your home.  This is where separating your emotions comes into play again. You know the drill, you can say something bad about your mom, but if someone else does, your feelings get hurt. Growing a thick skin and not taking what potential buyers have to say about your home personally can help you to make the changes necessary to get the home sold quickly.

Be prepared for your potential buyers by purchasing the state specific forms required to sell your home. MilitaryByOwner Advertising, Inc. makes this easy by offering a Home Sales Package that you can download for less than $40. While the paperwork portion of selling your home can be intimidating, hopefully my own personal experience will help quell this fear. The Offer to Purchase on a home we currently own was written on a cocktail napkin! Of course, we eventually signed official contracts, but the offer and my earnest money were enough to present to our attorney to get the process started.    

Due to the intricacy of real estate transactions, it is necessary to employ the services of a closing agent to carry out the legal portion of the transaction. The parties authorized to perform real estate closings vary from state to state, so consult your current mortgage lender to ask for guidance on whom best to contract for assistance. Establish a relationship with your closing agent prior to receiving offers on the home so that they are prepared to assist with the review of all documents.

You have received an Offer to Purchase, which is both exciting and nerve-racking. This becomes the ultimate game of chess! But before you can call "checkmate", you should make sure that the offer is from a pre-qualified buyer. Asking to see a Pre-Approval Letter from the potential buyer will save both of you a lot of time and needless negotiating and no, it is not rude to ask. Take time to consider their offer and contemplate your counter-offer options through your business-like perspective. Driving away a potential buyer because you are offended that they asked for a carpeting allowance to replace your 1970’s shag, is not in your best interest.

Once you have agreed upon the terms of the sale, submit all documents to your closing agent. From this point forward, they will assist you with the inspections and documents required for a real estate transaction, such as appraisals, termite inspections and a title search. Completion of this phase will result in the closing, which will officially transfer the ownership of the property from you to the new owner.

Congratulations! You have successfully sold your home by owner. Now you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor; your proceeds check! 

Get started by downloading our "For Sale by Owner" Home Selling Tips