Cover story: Fewer sellers going do-it-yourself route

In this age of do-it-yourself everything, from ringing up groceries to preparing your own taxes, one would think more home sellers would prefer to go solo.

While there are still some for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) folks, their numbers are declining, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

The number of homes sold without the help of a real estate professional dropped to a record low over the past year. Unrepresented sellers made up just 11 percent of the market, down from 13 percent in 2009, according to the 2010 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

This appears to be a local trend also as Realtors and buyers in the Washington metropolitan area report noticing fewer homes on the market without the representation of a Realtor. They attribute that to a number of factors, including today’s more complex transactions.

Though the Internet arms buyers with a wealth of information, Realtors say many would-be FSBO sellers find out fast that there’s more to a real estate transaction than they may think.

“Just putting a ‘For Sale By Owner’ sign in the front yard will not get the property sold,” says Michelle Vessels, associate broker with Long & Foster in College Park, Md.

Many real estate experts have tales of clients who tried to go the FSBO route before eventually deciding to list with a Realtor.

With today’s complicated real estate transactions, Brenda Smalls, former president of the Washington, D.C. Association of Realtors and manager of Prudential Carruthers in the District, says the knowledge and experience of a Realtor is required to do everything from successfully negotiating a contract to maneuvering the short-sale and foreclosure process to keeping up with the frequent changes in mortgage lending.

Ms. Vessels agrees and adds, “Today’s market offers the purchaser many options to choose from.”

She says most sellers understand today’s challenging marketplace and want to sell with the least worries in the shortest period of time and net the most amount of money.

In addition, Ms. Smalls says, “FSBOs - or what we refer to as ‘unrepresented sellers’ - typically do not have the [same] extensive market strategies, tools and resources as Realtors do to reach potential buyers.”

Among the top reasons people try to sell on their own is that they want to save the commission.

Margaret Woda, associate broker with Long & Foster in Crofton, Md., says, “Selling by owner does not guarantee the seller will put 5 [percent] to 6 percent more in his or her pocket in trade for doing all the work and taking on potentially costly liabilities. On the contrary, prospective FSBO buyers have their eyes on that 5 percent to 6 percent as well. It’s more likely the buyer will win this negotiation in a buyer’s market with a huge price reduction - probably even larger than the saved commission.”

One misconception among homeowners is that the Realtor takes home every dollar of the broker’s compensation, Ms. Vessels says.

“There are many fees that are associated with the sale of a home, which may or may not include sharing of broker’s compensation with cooperation brokerage firms, advertising licensing fees, IRS fees, signage, mailing and insurance, just to name a few,” she says.

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