- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

High demand in Washington’s housing market is encouraging some sellers to do without the services of a real estate agent.

The 6 percent fee typically charged by an agent can add up to $30,000 on homes with average selling prices of a half-million dollars, a price commonly found for houses in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs.

Despite warnings from real estate agents for buyers to beware of “for sale by owner” homes, the sellers say home values that rose more than 22 percent in the Washington area in the last year and continue to climb make their efforts worthwhile.

“I don’t want to give away my money,” said Anaida Ruiz, a project manager assistant selling her condominium in Old Town Manassas. “That’s a big chunk of money you have to pay an agent. Why should I when I can do it myself?”

After listing her 975-square foot, two-bedroom condo in local newspapers, she found a buyer willing to pay $191,000 within two weeks.

Sellers like Mrs. Ruiz are lucky if they sell their homes profitably with no legal entanglements, say real estate agents.

“It’s the equivalent of doing major surgery on yourself,” said Pat Reinhart, a realtor for Remax Allegiance real estate firm in Burke, Va. “For most people, this is the biggest financial investment of their lives. If they mess up, they’ve lost out.”

Nationwide, the median price for homes sold by their owners was $163,800 in 2004 compared with $189,000 for homes sold through realtors, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Real estate agents can post home listings on Web sites that get 40,000 hits per day, whereas do-it-yourselfers tend to run local newspaper classified ads, Mrs. Reinhart said.

“For the possibility of saving some money on commissions, they’ve probably lost the best buyer out there,” she said. “You’re missing the advantage of competitive bidding.”

Other pitfalls can include lawsuits by buyers who believe the seller misrepresented the quality of the home.

Any greater profit the seller earns disappears “when you have to get a lawyer to get things straightened up,” Mrs. Reinhart said.

In addition, most sellers want to avoid the time commitment required to place ads, answer phone calls from prospective buyers, give tours of their homes and ensure contracts are prepared properly.

“When they call me, they want a process that will run smoothly and not create a lot of problems,” Mrs. Reinhart said.

Nevertheless, some sellers are undaunted by the obstacles.

“We’ve bought and sold many homes in the course of our professional careers,” said Tony Tangeman, a retired Coast Guard captain, who along with his wife is selling their four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home in Woodbridge for a $587,500 asking price.

The Tangemans’ home in Woodbridge Longwood Estates is their seventh house.

“We’ve become familiar with the process and we have friends who are real estate agents,” Mr. Tangeman said. “We’ve got time. We don’t have to sell tomorrow.”

A flat fee option is available for sellers who want to reduce the commission they pay realtors.

Some brokerages, such as Assist-2-Sell in Manassas, will sell a home for as little as $3,995 for houses under $300,000.

The rate increases by $1,000 for each $100,000 of home value. The service includes advertising, inspecting, showing the house, writing the contract and settling.

Typically, Assist-2-Sell customers “want to be able to keep some of the extra cash,” said Susan Jacobs, owner of the Manassas Assist-2-Sell franchise.

Among her customers are investors who buy homes to sell at a profit, a process known as “flipping.”

The “flippers” include New Horizons Investments, a 10-member group of investors that has bought eight homes in the last year.

Members of the investment group often live in the homes and sell them themselves, without using realtors.

“We stand a better chance of getting a profit and giving a better deal to the home buyer,” said Hansel Taylor, a member of the group who is selling a four-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot home in Woodbridge for $499,900.

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