GETTING READY TO put your house on the market? Before you do, you'll have to decide whether you want to hire a full-service broker, work with a discount broker or sell the place on your own. It's not an easy decision -- there are advantages and disadvantages to each method.
A traditional broker, for example, will present you with a complete marketing plan and expose your home to as many buyers as possible. You could, however, save yourself thousands of dollars by selling your property on your own. But some would argue that the headache isn't worth it.
Here are some pros and cons to consider before you take the plunge.
The Pros: Great exposure>. Traditional real estate agents share their property listings in a database called the Multiple Listing Service. This database contains the vast majority of all properties that are for sale and is used as a standard by agents nationwide. (Manhattan, however, doesn't have a local Multiple Listing Service.) Through the MLS, the details of your property can be easily accessed by prospective buyers either through their agents or directly by them on the Web. And since the listing broker is willing to split the 6% commission with any real estate agent who finds a buyer, there's plenty of incentive to show a competitor's inventory.
A good agent will do all the work for you>. He or she will take control of the transaction and do everything from setting an accurate asking price and prescreening prospective buyers to showing your home and negotiating the final price. All you'll need to do is keep the place tidy. This should free you to spend your weekends looking for your new abode.
The Cons: Brokers are expensive>. Most of them charge a commission of as much as 6% for their services. So if your four-bedroom colonial sells for $500,000, you'll have to cut a check for $30,000 at closing. Keep in mind, however, that all fees are negotiable.
An agent may not always have your best interests in mind>. Take, for example, the so-called open house, where buyers are invited to view a home en masse. These events rarely lead to a sale. So why are they popular? Brokers like them, because they're often used as a means for generating buyer leads.
A broker is in control of your transaction>. So be prepared for strangers to traipse through your house for a "viewing" at practically any time of day. More important, your broker will be negotiating on your behalf, and you'll have to trust that he or she is providing you with all of the information you need to make a final decision. Worst case, you may find your agent encouraging you to reduce your price just to make a quick sale so he can move on to another property.
The Pros: Discount brokers are cheaper than traditional brokers>. Companies such as Foxtons, eRealty.com and zipRealty.com charge sellers between 2% and 5% for their services. (Typically, the higher the fee, the more service that's provided.) So the commission for that same four-bedroom colonial could cost you between $10,000 and $25,000, compared with the $30,000 a traditional broker would charge you.
You'll reach more potential buyers with a discounter than if you sell your home on your own>. Discount brokers spend millions of dollars each year on advertising in the U.S. and abroad. A large percentage of homes handled by these low-cost brokers sell without being listed on the Multiple Listing Service.
Some discounters will prescreen for qualified buyers and weed out the riffraff>. If you use a discount broker that runs credit checks on potential buyers and makes sure they're preapproved for a sufficient mortgage, you can have confidence that people looking at your property are serious buyers.
The Cons: You get what you pay for>. Some discounters merely list your property on their Web sites. Or they'll field calls from prospective buyers, but you'll have to give the official home tour and deliver the hard sell. If this is all the service you're getting, some industry insiders argue you might as well run an ad yourself.
You'll have to pay up to get your home in the Multiple Listing Service database>. While discounters can offer you this service, you won't get it for 2%. Many discounters will charge you a higher fee, say 4% to 5%, for the listing.
Don't expect agents to bang down your door>. Even if your home is listed in the Multiple Listing Service database, some agents may refuse to show your property. Why? The discounted commission. Rather than the traditional 3% buyer's commission, many discounters will offer agents just 2% or 2.5%. While that may seem like splitting hairs to you, the difference can really add up. If an agent can make $10,000 selling one $500,000 home vs. $30,000 on a comparable property, which one do you think he'll show first?
For Sale by Owner
The Pros: More money in your pocket>. That's right, you get to keep whatever your home sells for. You can put that 6% commission toward the down payment on a larger home or toward more important expenses, such as your child's education.
No one knows your home better than you do>. So doesn't it make sense that you could point out all of the amenities and sell it better than an agent? Many agents showing a home are walking through it for the first time.
If you want something done right, do it yourself>. Selling your own home gives you complete control over the transaction. You set the price, you set up convenient times to show the home, and you get to negotiate with a buyer. This way, you'll know when it's time to cave and lower your price or stay firm because your house is attracting a lot of interest.
The Cons: Less exposure>. If you try to sell your home without the assistance of a broker, you'll dramatically limit the number of potential buyers who'll view your property. First, your house won't be included in the Multiple Listing Service. Second, buyers feel more comfortable using a broker, since they want to see all of the available homes in a given neighborhood and have a professional on hand to help analyze the properties.
Expect your home to sell for less>. According to the National Association of Realtors, homes that sold with a broker went for a higher median price than those sold by an owner. Many buyers believe they can negotiate more vigorously if they're buying directly from an owner who's avoiding a hefty broker's fee.
Selling your own home can be a hassle>. You have to set a price, place ads in the paper, field calls from prospective buyers and then put on your best smile and sell that house like a pro. And don't forget about the negotiations. Some industry insiders even argue that buyers feel more comfortable talking money with a third party. Now try juggling all that's involved while holding down a full-time job and looking for a new home for your family to move into. Some argue that avoiding the headache is well worth the 6% commission.