Selling Own Home No Piece of Cake



The next time I say I’m going to try a For Sale By Owner, please take me gently by the shoulders and point me to the nearest reputable Realtor.

I’ve said for years that Realtors earn every penny of commission.  I know selling a home is a tremendous amount of work—marketing the house, scheduling showings, remembering all of the details that protect the seller.

But the pull of a sellers market is strong.  Homes in my neighborhood were receiving multiple offers, spurring bid wars.  If the process was going to be made simpler by a market with far more buyers than sellers, why not give it a try?

What I didn’t remember is that I am no businesswoman.  I hate alerting the phone company when I notice a problem with my bill I dislike negotiating my pay at a new job.  The intense competition of “The Apprentice” makes my hands sweat.

But I was convinced that approved buyers with good heads on their shoulders would be lined up around our corner with offers in hand.  Simple Simon.

I thought we had hit jackpot when a Navy couple from Northern Virginia stopped by with their Realtor even before we put our house on the market.  They ooohed and ahhed.  They asked, “What do we have to do to get into this house?”

“Offer full price and pay your Realtor’s commission on top of that,” we said.

“Done,” they said.

Not so fast.

Looking back on the entire process, this is where things went wrong—terribly wrong.  Our mistake was emotional, not strategic.  We liked the buyers.  We wanted this to go smoothly and easily.  So, we kept our house off the market, even without an offer.

(I can see you experienced businesspeople wincing.)

Inside Business, Norfolk

We spent the next week spinning our wheels.  (Danger, Will Robinson!)  The Realtor told us she didn’t want to work without a sellers Realtor but did want to talk with our appraiser.  I didn’t know how hard to push the buyers and when to say no to the Realtor.

One week later, we got an offer–$13,000 below our asking price.  I was shocked that they would bite our hand so easily.  Didn’t they get how generous we’d been by keeping our house off the market?

Against our better judgment, we continued negotiating for several days, until we reached a verbal agreement—with no help from the buyer’s Realtor.  For the next three days, contracts whizzed back and forth between us.  Angry words were spoken, and I made lifelong enemies of the Realtor and her broker.  I jumped every time my phone rang.

“This is what I get for being nice,” I whined to friends and co-workers.

But something wonderful also happened in that time frame.  I found my spine.  I finally got it through my thick skull that no matter how much I liked these naïve buyers, my job was to protect myself.  During negotiations, I became a pit bull.  I scoured the contract for the tiniest inkling that the Realtor and buyers were going to screw us to the wall.

Over time, my angry tone softened, and I learned to tactfully restate my position again and again.  I could be nice and firm at the same time.

Today, we’re still working with these buyers—negotiating asbestos abatement, another issue that took me completely by surprise.  But I’m sticking to my guns.  I still like them.  Right or wrong, I want them to have our house because they appreciate it so much.  Besides, we’ve gotten this far.

But I also know that this is business.  I can look after my own interests with a smile on my face and no guilt in my heart.

This process would have been much less stressful with a Realtor by our side.  I could have spent my weekends gardening or going to the movies, instead of arguing with my home fax machine or researching whether or not it is legal to sell a home with asbestos.

On the flip side, I have earned every penny of the commission I would have paid a Realtor.  The money is wonderful, but the sense of accomplishment is even better.

Through this experience, I have learned that I can trust myself.  Next time I sell a home, I may choose to use a Realtor.  But I am now more likely to assert myself when I notice a problem on my phone bill and confidently as for the pay I think I deserve.

Each of these things will save or make me money, but I can’t put a price on confidence.

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