When William Isabelle and his wife decided to sell their farm in rural Saskatchewan, the couple first enlisted the help of a local real estate agent.
After the listing sat for 90 days without much interest, the Isabelles parted ways with their agent and put the property back on the market in late 2022 as a for-sale-by-owner listing, or FSBO.
After just three and a half weeks of posting the farm on Facebook and other social media sites, Isabelle says he heard from serious buyers — a family from Ontario. Within a week, the Isabelles had an offer.
Could a DIY home sale be the right path for you? Here are the pros and cons to consider before going it alone in today’s housing market.
Some time and energy required
Isabelle, a residential construction company owner, says he wasn’t afraid of putting in the time and work to market his properties. To him, the up-front investment was worth it to save on the real estate commission, which averages from 3% to 7% of a home’s sales price in Canada.
“It really just comes down to economics,” says Isabelle of going the FSBO route. “If you have the inclination or the capacity or the interest to do it yourself, you save a lot of money.”
Shawnna Leonard, a business owner living in St. Albert, Alberta, had the same thought when she helped her mother sell her condo last fall.
After Leonard’s own difficult experience working with a real estate agent years ago, the marketing professional says she wanted to avoid a repeat with her mother’s property. Within six weeks of posting the condo on homeFree.com, a flat-fee FSBO listing website, the sale closed without any issues, Leonard says.
“We did one showing and they bought it. It was smooth, it was simple — no problem,” Leonard says.
It’s unclear how many homes are sold privately in Canada each year. However, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in the United States reported that FSBOs comprised 10% of home sales in 2021 in the U.S. In other words, most sellers use real estate agents.
If you don’t have the time or desire to be a FSBO seller, working with a real estate agent could make more sense, Leonard says. But paying a typical real estate commission at today’s higher home prices leaves a lot of money on the table, she notes.
Saving money isn’t the only benefit
Money isn’t the only reason FSBOs go the DIY path, says Erin Holowach, president and co-founder of homeFree.com. Holowach, who has also sold several of her own properties as a FSBO, says sellers want more control and ownership over their transactions.
“People want to communicate directly with who they’re transacting with,” Holowach says. She adds that the ping-pong communication between a seller and their agent, then with the buyer’s agent and the buyer (and vice versa) is “super frustrating” and the flow of communication is often “broken.”
Holowach’s company and others like it posts private sale listings on local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) systems and nationally on Realtor.ca, which is operated by the Canadian Real Estate Association. These are known as “mere” postings since the flat-fee company isn’t providing any real estate services beyond posting the property to the MLS.
Real estate agents often tout their ability to negotiate and protect their client’s interests in a home purchase, but Holowach points out that’s where a real estate attorney does the heavy lifting. (Note: A real estate attorney is typically required for home purchases involving a mortgage in Canada.)
“It’s your real estate lawyer who actually closes the transaction and protects your interests,” she says.
7 helpful tips for selling your own home
If you want to go the FSBO route, here are some tips to make the transaction as smooth as possible.
- Do your homework. Read up on the real estate sales process and research recent home sales in your local market, Holowach suggests. You can search websites like Realtor.ca and Zillow to get a sense of what has sold recently and what’s currently on the market. Your local tax office or property assessor’s office is also a great resource for understanding how much similar homes are selling for in your area.
- Price it right from the start. To avoid waiting around for offers or multiple price reductions, you have to know the home’s current market value. “Whatever price you set is going to be how you introduce that property to your market,” Isabelle says. “If it’s unreasonable, people are just going to ignore it. It’s super critical that you pick the right price out of the gate.”
- Get a property appraisal. If a buyer needs mortgage financing, their lender will require a property appraisal. But getting a formal appraisal as a seller can be a wise move. “If you’re uncertain about the price, invest in an appraisal because houses only sell for market value, period,” says Holowach.
- Hire a home inspector. Hiring a competent home inspector before you list your FSBO property can reduce haggling over the asking price later on, especially if your home needs work or major repairs, Isabelle says.
- Vet offers carefully. Most real estate transactions involve a down payment, and Canada’s lending rules spell out minimum requirements ranging from 5% to 20%, depending on the home’s purchase price. If a buyer is offering cash, ask for a bank letter that shows proof of funds. Your real estate attorney can go over all the contracts and help finalize the deal.
- Be honest and clear. The benefit of being a FSBO is you talk directly to the buyer without any filters. Be transparent about your top (and bottom) dollar as well as contract terms, Holowach says. Additionally, if you don’t plan to pay the buyer’s agent, make it clear to potential buyers that they will be responsible for the fee, Isabelle says.
- Showcase your listing in the best light. Most home buyers find a home online rather than open houses, so your online listing has to make a killer first impression with photos and, ideally, a virtual tour. Additionally, make sure you declutter and clean your home for listing photos and videos, as well as for showings, Leonard recommends.