Dear PoPville – Tips for Selling your own home?

“Dear PoPville,

My wife and I would like to try and sell our condo in Columbia Heights this Fall and are interested in doing it ourselves. We realize going outside the typical real estate agent arrangement entails some extra work and diligence on our part. Are there any local law firms that could assist us during the closing process with document preparation and other legal matters related to selling a condominium?”


“Dear PoPville,

1 – Can anyone recommend a home staging expert or company?

2 – There a few companies (ex. that get your listing on the MLS, anyone have any good/bad experiences with them?”

60 Comment

  • I haven’t tried for sale by owner, but if you do it, offer more than 3% to buyers’ agents. They generally do not like this trend of discount brokers or people selling on their own, and may be less inclined to steer their buyers to your place unless you give them a financial incentive. Good luck

    • +1 I find that such a large percentage of buyers are represented by agents and are much more comfortable with dealing with a sellers agent instead of the seller directly.

  • get a Realtor.
    The legal and financial risks in a real estate deal gone bad are so big,they dwarf the 5-6% commissions you are trying to save.

    • And you really are only saving the selling brokers commission, 2-3%

    • Except that realtors aren’t legally or fiancially liable for anything involved in the property or sale. Part of the stack of paperwork they make you sign before agreeing to fleece you.

  • Disclaimer: I think realtors are in general, the most useless and overpaid people on the planet.

    Having said that, they do provide a service to people. Not one worth paying them more per hour than a plastic surgeon, but a service none the less. Their service is “time”. They spend their time doing incredibly simple tasks that most people just don’t want to do.

    Having said that, you need to find a settlement company, of which there are many. The larger ones all do eqivalent jobs. They are the ones that do all the paperwork involved for both you and the seller. I’ve used Capitol Title a few times, but there are atleast a dozen more locally that do the same quality work. The only use a real estate attorney might be is looking over your offer to make sure everything is fine, but all offers are on standardized forms so thats not even that important.

    The biggest problem you will have is that realtors protect their own. Despite what they say publically, privately they go out of their way to avoid showing their clients FSBO homes. Despite the fact that your listing is on the same MLS as all the others, your open houses will be oddly sparse.

    So, if you have the time to staff your own open houses, answer questions from other realtors etc then I would say do it. If you just want the place to

    • Your listing can be on MLS only if you subscribe to MLS,and only Realtors can subscribe to MLS.
      get a Realtor.
      Also,FESBO’S tend to linger on the market for much longer than Realtor listed properties.
      The longer on the market,the less you will get for it.

    • If the only service your realtor provides you is “time” then you have a lousy realtor. And there are a lot of lousy realtors out there (although fewer since the housing boom ended), so it’s not surprising you ran into a bad one.

      Most of us will be involved in a handful of real estate transactions in our lifetime. Hiring an expert who is experienced, knowledgable, and has a large network of contacts representing buyers as well as a rolodex (do those still exist?) full of trusted vendors is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

  • I sold one on Capitol Hill in 1995. No problems. The couple I sold it to did not use a realtor either. The realtor I had used when buying the house gave me a standard contract form. I used a title service on Penn Ave… can’t remember the name. Since it was the same company I had used when buying the house a few years earlier, they were willing to do it for a low price. I might have gotten a higher price if I had used a realtor, but I woud have had to pay more.

    Notes- it seems to have gotten more “legalish” since then, so you may want to have a lawyer involved.

  • Thanks Joker, good stuff. Regarding “legal and financial risks” involved in a real estate transaction, that’s why we want to work with an attorney to insulate ourselves as much as possible from risk. We realize we may have to offer a commission to a buyer’s agent, but at least it’s our decision to do it and not someone else’s.

  • I’ve heard that one of the reasons FSBO sellers often have less success is because they are unrealistic about pricing (initial pricing and contract negotiations). I think it is advisable to shell out a few hundered bucks to get a formal appraisal so you price your house correctly, and get an inspection prior to putting the house on the market so you can either repair things that will be an issue, or subtract the cost of the repairs from the asking price. You should probably also get a consult from a professional stager. When potential buyers show up to view your house, if their agent is with them, make sure to leave the house–I think a lot of people find it uncomfortable to view a house when the owner is close by.

