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Part I » HOUSES - Selling your house yourself
Getting the Word Out
You want to become a mini marketing machine when you are selling your house yourself. Fortunately, there are so many tools available to people who are doing a FSBO these days. The key is to pursue multiple avenues for bringing people to your avenue to look at your home.


Have you ever noticed that most For Sale By Owner signs are tacky and tattered? The owner has gone down to the local hardware store and gotten a sign meant for a used Pinto and then glued those cheesy reflective numbers to the bottom with the phone number. Don’t do that. You want your sign to be clean, classy and appealing –just like your house.

Would you believe 62-percent of home buyers surveyed by the National Association of Realtors say they used a sign to help them find a home? Low tech power! So have a local shop make nice, custom signs or check out websites that offer them. One such site is Other sources: and I highly recommend attaching a nice acrylic box of sales flyers to your sign. I always get a little excited when I see one of those boxes of flyers in my neighborhood and there’s no reason a FSBO can’t have them too.

BIG SECRET: Attach a laminated sales flyer to your sign post.

Aren’t you always crushed when you pass a cute house for sale and all the sales flyers are gone? In fact, haven’t you noticed that they are always gone? And most are taken by nosy neighbors who just want to know your price. So overcome that obstacle by laminating one sales flyer and stapling it to your signpost. That way everybody will get a chance to read it –even nosy neighbors, who can be a great source of referrals, by the way.

Make sure to state “real estate agents welcome” on your sign and flyer. Real estate agents are your top source of potential buyers. In fact, all three of my FSBO situations have ended up involving agents and that’s fine. 85 percent of people still use agents, despite the cost. By selling on your own, you are a scrappy pioneer but the person buying your house may be a timid and risk-averse. If they have the money to make a sale, bring ‘em on!

Sign placement is the final frontier. Obviously, you want the habitual sign in the front yard. Also place one at the entrance to your development, if applicable. And here’s a trick that worked for me: whenever you are holding a Sunday open house, place a trail of signs leading from every other open house in the neighborhood to your own open house. It worked for me! The people who bought our condo had been looking at others in the neighborhood for weeks. Boy was their agent annoyed when my trail of signs lead them to a FSBO listing!

Classified Ads:

My print journalist colleagues may worry that newspapers are dead, but newspaper housing ads sure aren’t. When I was looking for houses, nearly every buyer walked into the weekly open houses clutching a sweaty copy of the Sunday real estate section. You should definitely tap into this classic resource because classified ads are fairly cheap and widely read. Be sure to write a new ad every week, so people don’t automatically dismiss your house as old news.


While we’re on the subject of paper, let’s talk brochures. In addition to the sales flyer you put with your sign (which should include photos, price, square footage and features), you should also make up a few other brochures.

Comparable Analysis

One great idea is to hand out a comparable analysis that shows comparable sales in the neighborhood. If you hired an appraiser, you might be able to simply photocopy the comps section of your appraisal. This is important because you want to reinforce to potential buyers that your home is priced fairly or even at a discount.

Financial Analysis

Another key piece of literature is a financial analysis. Here you will show what the monthly payments would be for your home with different interest rates, types of mortgages and sizes of down payments. Be sure to include the property tax rate too. You want potential buyers to be able to instantly assess whether your home is a good financial fit for them. This information is easy to obtain on the internet these days. But a better move is to work with a lender (maybe the one you carefully selected when you were buying your home) who can work up different scenarios for you. You’ll want this lender on board later anyway to help you make sure prospective buyers are financially qualified to purchase your house.

FSBO Forms

When I sold my condo, I made up a single page explaining the steps of a For Sale By Owner transaction and showing how simple it is! I also provided people with the standard forms used in my area for making an offer. Anything to make it easy for them! One source of real estate forms is the website, which charges about $40 to download a state form as of this writing.

Finally, create a sign-in sheet and ask everyone who tours your home to sign it. You’re not being pushy. Agents do the same thing. If certain buyers express avid interest, you will call them back later and ask if you can answer any questions.

The Internet

Switching gears from low tech to high tech, you must have a presence on the internet because that’s where 87 percent of buyers start their search these days, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Regional Websites

Find out if there are any hot regional real estate websites in your area, especially if they have high traffic and they’re free. Also get your house on the website of your local paper. When you take out a classified ad, you can usually get an online ad along with it at low or no cost. Also contact your friend Craig, as in Craigslist. This amazing marketplace works for everything from bikes to bras and it could help you sell your house too. I got several inquiries from Craigslist.

