How to sell your own home – without an agent.

Six months ago my family and I moved from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine.  YES I KNOW I’VE BEATEN THIS HORSE TO DEATH ALREADY.  Bear with me.  Although we wanted to buy a new house right away, we had to sell our place in Philly first.  So for many months we were living double lives.  I’m not talking cloak & dagger.  I’m talking bank rolling two properties.  As in paying mortgage AND rent, dual sets of utility bills, and more.

To say this was financially draining would be putting it mildly.  My husband & I needed to sell our house – and fast.  In order to speed things along, we thought about hiring a real estate agent.  We were, after all, living 400 miles away from our home, making showings a challenge.  Our house was sitting virtually empty, without the furniture most people expect and some indeed must see.  A professional might mean the difference between a sale or no sale.  He/she could find buyers, schedule walk-thrus, handle paperwork, and explain why the hell we weren’t there.  In essence, do it ALL for us.

But real estate agents don’t come cheap.  3% commission is standard.  On a $389K house, that’s over $11,500.  And in Pennsylvania, the seller has to pay both agents at the time of sale.  Both making 3%.  So that’s 6% of the sales price or over $23,000 grand we could kiss goodbye.  IF AGENTS WERE INVOLVED.  Hmmm.

All that money..  Money we could be putting towards a new house.  Money WE HAD WORKED DAMN HARD FOR!!! – scraping wallpaper, painting, sanding, breaking our backs lugging crap in and out, YOU CATCH MY DRIFT. As we were already cash-strapped and smarting from the burden, we decided an agent would indeed be helpful, but was not mandatory.  We had, after all, done this before…

[INSERT WAVY MEMORY LINES HERE…]

beaumont

When we bought the West Philly palatial estate 8 years ago, we purchased it not through an agent, or from a real estate firm, but — wait for it — DIRECTLY FROM THE FORMER OWNER.  That’s right – we drove by and saw one of those 50 cent Home Depot signs in the window reading FOR SALE.  We called the phone number.  We went in, we saw the house, and we made an offer.  Bada-bing.  Our first house purchase and nary an agent involved, on either side.  Now, I can hear you asking, what about the process??  Well, friends.  I confess.  John & I didn’t know bupkis about the process.  We were young.  We were inexperienced.  We didn’t know what to expect, and that’s a good thing.  A great thing – really, because we were dumb enough not to have any preconceptions.  We didn’t think ourselves OUT of it.  We didn’t say OoooHhhh NoooOOOOo, this is Soooo scary.  What are we doing??  We didn’t know this wasn’t how house sales normally happen.  And lest I forget to mention, we were damn lucky too.  At the time my husband was working for UPENN, with its (at the time) guaranteed mortgage program.  So even though we were young & inexperienced, they guided us through the process.  We hired a lawyer.  We secured a title company.  We got insurance and mortgage approval.  And we bought our first house.

It was a baptism.  Not by water or fire, but by savings.  It taught us that we didn’t need an agent to make things happen.

Now, circa 2009.  Even though we were living remotely from our house, and were facing perhaps the worst real estate market in decades, and we didn’t even have furnishings to enhance the loveliness or desirability of our home, we WERE NOT DAUNTED.  Come hell or high water – my husband & I had invested everything we had in our home and we were determined to reap as much of the reward as possible.  We did several things, which I will outline now.  Yes, you are welcome.