    • I’d trust any appraisal less than what a realtor would say — or even my own take. The thing an appraisal would give you is the ability to tell the seller your house appraised for a number somewhat higher than they’d ever offer, which to me is a waste of money.

  • Fuck a Realtor. Every house I have bought, the Realtor made multiple mistakes and was not culpable; I had to pay up. I’m never using a Realtor. There are plenty of For Sale By Owner resources on the web.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Remember ‘Operation Return to Civility’? You could’ve made your point without saying “Fuck a Realtor”. C’mon – be cool. I really hate to delete comments – but this aggression will not stand.

    • Stoney.
      The National Realtors association is thrilled that you are willing to give them some pleasure.
      However,you will have to go home to rosey,they are not interested.

  • There does not seem to be a direct link between the work a realtor does and the commission. When I bought my house in 1999, I signed a buyer agent agreement and the agent gave me a list of about 15 houses. Later that day, when I drove by the house I have, I was sure it was great. I knocked on the door and asked to see the house. The seller had just listed it a few days before and there was no open house yet. I called my agent and said that I found the perfect house and to offer full price. He concurred the house was priced right and would be sold after the open house. We wrote up an offer and it was accepted. This happened in ONE DAY. Both agents shared 6% of $282,000 = $17,000.

    • Show of hands, how many other people bought a house in one day?

      There’s no way you could do that in this market anyway. Most buyers are taking months and months.

      • I did. Had been going to open houses for years, so I knew what was out there. I had recently signed with a buyer’s agent who showed me nothing remotely like what I wanted. Then I was just walking the dog a slightly different route on Saturday and saw the “For sale” sign. I went to the open house on Sunday then called my agent right away. (This was 2005 – Columbia Heights)

        I Put in an offer immediately. There was another offer and I think my realtor did have some influence in this process, but the fact is, they hadn’t even called me about this property, which has turned out to be exactly perfect in every way.

        Moral of the story – finding the right house is tons of work – you must work every angle all the time and don’t rely on any realtor or anyone!

        • Good moral. In my opinion, if you don’t have the time to check the MLS yourself every day for at minimum 10 minutes, you’re not likely to get a good deal. You should never be relying exclusively on a realtor to find homes.

          But the phenomenon of going from pre-approval letter to sale in a day or two isn’t the norm; it’s an outlier event.

      • Umm…the average days on market (DOM) in the District last month was 69 days. That includes that large supply of 5 million plus houses out of the reach of 99% DC that stay on the market for 6 months or more, skewing the numbers.

        I’ve bought 1 house and sold another in 1 day here in the District.

        Like I said, if your accredidation for your job took 5 hours during a night class, it “ain’t” rocket science.

        • Really, I was talking about the entire home buying process. OP#2 says he got a realtor and bought a home in the same day. Their whole process from thinking “I’m getting a realtor” to ratified contract was exceptionally short. In my case, it took the better part of year to get to a ratified contract — and I think that’s is a lot more representative of a typical buying experience.

          I mean, anyone can walk into an open house and make an offer. The seller’s agent would *love* that. But to close on that house requires a lot of luck. It’s not like you don’t have competition, threat of the appraisal not coming in, etc…

      • Wrong, Tres. I’ve bought two that way, doing it myself. Realtors are especially superfluous on the buyer side. NAR has done a very good job of marketing realtors and convincing Americans there’s no way these transactions would happen without them. But the truth is that most of the work in finalizing the transaction is done by the title company and the bank financing things. If, as a buyer, you’re willing to do your diligence, you’ll be just fine. The DOJ/FTC did a joint report on realtors in the modern era a few years ago. It’s a very interesting read. The internet is sufficiently ubiquitous now that there’s no reason we should all act like the sky would fall if MLS weren’t there to hold it up.

      • I’ve bought 4 this way — happened upon them myself with no help from an agent.

  • Realtors are a bit of a cabal. There is a essentially a fixed price and its basically a “closed shop”.

