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Home Sellers Handbook

Yourself or an Agent?

Your first big decision is whether to sell your home yourself or use a real estate agent. Some sellers feel more comfortable relying on the expertise of a real estate agent, while others want to avoid paying a commission.

The Klines have heard that real estate agent commissions can be as high as seven percent of the home’s sale price and they aren’t excited about paying that much to sell their house. They are thinking about selling their home themselves. Agent-free selling is what people in the real estate industry call “FSBO” (pronounced “fisbo,” which stands for “for sale by owner”).

If you’re not under any time constraints, you might want to give selling your own home a try. If your home does not sell, you can always hire a real estate agent later.

Pros and Cons of Being a FSBO (“For Sale By Owner”)

The number one reason to sell your home without an agent’s help is to avoid paying a real estate commission. In Minnesota, real estate commissions run as high as seven percent of the home’s sale price, although you may be able to negotiate a lower rate.

Time and expertise are also major factors in determining whether or not to sell your own home. Do you have a minimum of one hour per day to spend on advertising, screening buyers, and showing your home? FSBOs need the flexibility to schedule showings at convenient times for buyers. If your home isn’t shown, it won’t sell.

Business savvy also helps. When negotiating the sale, will you be able to keep your cool if a buyer wants to knock a couple of thousand off the price because the home is “obviously going to need a complete redecorating job?” Agents are used to negotiating and can be objective about the value of your home. Can you say the same about yourself?

And, as a FSBO, you will have to pay a fee if you want to have access to the Multiple Listing Service (“MLS”) used by real estate agents to locate homes for buyers. This computerized service lists homes for sale and homes that have sold by neighborhood, price, and features. However, you may be able to list your home on the Internet with a variety of sites. Some websites may charge a fee for a listing, while other sites may be available at no cost.

Tips for FSBOs

If you’re still unsure about whether or not to sell your own home, find out more by talking to several people who have tried to sell their homes themselves, look on the Internet, and get a book from the library or bookstore. Sometimes, school districts offer adult education classes on selling your own home.

Additional Tips:

The Klines have decided to become FSBOs. Jim and Cindy think they can split the responsibilities that go with selling their own home. They hope to put the money they would have spent on an agent into a new house. Their next home will have an extra room for a home office, and enough space for their dogs, Mo and Curly. The Klines have placed ads for their home in the newspaper and in a local real estate publication that is free to the public. They also designed a yard sign and flyers with snapshots of their home for bulletin boards at local businesses.

Hiring a Real Estate Agent

Ellen Bower is in a frenzy! Since she heard she got the mosquito job in Washington D.C. she has flown out there twice to find a home, has gone to three going-away parties, and has been tying up loose ends at her current job. In her “spare” time, she’s been painting and cleaning her house to get it ready for sale. With all she has to do, selling her home herself is out of the question. She needs to hire a real estate agent with the time, experience, and connections to get the job done quickly.

If you’re thinking of hiring an agent, interview several different agents. Talk with friends and family about agents they’ve used. Find an agent who will work on your terms. Make sure what you’re asking is realistic, however. Here are some things to discuss with prospective agents:

Have you sold homes in my neighborhood in the last year?

If the answer is yes, ask for the names, addresses, and current phone numbers of the sellers, as well as the sales prices of the homes. If the agent hasn’t sold homes in your area, find one who has. They’ll have a better feel for the market in your area. And, if the agent won’t give references, be skeptical. Don’t accept excuses about why he or she can’t give you the information.

I’m not willing to pay the commission that you’re asking.

Many agents will give you the impression that their commission is not negotiable. However, there is no rule preventing them from lowering their fees. Make sure you negotiate how much you are going to pay your listing agent and how much you are going to pay the buyer’s agent. Listing agreements may allow a listing agent to keep the entire commission even if there is not a buyer’s agent involved.

Ellen Bower hopes to negotiate a lower commission because she lives in a popular development. Other homes on her street have sold quickly, so she thinks her home will be easy to sell. (Of course, this is what most people think!)

Are you willing to put your sales strategy in writing?

To make sure you get the services you’re paying for, ask interested agents for their sales strategy before you hire one. When you agree to list your home with an agent, you could be forced to pay the commission even if you don’t get the service promised. So when you find an agent you like, ask to make the commission contingent on the agent sticking to his or her sales strategy. Any understandings you have with the agent must be in writing and included in the listing agreement.

What will you tell potential buyers when they ask whether the price is negotiable?

Make sure the agent will convey the information you want to be conveyed to buyers.

A final note about agents: Your real estate agent is obligated to get you the best possible price for your home as quickly as possible. Ask your agent to send you copies of your MLS sheet and any other marketing materials for your home. Also ask the agent to call at least twice a week to update you about potential buyers. Make sure your agent knows you are going to hold him or her accountable for getting the job done!

What Listing Agreement Should You Sign?

If you choose to sell your home with the help of a real estate agent, you’ll have to decide between an exclusive or nonexclusive listing agreement.

An exclusive listing agreement provides that the listing agent earns a commission out of the sale price when your house sells within the time period specified. Chances are good that lots of agents will be showing your home if it’s listed in the MLS. An agent who successfully brings a buyer to you shares the commission with your listing agent. Your listing agent can sell your home without the help of another agent, too. In that case he or she may get to keep the entire commission. The drawback to an exclusive listing is that you will pay your listing agent a commission even if you end up finding the buyer yourself.

Few agents like to admit it, but you can also choose to sign a nonexclusive or open listing agreement that allows you to list your home with several real estate agencies. Under this agreement, whoever sells the home gets the commission. If that person turns out to be you, you don’t have to pay a commission. A nonexclusive agreement can create healthy competition between agents. But it turns off many real estate agents. The best situation for using this agreement is if you have a very saleable property.

No matter which type of listing agreement you choose, remember that the listing agreement is a legally binding contract that is enforceable in court. Be sure to read the agreement thoroughly and make certain that you understand all the terms and provisions. If you do not understand something, ask the agent to explain. You should strongly consider having your attorney review the listing agreement with you. The terms of the listing agreement could create future liability. For example, some listing agreement call for the seller to indemnify the agent and brokerage for errors made by the agent or brokerage.

What Should Your Agent Do for You?

Your listing agent has several responsibilities:

Have a Complaint About an Agent?

If you have a complaint about your real estate agent’s conduct, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce at (651) 539-1500. The department licenses and regulates real estate agents and investigates complaints. The Minnesota Association of REALTORS® (“MNAR”) also takes complaints and arbitrates disputes and can be reached at (952) 935-8313 or (800) 862-6097.