NUMBER ONE

We did research.  Before putting our house on the market, we looked at local real estate websites, as well as Yahoo and Zillow to determine sales in our area.  By looking at comparable sales, we were able to pinpoint the asking price for our house w/ a fair degree of accuracy.  We also read up on the process.  In particular, I found THIS BOOK invaluable.  I borrowed it from the library FOR FREE!  And although there are dozens of similar books on the market, this one covered everything from A to Z, was thoughtfully and concisely laid-out, not to mention a simple and engaging read.  And NO I am not being paid to endorse it (though I should be).

tip&traps

NUMBER TWO

We signed up with For Sale By Owner.com.  Although it cost us between $700 and $800 for the “package” we selected, we gained increased exposure through their website, received professional looking signs, as well as all the paperwork necessary for completing the sale.  AND WE GOT OUR HOUSE INTO THE MLS!!!!  This, my friends, may mean THE DIFFERENCE between a house selling and a house sitting.  Only downside?  Once our house got into the MLS, we received many calls from agents.  Although the ones calling to schedule showings were very welcome, we also received a bevy of calls from agents curious to downright pushy wondering (and/or demanding) to know WHY WE WERE GOING IT ALONE?! and attempting to sell us their services.  My advice: Be polite and hold your ground.  If necessary: Hang up.

NUMBER THREE

We hired a local lawyer.  In our case, Marsha Wolf, Esquire.  If you are looking for an excellent real estate lawyer in Philadelphia, I cannot recommend her services enough. Marsha vetted all of the documents involved w/ the transaction, and additionally acted as an intermediary between all parties: us, the buyers agent and the title company.  She made our sale as smooth and easy as possible.  And while lawyers don’t come cheap, they come a WHOLE lot cheaper than real estate agents (BY MANNNNY THOUSANDS).  It was also incredibly reassuring knowing we had our butts covered, since we had a lawyer double-checking everything.  AND we had someone we could trust completely to act in our stead.  Marsha even went to closing for us – saving us the time & expense (and hassle) of traveling back to Philly w/ our kids in tow and our crazy pets at the kennel / bird sitting village.

NUMBER FOUR

We had faith that we could do it ourselves.

Real estate agents want you to believe real estate is rocket science, but it’s not.  Much of what a real estate professional does is simply paperwork, or legwork.  They turn the wheels for their clients, but they don’t actually sell houses.  HOUSES sell houses.  Simply put, the price you select, the neighborhood you are in, the features of your home, these are the things that matter.  Ultimately, if you price your home right, someone will buy it.  Price it and they will come.

The hard part?  Being realistic.  Your house is valuable to you.  More valuable than perhaps anything else in the world.  For most people a home is their only asset, and they must get as much money out of it as possible.  BUT – and this is a BIG but, no one else sees your house in the same way you do.  It may be nice, in your eyes the prettiest thing ever, but to other people.. who knows?  And it will never be another person’s HOME until they buy it.  AND – don’t forget – no one will buy it if it’s overpriced, especially in this economy.  This is why many properties languish on the market for months, even years.  A real estate agent may encourage you to drop the price, but they can’t do it for you.  The seller sets the price, always.  So when you hear people complain about their agents, remember – a seller is equally culpable.

Now that I have offended you, I’ll move on to my next point.  Let’s talk about your crap.  You see, it’s getting in the way.  Not only does it look bad, piling up everywhere in your house, and often, yard.  But it’s obscuring the beauty and accessibility of your home.  If potential buyers have to be guided through hallway labyrinths of stacked newspapers, discarded books and broken furniture, your house is not likely to sell.  If buyers cannot see themselves in your home b/c it is filled to the brim with junk, if they are distracted by your tchotchkes, mezmerized (or conversely, offended) by your artwork, they will walk.  Buyers may be speaking of your house for years to come, but not necessarily in A GOOD WAY.