    • Anon
      You can join the “cabal” by passing the exam and paying the door to everyone ( who qualifies that is.)

  • Make the effort to stage the house and make all of your ad materials look professional. Dimwit down the street from me didn’t do that while trying to sell his house (he also had a pie-in-the-sky asking price of $800K). The house was messy, the pictures awful, and the handwritten sign out front was just dreadful. Not surprising, he didn’t sell it by the time he had to move and ended up listing with a realtor in the end.

  • I recommend listing your house on as well as a few other sites, even craigslist if you’re doing it on your own. All of that is free advertising and most agents will list on those sites anyways. MLS is becoming more useless as more people realize the FREE resources they have and become more empowered. Bravo on deciding to do FSBO and good luck!

  • When I was house-hunting, one of the houses I was interested in had a realtor listed as “”

    I looked at their website, and apparently for a $300 flat fee (and the promise of a 3% commission to the buyer’s agent), gets people’s properties listed in MLS.

  • It continues to bother me that realtors take a percentage commission rather than a flat or hourly rate. Is it really that much more work to sell an $800,000 house in DC than a $400,000 condo?

    When I bought my first condo here in the 80s, me and the seller were negotiating back and forth through the realtors and were only a few thousand away (the asking price was under $100K; this was the 80s), so I asked each realtor to knock 1% off their commissions to get to where we both wanted to be. They both agreed. More buyers should consider trying this.

    • Therein lies the problem.

      The average house cost per MLS in the District right now is $550K. 6% of that is $33,000, meaning each realtor walks away with $16,500 bucks in commission for what was ~40 hours worth of work spread out over a couple months.

      I am sorry, but paying someone $415 bucks an hour who qualified for the position with a 5 hour night class, and who carries zero liability or responsibility for any part of the sale or transaction is beyond ridiculous.

      Don’t get me started on all those million plus homes in DC and the $30K commissions they carry for each realtor.

      Thankfully, services like Redfin are stepping in and breaking the mafia like control realtors have created for themselves.

      Those structural engineering companies that got called into 24/7 over time duty last week checking all the office buildings you currently sit in after the earthquake, and are PERSONALLY criminally liable in the future if they are found at fault, we charging less per hour.

      I’ve sold 3 homes and bought 2 without the services of a realtor. The ones I bought, the seller was estatic and more than willing to share the savings I was bringing them in the form of lower price or transaction fees etc.

      The first FSBO took me longer than the house probably would have sold with a realtor by a month or so, but the other two sold without problem and became the highest comp in the neighborhood. With all the online resources (like Redfin) accurately pricing your home is now childs play

      I’ve saved more than 150K the past decade by excluding realtors. I’ll never go back.

      • How did you save when you were buying? Every sales contract I have ever seen said the selling realtor gets the full 6% if there is no buying realtor. Were you lucky enough to buy from a FSBO?

        • No one I know actually agrees to that. I’ve never known anyone who was selling a home who didn’t have that removed from the listing agents contract. Everything except their liability is negotiable, including commission, but unless you are selling something million +, or you just used them to sell your old home they won’t agree on that.

          Its easy…go to seller. Say “I am putting down an offer, I have no buyers agent and I want to negotiate their commission I am saving you”.

          It is especially easy if you are buying a home or condo being sold by a developer, the larger the better as they’ve already figured in the cost of the buyers agents into the cost of the project and they are more interested in moving units than they are trying to recoup money that had already spent on paper.

          • But when you go to the seller, they have already signed their listing agreement. It is not up to them to unilaterally write off the commission they agreed to. unless they negotiate this term out when they sign the listing agreement, it is too late when you come in with your offer. Maybe everyone does do this, but the folks I have bought from did not negotiate out this term.

            Of course, the realtor could simply agree to strike this contract term in order to get the house sold, but it is entirely int he realtor’s power to make this decision.

            That’s great that you got it done though. I’ve just never seen anyone actually make that work.

          • Anon,

            As I said, I’ve known no one who actually left that clause in the listing agreement before they signed on the dotted line with their listing agent, so its been a complete non-issue.

