Angel Akin, who opened Homes By Owner Inc., a Springfield discount real estate office, last January, is not making predictions about the success of her business. The firm charges commissions of 1 or 4 percent, instead of the standard 6 or 7 percent.
"One of my agents needs three listings to make as much as he would with one listing at a conventional real estate company," Akin said. As a result, she said, "We will survive solely on our volume.... We don't know if we will be in business a year from now."
Akin has been in real estate since 1964 and has been a broker for 10 years. She was formerly manager of a major real estate office in Woodbridge - and a member of the local realtors' "Million Dollar Club."
"Real estate is the one business that's never bored me," she said.
Since she opened her firm, Akin and her five agents - one of whom is her husband - have had 80 listings, sold 62 houses and have settled on 41, she said. She hopes to triple those figures.
Akin recalled that when she and her husband first arrived in the Washington area, they had no money for a down payment on a home, and their furniture was "early attic." They now have a suburban house with a swimming pool and they paid cash for their two Mercedes. Earning 6 percent commissions helped pay for these luxuries, Akin concedes.
Why start a discount firm? Because housing prices are so high in this area that 6 percent commissions may sometimes be too much, she said.
"I want to perform a service and help people," Akin said. "I know it sounds corny," she acknowledged.
Akin's firm is part of the realtor-run multiple listing service in Northern Virginia. A seller listing with her company is charged 4 percent only if another company sells the home. Three percent of that commission goes to the other company and Homes by Owner Inc. keeps 1 percent, Akin said. Otherwise, the seller is charged only 1 percent.
For their money, sellers gets such services as "For Sale" signs with the company's phone number on it, 24-hour telephone service, and counseling on how to show their houses.
Among the firm's suggestions to sellers:
Make the beds and do the dishes.
Have lights already on in dark rooms.
Show the upstairs of a three-level house before the basement so potential purchasers won't be huffing and puffing at the end from climbing seemingly endless stairs.
Other companies "still wonder how we're going to make it," Akin said. But she said she prays for success, and eventually hopes to open a branch office in Prince William County to do business with the many military workers who live there.
"They have to move so often their homes don't appreciate much and they can't make much of a profit with a 6 percent commission," said Akin, whose husband was in the armed services for 24 years.
Some day, she said, she'd like to see a multiple listing service established for homeowners selling their own homes.
But, she acknowledged, "that's a few years down the line." CAPTION: ANGEL AKIN, discounting fees