Your own website

A swankier option is to create your own website, but make sure you have a plan for how to draw traffic there. If you have the skills to do this, terrific. There are also FSBO websites that give you your own page as part of their service. They have a template and all you do is upload your photos. Just be sure that these sites actually have traffic before spending the money.

Find an MLS Traitor

OK, enough with all the child’s play. What you really want to do is find a way to get a listing on the local Multiple Listing Service, which is the site that realtors maintain. You want to be where the realtors are because that’s where the customers are. MLS listings used to be exclusive to realty professionals, but there are now a few treacherous agents who will cheat on their colleagues and sell you a listing for about $500. Do a quick web search, including the term “MLS” and you will find one. Three national sites that offer this service at various price points and service levels are:, and

Basically the way it works is that you contract for this rogue agent to represent you, with an understanding that the only service they are providing to you is the MLS listing and the only fee they are getting from you is a few hundred dollars. Agents who will do this are often referred to as “discount brokers.” Word to the wise: in order to post on many Multiple Listing Services, you also have to agree to pay a commission to a buyer’s agent, should they bring you a bonafide customer.

Picture It

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth $100,000! Don’t even bother posting your home online if you’re not going to include pictures, preferably moving ones. In fact, don’t even bother trying to do a FSBO if you’re not going to provide pictures. When I was house-shopping I skipped right over the online listings that said “no photos available.” At the very least, put the maximum number of still photos in every online forum. Also send an email full of photos to everyone you know.

Virtual Tours

If you are serious about selling, investigate services that create a “virtual tour” for you. All you do is take photos of every room in your house at multiple angles. Then the virtual tour service stitches them together using special software so that it looks like a 360-degree pan of each room. One site that offers this service is

Video Open House

Another possibility is to create a true video tour of your house. You basically walk around the home with a camcorder and narrate its features. There are thousands of them on YouTube, some pretty effective, others hilariously amateurish. If you think your videography skills put you in the latter camp, you might want to hire a company to provide something a little slicker. Most video open houses seem to be produced at the local level, so search in your area. One possible national resource is the website One video company that is attempting to expand and become national is

Staging Your House

I love the term that’s come into vogue in the last few years: to “stage” a house for sale. It really is like staging a play. You are trying to create an imaginary world that will draw buyers in. It’s a world where neatness reigns, cookies are in the oven, and nobody does any chores. If you sink to interviewing real estate agents about price, you might as well ask them what they would do to stage your house as well.

Some of the things you need to do to prepare your home for sale are obvious, like getting it the cleanest it has ever been and banishing clutter so your house feels roomy. But other steps the experts recommend are things you might not think of.

  • Remove personal items. Home sales experts swear it helps to hide family photos because you want prospective buyers to picture their family in your home.
  • Empty closets. Take half the contents out so your closets look roomy, not crammed. Get everything up off the closet floor.
  • Hide cleaning supplies. Visitors should not be able to spot anything that implies work takes place in this house. Let them imagine how care free it is.
  • Empty the dishwasher. Prospective buyers peek into dishwashers and a load of dirty dishes is unappealing.
  • Banish pets. I adore my dog, but some people are afraid of animals. Take your beloved pets on a vacation to a friend’s house whenever showing your house.
  • Remove dying plants. You may have thought you were going to nurse a pet plant back to life. Dead plants give a bad vibe. Chuck ‘em.
  • Show off attics and basements. Empty them of clutter and light them well so people can see the full storage potential.

BIG SECRET: Make a house staging checklist.

If your home is on the market for awhile, you will repeatedly have to clean and declutter it as you show it. Make a checklist of the key steps it takes to get your house in sales shape and consult it before each showing.

  • Kill smells. You can’t smell your own house. Have a brutally honest friend tell you if there are pet, cooking or cigarette smells, then get rid of them through scrubbing –not through chemical camouflage.
  • Update the outdated. Invest in new faucets, cabinet door pulls, lighting and carpet if yours are unflatteringly out of date. You can choose inexpensive replacements that look like the costly must-haves of the moment.
  • Install better bulbs. Put brighter lightbulbs in fixtures and turn all the lights on to make sure your house looks light and bright.
  • Open curtains. Blinds too. Your windows should be clean and uncovered to let in maximum light.
  • Freshen paint. True, the new owners may want to choose their own colors, but a new coat of paint is one of the cheapest moves with the biggest impact.
  • Bleach grout. Mildewy grout in showers and around sinks is utterly unappealing.
  • Clean carpets. Have your carpets professionally cleaned, with special attention to spots and odors.
  • Remove carpets. If you have hardwood floors hidden beneath carpets or rugs, consider removing them to showcase the floor, especially if they are worn.

BIG SECRET: Let Potential Buyers Be.

Buyers are embarrassed to react to your house in front of you, so give them some space. Be helpful and prepared to answer questions, but never hover. Greet them, then park yourself at the table where your brochures are as they tour the house. Of course, if they ask for a tour, give them one. They won’t ask.

Overcoming the FSBO Factor

Let’s face it. There is sometimes a stigma attached to houses that are being sold by the owners. People may wonder if there is something wrong with the house. Or they might worry that they don’t know how to buy a house without an agent. Here are some things you can do to build their confidence.

Show off your appraisal. If you hired an appraiser to help determine the value of your home, you can make a second use of that investment. Show the official appraisal to serious prospective buyers, to prove to them what your house is worth. Also show them comparable sales information so they’ll see what a bargain your FSBO house is.

Get a home inspection. For one thing, it will alert you to flaws you need to disclose or repairs you need to make so you don’t break the law. It’s also a great way to alleviate buyers’ fears. They will still probably want to pay for their own inspection, and that’s fine. You are saving so much by selling the house yourself that a few hundred dollars for an inspection is no big deal.

Fill out a disclosure sheet. Not all states require sellers to sign a detailed disclosure sheet, but do it anyway. It sets a tone of openness and honesty. Ideally you will fix big, scary flaws and then only have to disclose minor cosmetic ones. This also protects you from legal liability later if a buyer tries to claim you didn’t disclose problems with the home.

BIG SECRET: Get your story straight so it’s neutral.

The constant question Tina of California got when she was selling her house was “Why are you selling?” She was ready with an answer that didn’t reflect badly on the property. She didn’t say “The house is too big for one person.” (What if a single person wanted to buy it?) She said, “I’m recently divorced and want a fresh start.” Everybody asks why you’re selling. Be ready.

Offer a home warranty. I actually think home warranties are kind of lame because there are so many exclusions and you have to jump through hoops to exercise your warranty. So don’t get one when you’re a buyer, but when you’re a seller, go for it! A home warranty makes people feel better and it doesn’t cost much.

Hire a real estate attorney. Long before you get an offer, you should hire a good real estate attorney. Your attorney will be able to advise you on the proper protocol, review offers and be present at your closing. A real estate attorney may even be able to supply the standards forms needed for offers. Not only will that attorney guide you through the process, he or she will be available to answer basic questions from potential buyers, as well. One of the hurtles of selling your house yourself is convincing buyers that it’s not that hard to buy a FSBO house. Whether you pay a lump sum or an hourly fee, it will still be much less than what you’d pay a real estate agent.

Line up a title company. In most places the buyer gets to pick the title company (also called an escrow company), but many people just go with whoever their realtor recommends. Since your buyers may not have an agent, it’s a good idea to have a title company lined up. Many real estate attorneys work at title companies, so it’s possible the two will be one and the same.

Qualifying Buyers

You should never respond to an offer unless you know the buyer has the financial chops to buy your home, so we’ll tackle the process of qualifying buyers before we talk about negotiating.

The easiest thing to do is ask that a preapproval letter be a part of every offer. That’s a letter from a lender stating that it is guaranteeing the buyer a mortgage loan and describing the terms of the loan. You want a preapproval letter not just a prequalification letter, which is not as credible.

Have Your Lender Vet the Buyers

However, especially with first time homebuyers, you may find they don’t have this letter lined up. There’s a simple solution that requires no work on your part. Love that! This is when you will call upon the lender you have waiting in the wings to help you with your FSBO transaction. Send the prospective buyers to your lender for vetting. This mortgage broker or banker will be happy to have the referral and will pull a credit report. If the buyers are mortgage-worthy this pro will let you know and also offer them a loan, a service to both sides.

Deposits and Down Payments Matter

Finally, you can get an excellent idea of a candidate’s financial stability by looking at the size of the earnest money deposit they offer. It should be at least $1,000 or one percent of the purchase price, whichever is greater. The other factor is the size of the down payment they plan to make. The larger the down payment, the better the buyer’s chances of arranging a mortgage without a hitch. A chunky 20-percent down payment is an excellent indicator of a buyer’s robust financial health. In fact, the size of the down payment is so important, that many buyers even accept a slightly lower offer if it comes with a much higher down payment.

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