When the board of our apartment building decided last year to sell a unit we all owned as part of a co-op and had rented for the last decade, I suggested we do it ourselves.
No broker, no problem, I thought.
A do-it-yourself kind a person with more than a decade of real estate coverage, I would take the lead and save some of the 6% commission that typically goes to the buyer’s and seller’s agents.
Somewhat surprisingly – given the potential savings – it’s not something many sellers try.
The percentage of for-sale-by-owner – or FSBO – sales fell to 7% last year nationwide, the lowest level on record since 1981 when the rate was 15%, according to the National Association of Realtors.
More than half of those sold to someone they knew, while just a mere 3% sold their homes to a total stranger, taking on a task handled by real estate agents every day.
These sellers fared well, too.
- Fewer reduced their asking price compared with real estate agents.
- FSBO home sold in a median of one week, while agent homes sold in three.
- Only 14% of FSBO sellers offered an incentive to attract buyers, while 35% of agents did.
And of course, there are the savings. We figured if we could save at least half of the 6% in commissions, the building would end up pocketing an extra $25,000.
It was a no-brainer.
Getting everything ready
My neighbor, an interior designer, staged the apartment for pictures, which were taken by her photographer friend.
Fortunately, the longtime renters in the apartment had impeccable taste, so it was just a matter of light decluttering of kitchen countertops, removal of extra paintings and repairing minor issues like missing closet doorknobs.
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An appraiser helped us set a price.
I tapped a local “a la carte” broker services company called Hauseit to list our building’s garden apartment on Zillow, Trulia, StreetEasy and the internal listing database that only brokers can see. Hauseit also provided flyers and sign-in sheets for open houses.
We were off.
Should I buy it?
One factor that can derail a FSBO is the owner’s attachment to their own home, which clouds their ability to see it objectively. That wouldn’t plague me.
I fell in love with the apartment. I wanted to buy it myself. It was bigger than ours and had that coveted second bathroom. Oh, the joys of having a second bathroom after chili night.
I imagined sipping wine or beer or a margarita on its patio on a hot summer night, watching New Yorkers pass by on the street with café lights swinging above me, a gentle breeze tickling the wind chime … you get the idea.
Maybe we should buy it and list ours.
“No,” my husband said.
Week after week of open houses – with no nibbles – my infatuation faded and I just wanted the darn thing sold and reclaim my weekends.
A lot of work
Every Sunday, my husband would head out to do our weekend errands, while my nine-year-old son and I went downstairs two hours before an open house to set up.
“Do we have to clean the apartment again?” my son would say. “It’s the weekend.”
We dusted and vacuumed, wiped down counters and shower doors. We moved smaller furniture to the basement to open up the floorplan. We turned on all the lights and opened the curtains.
Outside, we dressed the place for summer, even though it was barely registering 55 degrees. We placed indoor plants from our apartment on the plant stands outside, draped the table with a red runner and strung up twinkling lights.
I even baked cookies from a tube. Online articles said open houses should smell homey, so light a candle or bake cookies. Pro tip: Cookies are a crock. No one ate them except me and my son.
Here’s another free tip from a semi-pro: You don’t have to hide the pets!
The renters had a cat and she was a big hit with the potential buyers. Several spent more time stroking her than checking out the bedrooms. Another was impressed that the pantry hid the litter box.
“That’s a great spot. Usually, it has to go in the bathroom,” she said.
Why won’t it sell?
Unfortunately, the litter box did not sell the apartment. We got no offers despite decent traffic.
There were other turn-offs: basement level, limited light, outdoor stairs that older buyers didn’t like. But really, the problem was the price. It was too high, and the market had turned to favor buyers more and sellers less.
We cut the price by 8% and, soon after, our buyers arrived and gave us an offer we accepted.
No more open houses. No more cleaning on Sundays. No more baking cookies. I did it.
Would a real estate agent have done a better job? It’s hard to say. But the money we got from the sale – and saved on the broker – paid off some debt and will pay for a new boiler for the building.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
What would I do differently? I’d charge a commission.
USA TODAY’s Janna Herron got married and changed her name years ago, but her maiden name keeps haunting her and her personal finances.
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