When we tell people that we recently bought 2 houses AND sold a house For Sale By Owner (FSBO), I get a lot of questions on whether it was difficult and was it worth it. The answers are “not really” and “ABSOLUTELY!” Today, I’m going into all the details today on how we sold our house. I’ll write another follow up on how we bought two houses FSBO. But, I have to preface this by saying that I’m an attorney so I know how to read and write contracts better than most (and I recommend that you hire an attorney to review the sales contract). And, I also have my real estate brokers license (that I had never used and didn’t use when selling FSBO so I don’t consider myself to be an agent). Also, every transaction is different, but here is our story and my thoughts.
Obviously, this is a hot seller’s market so when we decided to sell our house in December, we thought we’d try to do it ourselves since inventory was low and houses were being snatched up. Of course, since then the market’s gotten even better for sellers so we could’ve gotten more. But oh well, you can’t time the market. We decided to try FSBO figuring that it we had issues, we could always hire a realtor. Not having to pay at least our side of the realtor commission of 3% was just so appealing! And we sold to a couple who also didn’t have a realtor so we ended up not paying their commission as well. But I’m jumping ahead… Let’s start from the beginning.
I had wanted to move for a long time. There was nothing especially wrong with our house, but I wanted something that was a bit bigger with a larger backyard and with a pool. Our house also lacked a lot of light since it was on a wooded lot facing south to north. We tried over the years in making the house exactly what we wanted with a kitchen renovation, bathroom renovations, etc. But you can’t add square footage to every room, or change the orientation of your house, or enlarge the land that it sits on. So, in my mind, the only option was to move.
I started the process by minimizing like crazy! Minimizing is really about deciding what you have that’s worth keeping. So that means looking at an item and deciding if you will use and enjoy it. If I didn’t use it within the last year or if it was dated, or ugly, or outlived its usefulness, I got rid of it. There were also things (clothes mostly) that functioned but that I just didn’t like. I mostly donated or gave away things on FaceBook but we also just pitched some of the unsalvageable stuff.
Sometimes it’s hard to look around your house and see your home through a 3rd person’s eyes, but you have to put yourself in buyers’ shoes to get the highest offer for your house. I took this approach when deciding what needed to be renovated and what could stay unrenovated even if it was a little dated. For example, the kids’ bathroom had the original tile and tub and not only looked dated, but it just looked dingy. The master bath on the other hand was renovated in the early 2000s (but before we moved in) and although it was dated, it was clean and still looked fairly new. So, we decided to do a quick makeover in the kids’ bathroom but not the master bath because the payoff just wasn’t worth it.
We basically took this approach in every room in the house- renovate because it looks dingy or leave it as-is- and I made a list of what I needed to tackle before advertising the house for sale. The laundry room, living room, and kids’ bath made our list. Also on the list was house-wide spot painting, caulking, fixing little things that needed fixing, and replacing light bulbs. Those little things that are on your To Do List that you never tackle- do them because buyers will notice if they’re not done.
Staging a house is all about getting rid of the “extra” to make your rooms look as big as possible. So, minimize your bookshelves, your cabinets (buyers will definitely take a peek), nightstands, and buffets. Basically put away anything that takes away from the openness of your room. Also, if you can’t stage your entire house, then focus on the kitchen, master bedroom, and living room. Those are areas that buyers will look at the most. You also want buyers to be able to see themselves in the house, so get hide any personal effects (photos, toiletries, religious items).
Also, try to get rid of anything that isn’t neutral in color. If you’ve got a piece of colorful art on the walls, consider swapping it out for something more neutral. You want the space to feel calming and neutral tones is your friend in this regard.
Make sure to open all blinds and curtains to make your house seem as light and airy as possible.
Remember to pay attention to your exterior. Plant flowers (if it’s the right season) and weed and mulch your flowerbeds. If it’s winter, decorate for the holidays and set a fire in the fireplace if you have one. That’s what we did and it made the home feel so warm and cozy.
We cleaned like we’ve never cleaned before to sell our house! Our house was so immaculate that one buyer said that he’s never seen such a spotless house (they ended up buying our house BTW!). If you are not a meticulous cleaner, do yourself a favor and pay someone to deep clean your house. Otherwise, slap on those rubber gloves and go over every inch of your house. A spotless house translates into a house that has been maintained and buyers want to see that.