            And I imagine you are right. If it came down to it, and it was between a qualified buyer to sell to, or leaving the house on the market, any realtor with half a brain cell would take the guaranteed 3% commision now, rather than throw the opportunty to sell away.

      • The amount of their compensation on a hourly basis is irrelevant. You’re not accounting for the fact that a good realtor saves you money. The only thing one should worry about is:

        Will my realtor get me a good enough price, net commissions, to justify my hiring them?

        Let’s say your realtor negotiates better than you, for instance. Maybe they know how to really turn the screws on the seller’s agent, how to ask the right coded questions to get info the seller would prefer not to share, etc. There’s a lot of psychology that comes into play — it’s beneficial to have someone with decades of experience doing nothing but buying and selling homes. You have to ask yourself: if I was pitted against a realtor like that, how likely is it that I alone be able to get the best price for myself?

        If you think the realtor could improve your sales price by 1.5 – 2%, I don’t think there’s any way you could justify not hiring them.

        • It is 2011. Information is available that reduces the confusion of buying and selling. In the past I actually had an agent who told me that my offer would “insult” the seller. Never again. “Turning the screw” is just another term for manipulation and distorting the market. The elimination of the mortgage deduction because of the country’s debt will only increase the pressure on the real estate industry to reduce its commissions.

  • Location, condition of the house and your own basic intelligence (and savvy) are the key factors. I totally appreciate what realtors do but think the percentage pricing is insane. I don’t think many would turn down simple set fee for service – and this would help improve the whole industry.

  • One thing I wish realtors would do is tie commission to price. They could come in and evaluate your home and give you a low, medium and high price. If you accepted the low price, then you pay a lower commission. This would tie commission to the amount of time it would likely take to sell the house. Plus, the realtor is actually taking on some of the risk of the recommended pricing.

  • There are a million things that go into selling a property and helping somebody buy a house. If you had a realtor that didn’t do a good job, I apologize. They did you a disservice. But there are plenty of good realtors out there that work hard to provide excellent service. It’s also a misconception we don’t show/deal with FSBO’s. I’ve been a buyers agent on FSBO deal. Realtors don’t like FSBO’s because FSBO’s often don’t understand the time commitment/legal aspect that’s involved in selling a property. FSBO’s also already have a full time job. Then they find selling their place is an additional full time job. It rarely progresses smoothly. Our only job is to make sure it progresses smoothly. I also think FSBO’s are at risk when analyzing an offer. Do you know how to determine if the deal is going to make it to closing? The current lending environment is a doozy. My point is this: look at both sides of the story before making assumptions about realtors. Just like any other profession, there are competent and incompetent people.

    • Whenever realtors try to defend their profession, 75% of what they say ends up being really solid reasons to use a good real estate attorney. As so many have said above, you want someone whose professional credentials involve higher education and more than a token level malpractice insurance.

    • Jen,

      As I’ve said above, realtors provide “a” service. Its just not worth the 400+ bucks an hour you charge for it. There are competant realtors just like there are competant fry cooks, but nothing any realtor does, or is liable for is worth that kind of money.

      Analyzing an offer?. I’ve seen my fair share of offers and made some myself and the only thing in the contract that would determine if it is going to closing (rather than when) is how much money they are putting down, which affects financing. Thats it.

      People who put more down are safer bets than people who put less. If thats what you call “analyzing” an offer, then I am sorry…thats it.

      I realize you are a realtor and I’m not picking on you personally, but there is nothing wrong with admitting your profession contributes very little to the process and takes out an outsized paycheck in return. The Settlement company does far more work and is far more liable than any realtor is, and the Settlment company gets what…a few thousand dollars?

  • The only reason to use a realtor to sell is if your time is extremely valuable or if you’re not in the same city as the property. Keep in mind that when it comes to negotiating, the realtor has way more interest in the deal closing than with you getting top dollar — $10k to you is $300 to them, and that 10k to you is not just cash, it’s money you have to borrow on your next mortgage.

