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5 Things to know before you sell your house yourself

For sale sign in front of a suburban home.Selling a home without an agent isn’t for everyone – it takes more than just planting for-sale signs in the neighborhood.

“Most sellers throw in the towel after 30 to 45 days,” says Michael Kloian, author of “Sell It by Owner and Save” (H-2 Press, $17.95). “They just don’t know what they don’t know.”

In the past four years, about 28 percent of buyers and sellers have gone into the real estate market with limited or no help from agents, says Steve Murray, editor of REAL Trends, a publication that does research for the residential brokerage industry. About half the owners selling their own homes succeeded, with the rest going to full-service agents or businesses that offered limited help but charged flat-fee and discount rates, he says.

In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, 5 percent of all home sellers try to sell their homes on their own and end up turning to a real estate agent.

“They need to understand … they are doing the listing agent’s job,” says Westchester-based broker Michele Barnette, who bought Century 21’s New York franchise, which offers a flat-fee service that allows people selling on their own to be placed in the Multiple Listing Service. “They are making the appointments, they are doing the follow-up, they negotiate themselves.”

Sellers, agents and Web site operators say understanding some key points might make the difference between waiting for the doorbell to ring and needing an organizer to keep track of potential buyers:

Be prepared to work hard

Madeleine Gagatch doesn’t leave home without it – a stack of for-sale fliers that plug her Kings Park home of 35 years.

The North Carolina-bound waitress has her eye out for any public bulletin board in a five-mile vicinity of her home, whether it’s a supermarket or a medical center. “I’m making this a little job for myself,” says Gagatch, 60, who’s asking $489,000 for her five-bedroom high ranch.

Nowadays, with heaps of homes stacked up in a sluggish market, sellers must devise marketing plans the way businesses do – especially if they don’t have

Multiple Listing Service’s outreach. Some sacrifice Fri-day nights to plant scores of for-sale signs. Others go to stores they patronize regularly and ask about leaving brochures.

David Levine’s looks basic, but it does the job of showing off his three-bedroom town house in Nesconset, including 17 photos and details such as a three-car-length driveway.

Since September, when he put the house on the market, the site has logged about 800 hits, and after lookers weed themselves out, Levine averages about five to seven showings a week at his home, which will go for the best offer above $550,000.

“I just wanted to get information out there and minimize my wasted time,” says Levine, 36, an insurance broker who built his first-ever site with Microsoft’s Front Page software.

The savvy get into the trenches of selling, like Plainview contractor Richard Agrillo, 57, who has given out scores of fliers in public places such as The Home Depot.

“In heavy traffic areas, they go fast,” says Agrillo, who rebuilt a three-bedroom Colonial in Farmingdale and wants $585,999.

Realize it’s not going to be cheap

Levine hasn’t seen a penny from his house yet, but he’s already spent at least $2,100.

He paid $300 to get on MLS, $1,500 for news-paper ads and $300 for 100 corrugated, plastic for-sale signs – a better deal than 50 signs, especially if any get stolen or confiscated.

That up-front spending was a little unexpected, but Levine saw the advantages, especially when he got more calls than did neighbors trying to sell their town homes.

“If you’re not spending at least $1,000, you’re not serious enough to get it sold,” he says. “Be prepared to understand that going in and not expect that you’re going to prepare little fliers and get it sold.”

All this spending may sound counter to the point of by-owner sales, but not paying to get the word out could lead to losses in time and money when the house stays on the market.

It may also help to hire a real estate attorney before putting the house on the market. Some attorneys will help explain real estate jargon and prepare the seller for what’s needed.

Ira Kaplan of Old Bethpage says real estate attorneys like himself can be sounding boards for potential buyers’ demands, from putting carpet over wood floors to setting up an escrow account.

“They have to be aware that people are going to nitpick and look for problems,” Kaplan says.

Price is right

Knowing buyers had the pick of houses in Sayille, Steve Anglim says last spring he ignored agents’ sug-gested $515,000 price for his three-bedroom ranch and instead decided to ask $465,000. But when he dropped that to $419,000 in August, Sunday open-house attendance doubled to about five couples.

“Then I was getting questions and interested looks,” says Anglim, 70, a retired Long Island Rail Road manager who is moving to Florida.

When cable TV marketing consultant Brad Mintz was selling his duplex in Holtsville, he subtracted the expected 5 percent agent’s commission from the market value of his home. “If I tried to get top dollar for my house, I could still be sitting there waiting for somebody to meet my price,” says Mintz, 32, who sold for $330,000 and moved last month to North Carolina.

Pricing needs to reflect many variables, including school district, and negatives such as an old roof, sellers and agents say.

“It’s the hardest part,” says Colby Sambrotto, chief operations officer of, which is owned by Tribune Interactive, a subsidiary of Newsday’s parent company, Tribune Co.

Experts suggest going to competitors’ open houses, looking at ads and talking to agents. Sambrotto says several real estate sites, including, give free or inexpensive but very general appraisals, which take into account facts like recent sales in the neighborhood and the number of bedrooms.

Real estate author Michael Kloian says a certified appraisal, which generally costs a few hundred dollars, can help smooth price negotiations. Unlike most free and online valuations, a certified appraiser will inspect for damage and “functional obsolescence,” such as tiny closets.

Have a plan for the agents

Last summer, when Mintz put his home on the market and wrote “no agents” on his Craig’s List blurb, one called to say he had a potential buyer for the Holtsville town house. “I have to see it first,” Mintz recalls the agent saying.

But when Mintz insisted the buyer come along, neither the agent nor the buyer visited. Mintz says he got the sense that the agent just wanted to get in the door to pitch him to sign up for his services.

Do-it-yourselfers should expect agents to contact them – sometimes many agents – ready with sales pitches on why they can do the job better. There are stories of agents who won’t identify themselves right away or pose as buyers just to see a house.

Michael T. Malkasian, president of Atlanta-based, one of the three biggest Web operators to assist homeowners selling on their own, knows of businesses that go to sites such as his, copy listings and sell “hot sheets” of homes to real estate offices.

“There’s really no way I can protect people from that,” Malkasian says. “It’s pretty much public knowledge once you’re on the Web site.”
But when agents call, it can be opportunity knocking. Handy for advice, they can also give free market values of the home and “comps,” or prices of comparable houses recently sold and listed in the neighborhood.

The hope is for payback when the homeowner can’t take selling anymore, says Dawn Noak, who drops off pitch letters to self-sellers as an agent with Berry Hills Associate in Commack: “By you doing them that favor … they might be inclined to call you.”

Asking agents for advice is a good way to find out who you like. After all, you may tire of selling on your own.

You might pay anyway

Carlis Thompson, a retired prison warden from Medford, paid $899 to an online business to put his Baldwin property on several Web sites and publications, but he was a little surprised when it came to getting on the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island as part of the package.

He was told a real estate agent would call him – only agents can put listings on MLS. Plus, he’d have to sign an agreement on the commission that he’d pay the buyer’s agent, if there was one. “You determine the percentage,” he says he was told.

Most Web sites suggest 2 percent, and while specifying something like 0.5 percent is tempting, Thomp-son and others say low commissions won’t be worth agents’ time.

“If you do that . . . they’re not going to push your house,” Thompson says.

There are dozens of for-owner sites with free advice, including ones set up by real estate companies ea-ger to get a piece of this growing trend. These online businesses sell a variety of services in different pack-ages – including yard signs, generic contracts, MLS listings and virtual tours – sometimes for very different prices.

Malkasian suggests avoiding services that have time limits on how long the listings stay up. After all, it doesn’t take much for the site to keep a listing online until the house sells.

via Newsday
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