Our friends just put their house on the market.  I was truly impressed by the way their agent is handling things.  First she walked through – then she had her entire office come through as well.  All offering helpful suggestions as to how to improve marketability.  Our friends are artists and have a LOT of very serious work – pretty much everywhere.  They’ve had to store away much of what makes their house their own, simply to avoid overwhelming potential buyers.  You do not want your house to seem too personal, as much as you want it to be upstaged by your stuff.  If you are selling it yourself, or even if you are using a less-involved agent, try the following.  Before you put your house on the market, walk through with a discerning eye.  If something is certain to turn people off, or turn them ON, or in general distract them from the house as a whole – get rid of it.  You SHOULD NOT sell it if it’s meaningful, but you should hide it away.  If you can’t part with your stuff, rent a storage unit.  If you couldn’t care less, then have a yard sale.  Or three.  Try giving stuff away.  Craigslist, thrift shops, freecycle, all terrific.  I myself have fought against the dreaded demon of pack-ratism my whole life long.  When selling our house, I had an advantage.  I was forced to clean house b/c we simply couldn’t take it w/ us.  Moving from a 3-story home to a 2-bedroom apartment forced me to make decisions about what was really important.  I realized I could give up that massive collection of yogurt containers.  I tossed 2 decades worth of school work.  And it felt GOOD.  When you move you are going to have to haul your stuff anyway.  Parsing through it, deciding what to keep and what to toss, it’s healthy.  For your back, for your sanity, and for the sake of your sale.  Having junk stashed in every nook & cranny will kill your chances of selling fast.  And will likely deduct thousands off an offer.

Look around your house.  Be HONEST.  Does it look good?  Are things reasonably clean?  DOES IT SMELL LIKE CAT PISS??  All of this matters, folks.  First impressions count, big time.  What is the first thing people notice when they enter your house?  If it’s not something good, do something about it – and if you can, try to improve it.  If your house is butt ugly, if the ceiling is falling down, if the exterior is all hanging-off paint and crumbling facade, it may be time to call Vinnie.

vinnie

But otherwise, do yourself a favor, and BEFORE you try to sell, fix things up.  If you have started one or more home improvement projects in the past, FINISH THEM before you try to sell.  If you are financially unable to do so, that’s one thing.  But otherwise, just get it done.  Especially if doesn’t entail vasts sum of money, you can seriously improve your return on investment by doing so.  Potential buyers are attracted to homes where things are finished because it means less work for them.

You want buyers envisioning themselves living in your home.  You want them mentally sipping coffee on your front porch whist nibbling on croissants.  Why?  B/c THIS sells houses.  People the world over want to appear classy.  It needn’t matter that the definition of class varies by person.  Everyone, regardless of taste, longs to be admired.  And everyone, regardless of taste, knows TRUE CLASS.  This is why people hire professionals to stage their homes.  If you’re unsure how to decorate, if you don’t know color scheme or interest from a hole in the wall, then get help.  Ask a friend, beg a relative, or pay someone trustworthy.  Buyers flock to homes that showcase wealth and taste, whatever that may be.

Now that I am done THE LONGEST POST OF MY BLOGGING CAREER. may I wish you all the best in selling your home!  Whether you decide to go w/ an agent, or go it alone – it is never an easy task, and I hope in some small measure I have helped you in the process.  Good Luck and God Speed!

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24 thoughts on “How to sell your own home – without an agent.

  1. HAH! Thanks Hayden – I know, I know..
    PS: Portland ROCKS! It’s recycling program takes EVERYTHING. Sooo NO MORE CONTAINER HOARDING!! Hooray!!

    YES Panny babe! We sold the WPPE 2 mos ago & it felt FABBBBULOUUSS!!

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  2. Very informative dahling…
    I joke with friends that IF I were to sell this house…the new owners would get everything…
    I don’t want to move anything ever again πŸ™‚
    glad you’re back to blogging. It is probably time for a JUST SAY NO post πŸ™‚

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  3. dude…you bought a MANSION. the S.L.O.Bs could all move in with you and you wouldn’t know it!!! (i took a peek at your photos!!!) i can’t believe the size of your new house!!! you must be a trust-fund baby. ahhahah.

    xooox

    missing you mucho. heading to florida soon–portland is too cold for me now.

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  4. Ooh Connie I know just what you mean. And try moving TWICE in 6 mos — oy vey!
    PS: My old neighbor (in Philly) used to say, “I will NEVER sell this house. They’re gonna have to carry me out in a box.” FIRST THING I thought of when I read your comment — Connie comes w/ it! HAHAH!

