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. Courtney says

    I agree, this is bittersweet! I’ve loved every square inch of your house so it is sad to see it go, but excited to see the new one!

    I have a question though… did all that sweat equity pay off? Compairing the prices from when you bought to when you sold, was it a huge gain? We plan on selling our house in a few years and people keep telling me to not put much into the house because the people before us came out in the negative and we probably will too with the housing market. I want to make it “our” house, but don’t want to dump a bunch of money into it and not get any back out of it.


  2. says

    Great advice! My husband and I are hoping to list our condo FSBO in the spring. Any chance you’ll share the flier you made with readers to use as a guide? Obviously removing any personal info (address, price, etc.).

  3. says

    You guys have inspired us to list our suburban DC house FSBO! We are moving to London in March and would love to have some extra cash for life in our new city! Like you, we will hire an agent if things move too slowly, but it is sure worth a try.

    Would you be willing to share tips on the flier you made for the house? Perhaps even a picture of it (price and address blotted out of course!). :)

  4. says

    We did not sell our house, but we actually bought our house without the Realtor, and the person who sold to us did not have a Realtor. Well, our circumstances were so that a friend introduced us to a friend that was thinking about selling her house. Although we started with a realtor to walk through many houses in the area, she did not want to have to pay any realtor fees. We knew almost immediately that it was the right house for us and fortunately for us, the realtor that we had been working with gave us a basic contract and allowed us to go on our own. I think her kindness and help actually will pay off, because I would recommend her to anyone, and when we are looking for our next house (we plan to move out of town and buy some land to build a house one day) she is definitely going to be the one we seek out.

    From the buyers perspective, I can say that it was pretty painless. I need to send some pictures off to you all, but we have done quite a bit of renovations on our house. In fact, I just did a post about all the renovations we completed in our first year of living here ( ), not to mention we just had our first child in September. So I feel like your ideas are so perfect for our family!

  5. lauraC says

    Oh, that is so sad, to leave Clara’s nursery. Because you just did it, and it fits the new, “pops of color” you, won’t you just paint her room the same colors? I guess that’s what I assumed you’d do. I painted Sophia’s room the same color as her first nursery when we bought our house. You have all those coordinating, super cute and beautiful things: mirror, mobile, shelves . . . You’re not planning to start her room from scratch, are you?

  6. Sally says

    Great post!

    I’ll second the comment about things being different in different states. I’ve bought houses in NC and MD. The process in NC was much more transparent and required much more leg work on my part. So, I feel like I’d know what to do to FSBO in NC, but I’d have to learn a lot to FSBO in MD.

    I think your success speaks to your practical approach to selling. My bad experiences with FSBO’s came when the seller didn’t take a realistic approach to pricing their house including understanding the value added (or not added) by their upgrades. Also when the owner wasn’t flexible with showings we thought “do you really want to sell?”

  7. Val says

    Did anyone balk at the very unique sun room floor? When you painted it and then soon after announced that you were selling, I wondered if you knew you were selling when you chose that stencil. As an HGTV addict, I know people fixate on really silly things, so I’ve been dying to know. The rest of your house just seems more neutral and pleasing to all so I was curious.

    • says

      Hey Val,

      Nope, not a one. Here in Richmond, Sunny’s stencils (like the one we use) are popular (even showing up on the floor of a few hip downtown shops) so we saw it as a selling feature. We figured we would happily repaint if any buyers requested that after making an offer – but happily, it didn’t seem to work against us at all.


  8. ginger says

    I’m wondering how you got good feedback without a seller realtor to ask. Were the buyers agents willing to tell you what was liked and what was not?

    • says

      Oh yes, they’d call us and say “well they needed one more full bath” or “they need a larger master bedroom to accommodate a king sized bed” or “they decided to buy out in the Powhattan area.” But across the board nearly every agent said our house showed beautifully (which was soooo nice to hear) and a few even bought other clients to see it because they liked it so much. We were like two proud parents beaming every time we heard such nice things. It was a lot of work to keep things clean and showing-ready, but it really was worth the effort!


  9. A.C. says

    Very interesting post. I’m still patiently waiting for new house details (pictures, floor plans… hint hint?) :) As a former military family we’ve bought and sold a ton of houses, but we’ve never tried FSBO, either due to having no time to devote to the endeavor, or just being chicken about the whole idea. As always, you two make it look so easy.

    So here’s a maybe dumb question, but when you mentioned all the things that were included with the house it got me thinking- what about the bookcase in the office/playroom? If i remember correctly I thought it was semi-built in? And with a painted wall behind it? Is it staying or getting torn down and wall repainted?

    • says

      Hey A.C.

      We actually debated leaving that but will be taking it with us for the new office. So we will repaint the wall behind it when we leave (it was just secured to the wall with one anchor like many tall bookcases are, so it shouldn’t be too hard to remove and reinstall at the new place).


  10. Christine says

    Is it freaking you out at all that your closing and moving are so close to the holidays – Clara’s first Christmas?

    Great info that I will definitely refer back to if I decide to sell my place in the next couple years. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the new projects in the new house!

  11. heather s. says

    Where I live you HAVE to include the window treatments, light fixtures, and any shelving attached to the walls when you sell the house. Its not a ‘bonus’ to leave them for the new owners, you are required to leave those things so I found it interesting that you used that as part of your selling points. Every state must be different!

    • says

      Hey Heather S,

      Here the curtain rods and things like blinds usually convey, but curtain panels themselves along with things like the not-hardwired sconces in the bedroom (they’re plug-ins) wouldn’t usually stay. We just wanted to point out those things so there weren’t any questions later on.


  12. says

    I was flabbergasted to find that not all states require closing attorney’s! After hearing horror stories from my friends in New Hampshire about their closing attorneys, I was pleasantly surprised to find that here in Idaho you don’t need one. The title agent does all the work a closing attorney would do. Crazy, right?

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