Is For Sale by Owner Right for You?

The potential savings are significant, but selling your home is a part-time job.

A toy house with a for sale sign
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As the mortgage crisis drags down prices across the country, homeowners can squeeze additional tens of thousands of dollars from the sale of their property by becoming their own agents. "If you cut out all agents—meaning post your own online ad, put out a yard sign, and sold your home on your own—you would essentially cut out on average about 6 percent of commission," says Greg Healy, vice president of operations at ForSaleByOwner.com, a Web-based company that markets the homes of independent sellers. "On a $300,000 home, that's about $18,000 of savings."

Although the data vary, sellers who aren't affiliated with an agent clearly represent a significant chunk of the overall market today. The National Association of Realtors says that independent sellers accounted for 12 percent of all homes sold in 2007, down from 18 percent in 1997. ForSaleByOwner.com, however, argues that NAR's figures—which don't include all independent sellers using the multiple listing service—understate the prevalence of independent sellers. For his part, Steve Murray, the editor of residential real estate research publisher Real Trends, says his company found in 2006 that sellers not affiliated with an agent made up roughly 20 percent of the market.

But while the potential savings are large, so is the task of selling one's home in today's downtrodden market. "It's much more complicated than just putting an ad in the paper and showing your house and having someone buy it," says Judy Moore of Re/Max Landmark Realtors in Lexington, Mass. "The value that a Realtor brings to the transaction is that they are able to provide services on so many different levels—things that sellers can't even anticipate in many cases—because they have that kind of professional experience."

To be sure, there is nothing a real estate agent does—setting the asking price, marketing the home, arranging open houses, enlisting a real estate attorney to handle legal documents, negotiating with buyers, and so on—that self-starting home sellers couldn't do for themselves. But since the process is filled with time-consuming and tedious hassles, independent home sellers have to earn every penny they save by cutting out agents.

So is independent home selling right for you? Perhaps it's best to look at the question this way: Do you have the time and energy to take on a part-time job that pays roughly 6 percent of the selling price of your home? If the answer is yes, consider going solo. If not, hire a pro.

Here is more on the pros and cons of owner sales: