How We Sold Our House By Owner

Well, I guess we haven’t actually sold our house by owner yet. That’ll happen at closing in mid December (fingers crossed). But here’s how we got an offer. We’re hardly real estate experts, so this post is just a roundup of things that happened to work for us. Here’s hoping they help anyone else attempting to DIY their house sale too. The cool thing is that the people buying our house aren’t blog readers (they’d never heard about us or YHL- but we disclosed the blog to them to ensure that they were cool with images of the house with our furniture remaining on the site). Anyway, we thought it would encourage other FSBO peeps to know that you don’t need a blog to sell your house. But it was interesting for us to learn that our blog had nothing to do with attracting the people who are buying our house. Anyway, enough jibber jabber, on with the show:

Tip #1: Pick the right asking price. This is paramount. And we didn’t do this at first. We priced the house too high and we only had two showings in the first two weeks. Then we finally got real with ourselves, dropped things by about 25K, and priced our house to sell in this less-than-ideal market based on what similar homes in our area were going for. Wouldn’t you know we had fourteen showings within two weeks of the price drop – and an offer within two days of it. Really can’t stress this step enough.

Tip #2: Clean and declutter your house within an inch of its life. Now is not the time to leave a pile of socks in the laundry room or a stack of bills in the kitchen. And dust bunnies have no place in your house when it’s on the market. Oh and make sure the house doesn’t smell funny while you’re at it. Because that’s just gross. Sure you’d hope prospective buyers can look beyond any lapses in cleanliness, but those dirty spots can signal to the buyer that the house isn’t cared for in other areas either. Here are a few posts about what else we did to get things ready for sale-age (here, here, here, and here).

Tip #3: Market the heck out of it. The amazing thing about using a realtor (which we definitely would have done if we couldn’t get ‘er done on our own after a few months of trying) is the fact that they can draw a ton of potential buyers to your house thanks to clients, connections, and widespread publicity on sites like MLS. To offset this advantage you’ll have to do a heckova lot of legwork yourself. The FSBO route isn’t easy by any means. We paid to put ads in the paper, re-listed our house on craigslist every few days, bought a for-sale sign and made countless fliers for the front yard, and eventually spent $295 to put it on MLS ourselves (using this service – although in the time since we used it we have heard this complaint, so perhaps it’s not as nice as it used to be). All told we spent about $500 marketing our house- but it certainly beats the $12k that we would have spent on a typical 6% realtor fee.

Tip #4: Learn how to show the home in a way that appeals to buyers. We learned that keeping Clara, Burger, and myself out of the house (we went on nice long walks) while potential buyers were led on a quick tour by John was the most professional and crowd-pleasing way to conduct showings. After John’s speedy walk-through he would step outside and let people poke around on their own just to see how they liked the feel of the house without anyone hovering. And if it was raining sometimes Burgs, the bean, and I would hang out in the car since walks were out of the question.

Tip #5: Make a strong argument for why your house is worth buying. Your flier (and the things you mention when you show the home) really can make all the difference. We learned that pointing out that many items would convey with the sale really helped people see added value (we tossed in all of our appliances, window treatments, light fixtures, dining room shelving, and even the master bedroom built-ins & our bed frame). We also pointed out things like the size of our large .75 acre lot and our two-car garage, which are both rarities that most other homes on the market in our price point don’t offer. And of course mentioning perks like the newly remodeled kitchen and baths, the new roof, the refinished hardwood floors, the new windows, and the other upgrades that we put into our home seemed to really set us apart from some of the other old but un-updated brick ranches on the market.

Tip #6: Figure out what to do if you get an offer. The whole purpose of selling your house is to get an offer, but if you don’t know what to do when you get there, you’re kind of sinking your own battleship. You’ll definitely want to bone up on your negotiation skills learn how to trust smart people. Sure we were selling our home by owner, but we didn’t do it on our own. Not even close. We even asked the buyers agent that we used to purchase our new house a few questions along the way- and we definitely relied heavily on help from our closing attorney and our lending agent (both people that we’ve used before, so we really appreciated their opinions). When it came to ratifying the contract and getting through all the finer points like inspection negotiations and closing date determinations they really were our sounding board. Hiring a closing attorney is only a few hundred bucks (again, a lot cheaper than hiring a realtor to do all the marketing, negotiating, and ratifying) and you actually have to pay for a closing attorney whether you FSBO or do things through a realtor, so it was a no-brainer to rely on ours for all the help we could get.

Oh and thanks to the fact that most buyers will present you with an offer on paper, you just have to tweak that and “respond” to it (instead of drafting anything up from scratch). But you’ll definitely want to have the legally necessary papers on hand (like a lead paint disclosure form and a residential property disclosure form- both things that we googled and found online). Your closing attorney should be able to help you with those if you can’t track them down. I guess the key here is that a good closing attorney can really be an amazing resource- especially so you’re sure that everything you’re doing is 100% legit. Gotta protect yourself!

Tip #7: Rest assured that realtors won’t boycott a FSBO house. At least that wasn’t our experience. AT ALL. Nearly all of the showings that we attracted were to people with a buyers agent at their side (the agents were actually the ones calling us to schedule each showing). In fact, the people buying our house came through a realtor (so of course we owe a small percentage to that realtor since she’s acting as their agent) but we definitely appreciated not having to shell out close to 7K to a sellers agent as well (since we took on the marketing and the showings ourselves and did all the paperwork directly with a closing attorney as opposed to using a sellers agent for those items).

So that’s what we did to get ‘er done. Again- we definitely would have used a realtor if we didn’t have much luck in the first few months, but we’re just such DIYers that it felt fitting to give the whole for-sale-by-owner thing a shot and share our experiences with you guys. Is there anyone else out there who sold their house by owner? Feel free to chime in with more tips and tricks. We’re certain there are at least a few things we forgot to mention and probably a ton of things that we didn’t even think of. It’s amazing what a learning curve the whole experience can be. Now we’ll just be holding our breath for a quick and painless closing in around a month’s time. Wahooo. Is it December yet?


  1. Kayakgirl73 says

    Great post. You’all should be proud of yourselves, you did a lot of work to sell your house. It must have been hard to drop the price 25K, but then again that saved you months of sitting on the market. When I sold my condo last year I had to drop the price 15K and pay a substanial part of the buyers closing costs.

    • Ricky Bobby says

      You MUST give a shot if you want to sell your home by owner too. It’s probably the best service I’ve ever used. Amazing customer service, and very fair pricing. I got the flat-fee mls listing. That worked well!

  2. says

    Thanks for the insight. We sold our first home FBSO and had 4 offers in the first week, ending up in a bidding war. Fast forward three years and try to sell the place we are in now seems impossible. I think the local market your house is in is the biggest determining factor today when selling a house. Keeping our fingers crossed that your closing goes off without a hitch!

  3. says

    wow, thanks for all the tips! Hearing your first-hand account is very helpful :) Hubby and I hope to FSBO our house in the next couple of years.

    Were most of the scheduled showings on the weekends? Do you think it would be hard to FSBO if both adults worked full-time?

    • says

      The vast majority of our showings were on weekends or evenings since house hunters seemed to have office jobs for the most part (although we did get the occasional lunch-time walk through and sometimes a 10am weekday showing if someone had taken one day off of work to see ten houses in a row or something). I would guess that most FSBO peeps have an office job to work around so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. You can do it! As long as you’re prepared to take a few hours off here and there to show people the house when they call. You kind of have to have a drop everything mentality to come across as accommodating (nobody wants to see a house if the realtor or the seller is being a diva about how much their request is putting them out). We ran into a few realtors like that along our hunt and we completely lost interest. Hope it helps!


  4. says

    You guys are a great example of how to perfect the FSBO. I’m in real estate (on the legal end) and even I didn’t feel like dealing with selling our house ourselves. It takes a lot of time and effort, but you guys were in the perfect position. And definitely having an attorney to help you cover your butt is probably one of the most important things. I’m highly impressed that you guys were able to sell your house and sell it so quickly in this market. Congratulations!

