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How I Sold My House & Paid My Real Estate Agent Only $500

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Selling a house is a major undertaking. Even if you hire a professional to help, there’s plenty you’ll need to do yourself — from making the final decision on asking price, clearing clutter to making the place look as inviting as you can. And the help you get can be costly. Agents typically charge about 6% to 7% of the home sales price as commission. A lot of people think about doing it themselves, or at least doing some of it themselves.

Back in 2013, Daniel DiGriz, CEO of marketing firm MadPipe, took the plunge. He wanted to leave Oklahoma City to relocate to New York City… but first he needed to sell his home. And he wondered if he really needed to spend 6% or 7% to get professionals to do it for him. He decided to give himself three months, then hire an agent if the house hadn’t sold.

He had worked for a real estate software company before, and he knew some of the basics, but still he was nervous about trying to do it himself. “Then I looked at the enormous cost and said, ‘I can do that,'” he recalls. And for the most part, he did. There was plenty of labor involved, and also a good bit of self-education. He did his homework, studying a book and websites.

And then he came up with a strategy. He decided it was important to get it on the Multiple Listing Service, Zillow and Trulia, and he was willing to pay for that (he paid a listing agent $500 to list it, but not to screen calls, market the home or go to closing). He also offered a discount if a buyer came without an agent. “Rather than paying 3 to 3 1/2%, I gave them half of that as a credit,” he said.

Because a lot of people do their initial house-hunting on the Internet, he suspected they could find their way to his listing on their own before hiring an agent. Here are his tips:

Spend time crafting the description. Be clear and direct, and emphasize what’s nearby. If you can walk to restaurants and nightlife, say so. If it’s in an excellent school district or next door to a park, point that out. You want it clear enough so that it will encourage potential buyers for whom it will be a good fit. Being vague can waste everyone’s time. DiGriz also created a landing page for his home, with photos and descriptions.

Do some staging. DiGriz said a trip to the dollar store for new cloth napkins and so forth can freshen things up. He says he spent perhaps $150 on staging, with a few flowers and plants. DiGriz also noted that a coat of fresh paint can go a long way toward creating the impression that the home is well cared for.

De-clutter. You should be packing to move anyway, DiGriz says. He filled plastic tubs full of items that did not actually need to be in the house and put them in a storage unit. Result: roomier closets, less clutter and no worries that something valuable might disappear when potential buyers toured the house.

Take pictures. You will need to make sure there’s plenty of light and use a wide-angle lens. (Don’t have one? You can buy a stick-on attachment for your smartphone.)

Get a pre-sale appraisal. The cost is likely to be $300 to $400, he said, and it assures buyers that the price you are asking is a fair one. It also tends to discourage lowball offers. This is different from a comparable home price analysis or broker price opinion (BPO) done by real estate agents. An appraisal involves actually going inside your home and estimating the value. While home shoppers may be somewhat influenced by the smell of freshly baked cookies, an appraiser is more likely to be impressed by a new roof.

Put yourself in the buyer’s place. Make the transaction easy and fair. DiGriz used standard real estate transaction templates for offers. He recommended a title agency whose offices were nearby, though the buyer, who paid closing costs, was free to choose.

Be home and available when you show the house. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom. DiGriz said he greeted visitors, offered refreshments and then allowed them to walk through the house, exploring on their own. He was around to answer questions, like how old the roof was or about the access door on the floor, but he did not follow them around as they looked.

Make buyers responsible for financing. He was unconcerned about pre-approvals or pre-qualifications. Buyers had to close in a timely manner or lose their earnest money. (If you’re a buyer interested in buying this way, it would be essential to do what all would-be homeowners should do: know what your credit profile looks like — which you can check for free on Credit.com — and what sort of loan you can expect to qualify for. If you are just starting this process, the place to start is by checking all three credit reports, which you can do for free, for accuracy and disputing any mistakes if need be — finding out there’s a problem late can derail a home sale.)

His eventual buyer called just four hours after the listing appeared online. They have kept in touch, with DiGriz answering questions about the location of plumbing pipes and spare keys. Most recently, he was asked about marketing and selling the house. His buyers bought the house for their daughter, then in college, to live in. It has since risen in value, and she has graduated — and they’re hoping to sell the house the same way it was sold to them.

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  • Carl Weisman

    Great article Gerri. I hope every potential home seller reads it.

  • heavyw8t

    Great information and for me personally, very timely.

  • Marc Oster

    Instead of hiring an appraiser call any local real estate company and ask for a market analysis. That will be done for free and will be more accurate then an appraisal with regard to market value and time it might take to sell. You will have to meet with an agent and possibly have to endure a listing presentation and calls from the agent afterwards. They also might give you tips on how to sell faster or what repairs to make to maximize your value and get your home ready for possible FHA loans. Also you do need to get the buyers preapproval or prequalification. It’s stupid not to. You might waste a month or more on a deadbeat buyer if you don’t. You might anyways, but its better to be careful.

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