Also, make sure to pay attention to the outside of your home. Make a good first impression! We had the brick power washed and the roof soft washed to make sure that the outside was super clean.
Lastly, make sure your house smells good! We used Glade plug ins throughout the house and it smelled so clean and fresh!
Okay, so our house was renovated, patched and repaired, staged, cleaned, and it smelled good so it was ready to list! Because the market was so hot, I advertised in our neighborhood FaceBook group and got about 10 responses, 5 showings, and 2 offers. If I could do it over again though, I would advertise on FaceBook for my county, area, AND neighborhood. I would also advertise on NextDoor and Instagram.
I would also tell everyone I knew that I was selling because you never know if a friend wants to move or knows of someone who wants to move. In short, I would shout it from the rooftops. There are also realtors that will list your property on the MLS for a fee and only list the property (you have to do the showings, contracts, etc.). Luckily we didn’t have to go that route and our listing was 100% free but hiring an agent just to list on the MLS is an option.
In our ads, we showed photos of the best parts of the house- the kitchen, living room, kids’ rooms, kid’s bathroom, office, covered porch, and family room. We took the photos on our phones and used LightRoom to touch them up. For my rentals, I always hire a photographer to take photos for my listing and you could do the same. Mine normally charges $500 and that includes processing the photos. In our case, I had a ton of already processed photos from the blog, so I just used my own.
Coming Up with a Sales Price
If you don’t already know your area really well and don’t have a solid idea on what you should sell your house for, you should talk to an agent. I know I said that this was an agent-free process, but we did ask a friend who was an agent in the area at what price should we sell our house. She looked at the comps and gave us a range that we used to price the house. Because she was a friend, we sent her a gift card and also told her that if we had a hard time selling the house that we’d give her the listing (and we meant that!). Luckily, we didn’t have a hard time AT ALL so we didn’t have to use her services (and shell out 3% of the house price).
Now we get to the fun part, showing your house to potential buyers! Before the showings, we came up with a printed list that highlighted the features of the house. I’ve known some sellers to make up a brochure of the house with photos and features and if I had to do this process again, that’s what I’d do. It doesn’t take a lot to use Canva, a free design app, to make up a brochure and have them printed at a place like Staples. At the time, we didn’t think that we’d get that much interest so quickly, so we didn’t have time or really the need to print brochures.
I contacted the people that were interested in the house and we set up our showings to be on the same weekend so that we didn’t have to maintain a spotless house for too long. We have 3 kids and 3 dogs, so there is a limit to how clean we can live! We gave people the option of showing them around our house or letting them just wander and come to us with any questions. Most people chose the wander method.
If showing was the fun part, receiving offers is the stressful part! We had 2 people submit offers on the house; one was represented by a realtor, and one wasn’t. Both offers were competitive, but the one submitted without an agent was much better because in our calculations, we wouldn’t have to pay their agent a commission. Neither had any contingencies (having to sell another house for example) so the only factor was the offer price. I went back and forth between the two parties telling them that they needed to submit a higher offer to be competitive with the other until one threw in the towel. By that time, the offer had exceeded the top range of the realtor’s estimate so we were ecstatic!
Hiring a Real Estate Attorney
At this point, if you’re not an attorney or don’t have a friend or relative who’s a realtor, you should have the contract reviewed by an attorney. It shouldn’t be too pricey to have it reviewed, maybe about $500 max. This is just to make sure that the title company and mortgage company have everything they need laid out in the documents to proceed with their part of the process. If you don’t know of a reputable real estate attorney in your area, then contact your local bar association and they can give you a recommendation.
Inspections and Closing
At this point, the FSBO process is the same as one in which you would go through if you had a realtor. The house is inspected by an inspector that the buyer chooses. You can opt to fix anything that the inspector finds or not, depending on if the house was bought as-is or not. The buyer also chooses the title company and mortgage company and you as the seller, just have to show up to closing. Easy!
My Thoughts on the Process
I will never sell a house through a realtor. No offense to realtors (remember I do have my license so I’m sort of a realtor…sort of!), but selling a house, especially in this market, is just too easy to pay them 3% of your sales price. Again, if I could do it over again, I would advertise ALL over the place, but other than that, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. We got a lot more for our house than we thought we would and selling FSBO made us super comfortable buying 2 houses (within 4 months) also without a realtor. More on that later!