When it came time to put her Cathedral Heights condo on the market, Kelly Richmond decided to take a hands-on approach.
That meant the 45-year-old contractor for the Smithsonian Institution became her own real-estate agent. She visited 13 realty offices with fliers and cover letters to show buyers’ agents the condo’s attributes. Her DIY approach made the process “more personal and direct,” she says.
That directness — and especially the savings that come with it — is a big reason why some homeowners decide to sell on their own.
“You cut your commission costs,” Richmond says. She’s listed her 638-square-foot, one-bedroom condo for about $262,000. Forgoing the typical 3 percent broker fee could save her nearly $8,000.
Of course, many Realtors caution against this approach. “You’re selling your house at a yard sale instead of selling your house in the official real-estate world,” says Ivan Katz of Fairfax Realty.
Here are tips if you’re planning to give “for sale by owner” a shot.
Do your homework. Richmond researched home prices in her neighborhood. In particular, she looked at the real-estate section of her local newspaper, the Northwest Current, to find out what comparable condos — in this case, a one-bedroom — were selling for nearby.
Chloe and Wali Alawi, who are selling their 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom condo in Columbia Heights for $795,000, did plenty of Internet research beforehand.
Chloe, 35, is the founder of reThink Collective, a consulting company for legal professionals that she started with her husband. She says their motto has been: “If we can run our own business in Washington, we can sell our own home.”
Consult the Experts
After doing your research, reach out to a pro for advice. Wali, 38, says his brother, a Realtor, encouraged him. “He said, ‘Go for it. … I’ll be there to back you up along the way with advice.’ That’s been a big resource,” Wali says.
Consider hiring a property appraiser, too. People who sell on their own often don’t price their property accurately, Katz says. “They typically ignore real indicators, like recent sales, current inventory and other factors that influence a market,” he says.
Be prepared to shell out a few hundred bucks for the appraisal. The Alawis spent $500 on theirs, and then used the information to list their condo for slightly under its market value.
Update and Organize
Then it’s time to focus on the details. The Alawis spent nearly $7,000 prepping their condo for sale, including hiring a painter; upgrading wall plates, window shades and mirrors; and hiring a pro photographer to shoot the unit.
The couple moved out last year and are renting an apartment while showing their condo full-time. That allowed them to stage it with rearranged furniture, making a third bedroom out of a multi-purpose room.
Lock Up and Lawyer Up
When it comes to selling your home by yourself, it’s important to protect your place. The Alawis spent about $30 for a lock-box for their keys, which allows agents to “come and go as they please,” Chloe says. They only provide the code after ensuring the agent is licensed.
Protect yourself, too: Consider hiring a lawyer to write up a sales contract and help with closing of the sale. (The Alawis say they plan to spend about $600 on a lawyer.)
Spread the Word
Lots of DIY sellers turn to Craigslist to post free listings. A pricier-but-effective way to lure buyers is to advertise on Multiple Listing Service, which Realtors use, or Forsalebyowner.com, which posts your ad across an array of websites. Those listings can cost several hundred dollars.
And beware of scammers. Richmond says she was contacted by suspicious overseas accounts through her Zillow listing. “You just have to be savvy,” she says.
Not everyone will have what it takes to be their own real-estate agent, so here are some attributes that make for a good candidate.
Have a flexible job, especially if you plan to show your property by yourself. “I have a very flexible schedule work-wise, and I have a marketing background,” says Kelly Richmond, 45, who says that gives her the time and skills to sell her D.C. condo.
Be patient. Pamela Samson, who’s selling her 985-square-foot, two-bedroom condo in Georgetown, says she’s in no rush to move so she can wait for the right offer.
Don’t get too attached. Ivan Katz, a licensed Realtor with Fairfax Realty, says owners who sell on their own “tend to be too emotionally tied up with their home,” which often ends up clouding their judgment in the process.
Lastly, be a strong negotiator. Chloe and Wali Alawi, who are selling their D.C. condo, say they plan to bargain with the buyer and his or her agent themselves.