  5. Kari says

    Something I picked up from reading Freakonomics (and I don’t remember if this was actually in the book, or a decision I made based on what I had read) was the advantage of listing your property with its physical characteristics, rather than the “charming” or “unique” type words. “Granite countertops” means more than “updated kitchen.”

    • says

      Nope, they all stay. Except for Clara’s aqua capiz chandy because we just couldn’t part with it (her nursery is definitely going to be the room we miss the most). Our white capiz chandelier in the bedroom will be sorely missed though. So missed that we might re-buy it from World Market. You never know…


  6. says

    Great advice, I will definitely keep that for future use! But on the reverse side, did you find that most homes you toured followed those principles also? Or, as two creative visioneers, were you able to look past some clutter, bad design, and noisy kids to see a house in a “what could be” state? I am just curious as to how many homes you looked at were well staged or poorly represented.

    • says

      Hey Adam,

      Oh yeah we can see past anything! We bought our current house complete with blue trim, floral wallpaper, and a green toilet! So we’re not scared by clutter, bad design, or noisy kids. But that being said, we figure not everyone who’s house hunting is like us. So to have the best response possible it probably would encourage more interest, a faster sale, and maybe even a higher price to take care of those things before putting your house on the market if you can. Especially if they’re cheap or free (like stripping wallpaper and going on a walk with the kids to get them out of the way).


  7. says

    This is great advice!

    Would you mind being a little more specific with advice on pricing? In other words, how did you arrive at your first asking price and what made you decide to drop it by $25k? Did you have help or did you scour the listings for what sold/what was on the market?

    I agree that price is *everything* in this market. We will try to sell our house in about a year (after having unsuccesfully attempted this Summer), so any advice you have on pricing is much appreciated!

    Thanks and cannot wait to see the first house tour of your new home!


    • says

      Yup, we just looked at everything that was even close to comparable to our house in location, size, amenities, etc. Then we priced ours at or below those other homes. We wanted everyone to see what a value our house was- and it definitely scored us a ton of showings and an offer very soon after we got real with ourselves, did the research, and dropped our price. Our first asking price was just sort of a rough guess and a lot of it was ego (for example, us thinking “our house has so many amazing amenities- there’s nothing like it”) so the realization that we needed to take a step back and stop insisting that our house was worth this huge price was the best thing we ever did. Hope it helps!


  8. Kristin says

    Congratulations! My fiancé and I sold our house earlier this year. We had a great experience, though it was definitely helped a LOT by the fact that we were renting it and it happened to be our tenants who wanted to buy! No listing, no inspections (they’d lived there for over two years…they knew that it was in good condition), no showings. Just a formal offer and acceptance and let the lawyers hack out the rest. I know it was unique, but we were both thrilled to pay as little as we did to unload our home. FSBO is the way to go!

  9. Carolyn says

    Some of these things vary by state, don’t they? I know here in California, we don’t have closing attorneys, and our homes are “in escrow” instead of “under contract” from the time an offer is accepted until it closes. We have bought a home twice here, and sold one, and I really wouldn’t have known how to navigate escrow without our realtor. (Of course, saving all that money would have been awesome!)

    • says

      Hey Carolyn,

      That’s so funny about closing attorneys! We thought they were par for the course everywhere. We’re definitely not experts so we’re just sharing the process that worked for us here in VA- but maybe although closing attorneys aren’t used all the time in CA, perhaps one can be hired for a few hundred bucks to offset the workload and make FSBO possible?


  10. Chelsey says

    We just sold our home FSBO and it seems like everyone we know has done the same thing. In fact, I know four other people who have done FSBO in the last six months. One thing people should be prepared for are the annoying realtor calls once you post on Craigs List and the like. Agents called me daily and some called more than once trying to tell me that we would surely fail selling our house on our own. Our house was on the market less than a month and we didn’t even list it with MLS at all.

    Also, I think open houses are a great marketing tool for someone doing FSBO. We opened our house up every Sunday and each time there were other houses in our neighborhood that were having open houses, which helped our traffic.

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