    The even more baffling thing around here is that people continue to use buyer’s agents. If that’s a service you need, you probably should be renting.

  • As someone who has bought and sold his share of houses I always look askance at FSBO lisings. Typically they’re overpriced, and even if they’re not you have the hassle and weirdness of having to deal directly with an owner who isn’t objective about their house and any problems/drawbacks that it may have. Plus, as another poster said, you rarely end up saving anywhere near the full six percent. Most buyers do have agents, who get three percent, and most buyers without agents aren’t going to stand for a FSBO pocketing all of the money saved by going without agents on either side; they’ll want a lower sales price as part of the deal. In the end you might save one or two percent, which doesn’t seem worth the effort to me.

  • In looking at some of these responses, I have to laugh at just how uneducated some of you people are. It’s ironic that you would bash realtors when you have absolutely no clue just how much paperwork (and bitch work like someone mentioned…that you don’t want to do) and liability is indeed involved in the process. It’s why brokers and their agents pay for errors and omissions insurance. Look it up. The most comical part of your responses is the automatic assumption that 6% on a $550K sale would go directly into a real estate agents pocket. 3% on the sale would be $16,500 and in most cases anywhere from 20-50% of that money goes to their broker. Real estate agents are small business owners. Accountants suggest setting aside 30% of commission to pay taxes at the end of the year. Transportation, administrative assistants, marketing, and costs associated with affiliating bring the average income down to sometimes below average. I can understand some of you wanting to save 5-6% on your sale, but quit knocking agents when you really have no clue. Some real estate agents are less ethical than others, some are great. Why don’t you apply the same illogical thought process to attorneys or other service providers? Get a grip.

    • So extremely busy, wealthy people sometimes pay other people to do things that most people are better off doing for themselves? Mind. Blown.

  • Real Estate agents were worth their weight in gold when they had a monopoly on the knowledge about the real estate market. Ever since this handy thing called the Internet came along their utility has nearly vanished. Buyers agents are the most worthless investment a person looking for a house could possibly make. Because of the structure of the deal they are actually incentivized to rip you off. Want a good deal? Too bad,they’ll drag their feet and take you instead to the million dollar places that are just barely out of your price range. In fact I think buyers agents unjustly were let off the hook for their rather large role in contributing to the housing bubble. Sellers agents aren’t quite as worthless but are close. If you live in downtown DC and have half a mind for marketing on the Internet you would be a fool to contribute to a profession that should go the way of the manual elevator operator.

  • Well said, S.

    Joker: sorry but your analysis of an offer has nothing to do with today’s reality. There’s SO MUCH MORE to an offer and getting it to closing than the down payment. Unless you’ve recently tried to purchase or sell a home, you have no idea what this market is like and what’s necessary to get a deal to close. The only transactions that are sorta easy to close are cash deals.

    How about some real examples of the current market? Like a client that’s putting down 40% and STILL having issues getting a clear to close because he doesn’t live/work in the US although he is a citizen. Or the fact that banks don’t like to lend to women that are maternity leave.

    Yes, the internet is a handy tool. Everyone uses it, even us realtors. But not every source is good. Zillow is one of the worst. It consistently over values property and it’s never up to date.

    Don’t bash what you don’t know. Whether you chose to use a realtor or not is your prerogative but have facts to back up your comments. So far, I’m not seeing any. You have no idea how much realtors actually make. See comments by S for an accurate portrayal of how it works.

    • Jen, you have to understand that way foo many of your colleagues have no idea how underwriting or loan making happens. Beyond that, as you know, most loan approvals are now done by algorithm, so the loan officer, and certainly not the realtor, can do anything to really effect the outcome of the underwriting software and department. If you’re not approved bc you live out of the country then move to the next lender.

      It’s not that hard. I had a difficult loan situation when I bought my house and I quicky learned that none of the real estate agents or loan officers had much more than a 3 hour course on finance and did not understand the mortgage market.

    • Sorry Jen, but nothing you say here is a good argument for using a realtor, except perhaps for the case of an out of country buyer, which is such a rare case it’s not even worth talking about.