    Curls, you know the SLOBs are always welcome here @ the new digs. and trust me when I say we are literally living for this house // it’s the only way we could afford it. But you only live once! PSST: Call when you’re heading north!

    Thanks Pans!! And thanks for the email — I am waiting w/ bated breath, you drama mama.

    Mssc54 – that truly IS THE POST THAT WILL NOT DIE. Hah! I have unfortunately seen many persons riding on the sidewalks of Portland. I am very impressed when I DO see people riding in the street, wearing their helmets, using proper hand signals, especially while riding in heavy traffic w/ NO BIKE LANE, and – even moreso – when they are 30-40 yrs my senior. Many of these responsible commuters also wear orange safety vests. Although they probably get the thumbs down from fashionistas, I say RIGHT ON!

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  5. Oooh Connie I know! BUT WAIT. our house already has its own flock of WILD TURKEYS. Wowowowowoowowowoowoow!!

    They nest on the land behind ours, so they mosey through every morning & afternoon. Sometimes just a couple, a few times as many as 10. And turkeys are BIG. Big eaters, that is. They LOOOVE the juicy little apples on the tree by the house — and of course the seeds that fall from our many bird feeders. Our next-door neighbor feeds them MEATIES – which I pictured as some sort of chunky pellet or something, but it’s just a sunflower seed blend. Anyway – Last week they had the little ones in tow.. some medium size, some tiny babiesss OOOooHHHHhhhhHOOOoOHHHH!! TOO CUTE. But man do those turkeys crack me up. Sometimes you’ll come outside & catch one unaware and that bird goes boogie-ing turkey trot style as fast as it’s little stick legs can carry it. Then other times, they couldn’t care less. i looked out the window the other day. Max was laying out in the yard – those turkeys were 10 ft away and they barely gave him one glance — pecking around gobbling up seeds. Talk about pure entertainment!

    Thanks Trace! Def no B&B – though You KNOW Christmas was booked well in advance. That hearth is absolutely enormous – 4 1/2 ft x 4 1/2 ft x 8. We ordered our wood stove yesterday and cannot WAIT! John spent the weekend putting a hatch into the roof, which I am very proud to say looks FABBBULOUS. Next up: chimney liner. WOOT!

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  6. The lv rmm firplace mantle is a grand place to hang Christmas stockings. We seldom used that fireplace. You’ll notice the sap marks left on the ceiling between the fireplace and door to hallway. Signature of a too tall Christmas tree one year. I’m glad you are able to re-establish the attic trap door. The woodstove will give off great heat. Which room is it going in? Living room or keeping room? I’m so excited you’re making the house your own; so are the ghosts of Capt Dole and his servant, whose bed we always believed was the rope one in the attic. Whenever the house creaked during a nor’eater, Dad would say that the house’s many ghosts were moving around to protect us from any dangers. Those ghosts always made great fodder for stories at Halloween. The ghosts got terribly lonely this past year. They love the laughter and squeals of the girls ringing up the stairway again. They’ll love looking out for your family. Kate

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  7. Hi Kate! Yes, wondered about the marks on the ceiling – now we know exactly where to put our tree – hah! The hatch is IN and leak-free. John did a great job; I am so proud of him. We are putting the stove in the living room. Greg Harrison was here yesterday to talk about the cap (John has to take it off to line the chimney), we’re also having him make 2 more storm windows from a frame we found in the basement. I just want to thank you all for being so helpful to us. Your notes, everything is so meticulous and it is so much appreciated. Also wanted to tell you, John framed the sketch of the property your mom did, the one L. dropped off before going home – it’s lovely. Cannot say thanks enough. We’re going to hang in the library/study when it’s restored. We’ve ordered beautiful wide plank pine floors for those two rooms. Just waiting.. PS: The girls are SO EXCITED for Halloween!!!

