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Bypassing the Agent

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon on the Upper East Side and newlyweds Jon and Milissa Aronson are perched expectantly on their sofa. A plate of cookies and a sign-in sheet sit strategically on a kitchen counter.

The couple (he’s 35 and a broadcasting exec, she’s 33 and a social worker) have sent their dog to the neighbors, and vacuumed, dusted and tidied their 550-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, all in hopes of selling their home without a broker. They’re asking $459,000.

“We decided to sell on our own basically because of money,” said Jon Aronson. “If you factor in a broker’s fee of 6%, plus the 1% flip tax we’ll have to pay the co-op board, plus 1.4% we’ll have to pay the city and state for the tax on the sale, that’s 8.4% of the sale price that we wouldn’t get.”

In a tough real estate market, the Aronsons are hardly alone among New Yorkers in their quest to sell minus a broker fee. In the first half of 2007, metro-area homes comprised nearly 13% of the listings on ForSaleByOwner.com, which charges $89.95 and up.

Eric Mangan, an exec at the Web site, said use of the Internet to search for real estate has helped owners everywhere connect directly with buyers, but said New York “is one of our strongest markets.”

“Homebuyers tend to be very savvy with using the Internet and sellers understand that they can sell a house on their own,” Mangan said. “Plus, they look at the bottom line. … They take into account the cost of that 6% commission.”

Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, acknowledged that commissions often drive sellers to go without brokers, although “consumers also need to keep in mind that commission rates are sometimes negotiable.”

“But the other side of the coin,” he said, “is that [buyers] are dealing directly with the owner, so sometimes they think they can get a discount on the price.” He also said statistics “show that the selling price is lower when homes are sold directly by owners” – although the best-selling book “Freakonomics” argued that just the opposite was often true, since it pays for brokers to close a deal quickly and move on, rather than try to win a higher price, of which they’d keep proportionately little.

One way do-it-yourselfers often hurt themselves is on pricing. “It is all about proper pricing,” one Corcoran broker said. Ask too much, and many would-be buyers won’t bid.

Costly commissions aren’t the only reasons some owners prefer to take command of the sale. Elle Lopes, 39, has sold three of her homes on her own.

“It’s more convenient and I don’t have to leave my home for the broker to show it,” said Lopes, a Wall Street research analyst who’s now negotiating on the sale of her co-op on Fifth Ave. at E. 108th St. “I am more familiar with the neighbors and the board. I know more than a broker would know about this building and the process.”

Although they haven’t sold their place in seven weeks, Jon Aronson is glad he and his wife are trying on their own. He acknowledged it requires considerable effort. He said there are potential advantages for buyers, as well; since do-it-yourselfers don’t pay a commission, they might be more flexible on price.

That factor is just one reason Joseph Chang, 35, a magazine editor, prefers to buy directly from an owner. “Also, you may be able to preempt competition, as a seller may be not be willing to continue conducting open houses or showings if they’re confident they have a deal,” said Chang, who bought a Manhattan studio directly from an owner in 2006.

But the benefits of cutting out the broker can give way to impatience, he warned.

“You have to be willing to do the research on the local market [and] financing,” Chang said. “Few have the patience for this, however, and would be better off using a broker.”

via New York Daily News