Real estate: Home free - MoneySense

Real estate: Home free

Selling your home yourself can save you thousands.

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When Chris and Patricia Brooks decided to sell their four-bedroom bungalow in St. George, Ont., they didn’t call a real estate agent. They sold it themselves. “We used an agent on our last house and it sold in a day,” Patricia says. “That’s when we began to wonder what we were paying all that commission for.”

This time the Brooks had to wait three weeks to sell, but they’re not complaining. Not only did they get close to their asking price, they pocketed $12,000 that would otherwise have gone to an agent. If you want to do the same, follow our five steps to do-it-yourself real-estate bliss:

Step 1: Be precise on price

The secret to selling your home isn’t stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. It’s price. Set an amount that’s too low and you give away thousands of dollars; set the price too high and your home will languish unsold for months. Real estate agents are masters at pricing homes because they have all the data on what various houses sold for in your neighborhood. You can piggyback on their work by checking how they’ve priced homes on your street at Realtor.ca. Look for houses similar to yours and set the same price or close to it.

If you want to sell fast, price your home at slightly less than market level. When Ed Enns, a factory worker in Stratford, Ont., decided to sell his three-bedroom bungalow last fall, he looked at two similar homes for sale nearby. One was priced at $169,000, the other $166,000. “I decided to price mine $500 cheaper to draw traffic,” he says. When it didn’t sell right away, Enns dropped the price to $164,500 and quickly found a buyer.

Step 2: Get a little help

Selling your home by yourself doesn’t mean going it alone. Many online real estate services offer package deals for $300 to $800 that include lawn signs, open house signs and an online listing with photos of your home. Some services, like ComFree.com in Alberta, SkHomes4Sale.com in Saskatchewan and Grapevine.ca in Ottawa focus on specific markets, while others like PropertySold.ca and PropertyGuys.com are national. Once you’ve found a buyer, a lawyer will charge $500 to $1,000 to walk you through the legalese and handle the paperwork.

Step 3: Hold an open house every weekend

Nothing turns a browser into a buyer like an open house, says Ralph R. Roberts, a Michigan real estate broker and author of Sell it Yourself. To draw a crowd, drop flyers in mailboxes up and down your street. Neighbors who have friends who want to move into your neighborhood are often the best source of buyers.

Step 4: Brag about your castle

Patricia Brooks made sure to highlight her home’s best features in both her online listing and during open houses. Rather than say her home has hardwood floors, she raved about the “brand new ash Merlot hardwood floor.” And she talked up the neighborhood by mentioning the school and library up the street. “Your home is a product and you have to have confidence in that product. If you’re shy, you might be better off with an agent,” she says

Step 5: Protect your commission

Smart home buyers know that you aren’t paying the standard agent’s commission, says Roberts, so they’ll try to bargain you down on price. Don’t let them. But if a real estate agent brings in a buyer, you might have to sweeten the pot and give the agent a 2.5% commission to seal the deal. Another option: If you’re going to buy another house right away, suggest to the agent that she represent you. She won’t make any money off your home, but she will earn a commission when you buy.

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