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  8. Greg is good people; his wife Bonnie, too. The roofers complimented his work on the chimney cap. He rebuilt the rock wall, too, using well-placed sand underneath to account for ground movement, leading to less wall maintenance; something, Dad did not account for. Greg knows well his woods and the inc. value of old wood having greater density because trees way back then were quite tall and aged. Dad tried to preserve original wood of roof and attic. In fact, the walls in the keeping room with the scratched on numbers/words were made from attic walls where early owners stored and kept track of their inventory by scratching it in the wood. Dad built the pewter cabinet and drawer faces from attic wood, too. To open the fireplace dampers in the keeping room and the lv rm, we always used an antique harpoon; definately long enough, for reaching high up inside the chimney to push open or hook the edge of damper and pull shut. We kept the harpoon handy on those two nails above the keeping rm fireplace. Kate

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  9. Ahhhh the harpoon, It was iron and very heavy. I can’t imagine actually having to shoot that heavy sucker at an angry whale. One would be fish meal within seconds!!! It did the trick however, with opening and shuting the damper. Mr. Easter bunny most always hid a black jellybean in the opened end. Against the black iron, it practically would disappear. Black jellybeans would also practically disappear in the holes in the beams left by knots in the wood, like the one by the refrig. Many an Easter, Mr. Bugs would say, “I think I still see some Easter eggs”. Naturally, we were driven nuts until we had FINALLY found each and everyone of them.
    Halloween was indeed another special time. We would carve a large pumpkin out, not only to greet trick or treaters with the classic punpkin smile, but also to gain the zillions of pumpkin seeds to be toasted.
    The pumpkin would usually be placed in the large living room window so wind would not blow out the candle. Our all black cat, Sam, would sometimes sit next to it, curious to check out the monstrosity.
    After a light supper of hot soup and sandwich, we would quickly get into our usual homemade creative costumes and head out for an evening of trick or treating with out paper grocery bags in hand. We usually started at the corner of Westbrook St. and Congress Street, and work our way up to Penrith Road, and then on up and around Round- About Lane and over to Partridge Lane. After some hours out in the cold, we would come home loaded!!! Back in the 50s and 60s, apples and lollypops were big; sugar daddys, candy corn, and popcorn balls were special; but, of course, anything chocolate was supreme. I used to hide my bag under my bed, but strangely enough, my chocolate was the first to disappear, and not by my doing either. Dad would sneak into it while Mom was at work at MMC, and we were at school, either down the street at Willard School, or across town at Nathan Clifford.
    I remember one year my girl friend and I were walking past our driveway heading down the street. At that time, elm trees lined the street. My father, who had a life- like mask on and an antique top hat. jumped out from behind the tree in front of the house. SCARED-you bet!.
    I also remember one year I decided to go to a halloween party at the baptist church down the street, as a scare crow. I was SOO excited about coming up with the idea. Halloween afternoon, I went over to Doles Mt. to pull up some straw. I also cut a long branch from one of the many pine trees over there. With someones help, I put the branch through the shoulders of my flannel shirt, so it looked like I was pinned up like the scarecrow in the Wizard of OZ. I stuffed the scratchy straw up my pant legs and around my hands. I was a great scare crow. The only MAJOR problem was trying to manuver through doors. The upshot-after having difficulty getting into the church without spearing someone, I quickly became the scarecrow without the stick holding up the arms. I had also forgotten the problem of how I was going to hold my trick or treat bag. Needless to say the stick quickly found it’s way to a corner somewhere. Hope your first Halloween is a clear night with a full moon. Watching the moom and the stars from the back yard is MARVELOUS. HAVE FUN. Abbie

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  10. Good morning Ladies! Just have to say we are LOVING all these stories. I was wondering what used to hang on those nails. Too bad we didn’t have the harpoon this weekend. We got the keeping room fireplace going Saturday. Poor John had to clean out the chimney first — talk about a messy job! There were at least 2 nests up there. So glad all the dirty work is falling to him (literally) Hah!

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  11. PS: Whatever happened to the harpoon??

    PPS: Harpoons make really unique gifts. You know nothing says I Love You quite like a harpoon. Unless you’re Moby Dick.