      When you have difficulties in a closing, you need either a new lender or a good real estate attorney. A realtor can badger the lender, but that’s about it. Often times that’s all it takes, of course, but an attorney will do it for a flat, reasonable fee rather than a realtor’s fat cut, and when the situation is truly problematic a realtor will often have to involve an attorney anyway. Trust me, I’ve been in the room for those closings, and it’s fun to watch the realtors hover over their clients patting their heads and reassuring them, because that’s about all they can do — other people are doing the real work. Having an attorney involved from the start also reduces the chance of problems like this even coming up. And no, I’m not a real estate attorney and I haven’t worked for one in a decade, but I have been peripherally involved in the industry for my whole adult life.

      When Zillow is out of date, it’s because the various deals the local Realtors’ Associations have cut (or in some cases refused to cut) that keep the data from flowing cleanly and freely to the public sources. So yes, Zillow is out of date sometimes, and you can thank people like Jen and her colleagues for that. If as a buyer you’d like to give them money for their service in this regard, you’re the kind of person who should probably keep renting. If you’re selling and you’re looking for comps, skip the commercial sites and go straight to the public records. The search interfaces may be a little clunkier, but the data is there, and it is comprehensive and free.

      Sorry Jen, but you’re a little shy on facts yourself. The truth is that your profession used to extract rents from an information monopoly, and that monopoly is for the most part now over. I will grant that there are cases where an agent can help, but this is true of procurement agents in any large transaction. Try buying a boat worth over $100k some time, you’ll gladly pay someone a couple of points on the deal to help take care of all the minor issues. But again, the number of people out there who need a realtor is about in line with the number buying $100k boats.

  • Coming into this string late – this is exactly our debate about our Petworth rental property. We’ve been burned and/or underwhelmed by realtors and in no particular rush to sell (it’s a solid rental stream) so thinking of testing waters by going FSBO for a few months to see what shakes out. Has anyone hired a flat fee listing service (basically, to get yourself listed on MLS, which feeds many other pubic databases) or purchased a package with The latter seems to be the go-to option but I’ve seen some online complaints that worry me. Anyone have any experience?

  • If you are looking for a Stager please look at my website and I’ll be happy to help you with the Staging!

  • I, like you, once questioned using a realtor. I bought my first house from a FSBO without a realtor. Transaction went great. Felt like all of you who have had good experiences.

    So I went to sell said house FSBO again with no agents and totally got burned. No closing happened on the day of closing, had already signed a lease on an apartment and gotten myself packed. Am a lawyer myself and used the same lawyer title co etc I had used before, so not a lack of knowledge thing.

    Since then I have used a realtor for 4 transactions and I believe that the price is worth their exhorbatant costs because of this: their motive to have to sale close and get paid. And make sure all of the closing steps happen, in order, and on time. And let you know when red flags start popping up before closing.

  • Also Joker where are you getting your information about becoming a realtor by taking a 5 hour night class?

    As someone who just spent 30 hours doing continuing education ( to keep me informed of the latest lending laws, discrimination laws, contracts, etc) to renew my license I would be very interested to find out more about this so called 5 hour class.

    Please have your facts straight before repeatedly spreading false information.

    • Last time I checked the continuing ed requirements are 15 or 16 hours every two years in DC, MD, and VA. Are you carrying licenses in multiple jurisdictions or something? 8 hours a year is nothing, most of us spend about that much time in meetings about corporate security policy and similar BS.

      Most of the courses to get a license take like a month if you do it full time, then you have the pass the exam. It takes more training to get a cosmetology license than a real estate license in DC, though the government does use the same contractor to manage the exams and certifications for both.

  • I was specifically responding to Joker who stated twice that it is possible to obtain a real estate license with one 5 hour night class. This is not the case. Obtaining a real estate license in Dc, Md or va requires 135 hours of course work and passing both the state and national exam. In addition 15 hours of continuing education is required every two years for each jurisdiction. I am not saying that this is the same as going to a four year college or anything. I am merely saying that joker should not use bad information repeatedly and if he/ she feels it is ok to be that uninformed then the rest of his statements should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

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