    PPPS: I know a certain someone whose birthday is coming up in just 8 SHORT DAYS.

    PPPPS: I confess, it’s ME! AND YES I WOULD LOVE A HARPOON!!!!

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  12. My son took dibs on the harpoon when we were breaking up the house. We girls had our chance to select things for ourselves, or our children, as memories of grandmother & grandfather’s house. The things Mom’s grandchildren got are treasures. We sold, at auction, many things. The house was FULL-L-L of antiques , paintings, tools, books, & toys that the auctioneers felt would draw great interest. Dad was a collector, & Mom maintained the full homestead. When we emptied the house we filled 4 huge residential dumpsters with old materials kept for building and held a yard sale and ………. Your big house held a lot of stuff accumulated over 54 yrs. We kept for you original mouldings that Dad saved to restore & reuse. Did you find the things we left for the new owners who might wish to continue the restoration. What you don’t want Portland Architectural Salvage will be interested in offering you compensation. They were in the house last summer & respected our wanting to save materials for you. Kate

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  13. Have that chimney, both chimneys, inspected for safety all-l-l the way up. We haven’t used those fireplaces in many years. I think the mortar & bricks are original in the chimneys. Dad worked on the plaster around the fireplaces. Again, our father tried to keep things as original as possible. What is beautiful & practical COULD be a fire hazard now. Kate

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  14. Christy, Dad told us that before he bought the house, for taxes owed, the house was apartments. I belive it was changed before WWI, but maybe so at the time of the Civil War. All the fireplaces had been plastered over so that only a stove pipe fit up the chimney when he started restoring the house. I guess coal or wood stoves rested on the hearths. The upstairs bathroom was as small as a closet but he opened it up by taking space from Georgia’s room. With 4 daughters and wife, he knew we needed that extra space, especially as we girls realized when we 4 got ready for school at the same time in the morning. I’m the oldest & the youngest came along 4 1/2 yrs laters. He put in that big bathtub. The wide edge of the tub was always great to stand on to view ourselves in the mirror above the sink. Because he took out closet space in Georgia’s room, he built that wall of built-ins. However, before he did that kind of finish work, Dad had to dig down at least 4 ft and pour cement in the cellar. It was always a dirt floor. Up on the 1st flr, he tore down a set of stairs that went from the back entry end of the hall up to a stair landing that currently is where the attic steps go up from the second floor. It mirrored the stairway that exists currently. Dad built in the linen cabinet under the attic stairs. The shutters on the windows were to keep out the cold in days of yore. I always thought the shutters were to keep the Indians out. That water that runs under the cellar comes from the high water table. Stream beds, even underground ones, always change their course over the years. Underground water pops up to the surface all over the neighborhood. Come spring, you’ll notice water coming up through some cracks in the road and flowing down the street; of course, that might be the sign of a broken water pipe, too. Generally, in the north, water pipes are put in BELOW the frost line. Dad told us that the early home owners had a well under the house so that they could always get water. Way back when, Indians were in the area; and if there was danger, the home still needed access to water. I hope you get a copy of Mrs. Lovejoy’s history of Stroudwater. Perhaps, I reacted too vehemently to your wonderful pictures of the b’day party and the work unlucky John did up in the chimney. The fire was beautiful. With the firescreen up, we young girls would sit on the hearth bricks to stay warm before running upstairs to jump in between the cold sheets of our beds. Did John find any jelly beans? All last year, while I kept the empty house clean, I continued to look for old Easter eggs that we MUST HAVE overlooked. Dad was so adept at hiding them when we we small, too small to look easily in cracks & crevices. The house filled up with stuff over the years but I was Georgia’s age when we finally moved into the house. I remember the early cellar work, the newly stained floors, the hollow sound as we little ones ran up & down those great wooden steps. We weren’t allowed up in the attic for fear we would step on old, rusty nails in the old boards stacked everywhere. Kate

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