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Selling Your House by Owner in CA: 7 Things No One Tells You

Lara ManettaMay 30, 2024

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Lorin Ruttenburg from Ahead of the Curve has been selling homes in Southern California for over 20 years. During that time, she's learned a lot about the process of buying and selling homes — including trying to sell one on your own. 

"This takes a great deal of expertise," Ruttenberg says. It’s a team job: "You need to be working with people who you trust."

If you are researching the steps of selling a home, you have probably at least thought about selling it yourself. For Sale by Owner (FSBO) sales make up about 7 percent of home sales in an average year. Taking control of the project from start to finish… and avoiding those hefty commission fees… can be quite alluring. 

But while you can find a lot of articles online telling you how easy it is to sell by owner, there isn't a lot that alerts you to potential disasters. We've broken down our own research, guided by Ruttenberg’s expertise, to help you make an informed decision about going it alone.

1. There are more resources than ever for selling by owner.

First: It is easier than ever to sell your house on your own. Because in the past it was quite hard!

Even the sites where you can buy a secondhand couch also have "Real Estate" categories where you can post an ad and a few pictures and list a home for free. Real estate-specific listing sites allow you to put your house up into the same MLS directories as homes represented by Realtors®.

FSBO listing sites range in price from free to $400 or more. Make a list of the ones you are considering, what sort of exposure they offer, and their costs. Sometimes, the cheapest option isn't the best. A free site that doesn't include an addition to the MLS can save money upfront, but cause costly delays in the sale of your home.  

2. …But most FSBO sellers already know their buyer.

Over half of all people who choose FSBO already know their buyer. Either they are selling to a friend or relative, or they have been independently approached by a buyer. So, this means the seller is able to skip over all the marketing. If you don't have someone lined up to buy your home? You have a lot more work in front of you.

People who sell by owner use a mix of promotion techniques that can include:

  • Yard signs.

  • Ads on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and dedicated real estate sites.

  • Word of mouth with friends and neighbors.

  • Social networks like Pinterest and Instagram.

Do not discount the amount of hands-on work involved in selling or the additional time your home may spend on the market. Marketing your home can take up hours of your time every week. Each month you own a home you no longer want, you are paying utilities, possibly a mortgage, taxes, and other costs. Make sure it all adds up to something that makes sense to you.

3. FSBO houses sell for less.

Most people only sell a home once or twice in their lives. This means less experience with the process than a dedicated professional like a real estate agent will have. While there are a lot of factors that influence the selling price of a home, experience is one that can affect your outcomes.

For sale by owner homes tend to sell for less than similar agent-represented homes. In 2023, FSBO homes sold at a median price of $310,000, which is nearly 25% lower than the median of agent-assisted homes at $405,000.

Do some back-of-the-napkin calculations to see whether the money you'll save on commissions balances out with a potentially lower selling price.

4. Going it alone doesn't have to mean totally alone.

Selling by owner doesn't necessarily require doing every single aspect of the sale on your own. Writing a listing, taking photographs, making home repairs, and other tasks can be outsourced to professionals. As Ruttenberg mentioned, it’s really about finding people that you can trust. 

There are many professionals you can hire for a flat fee to handle specific aspects of your sale: 

  • A photographer can create better, more inviting listing photos than you can on your own. A basic photoshoot typically costs $200 to $400; special features like drone photography or video tours will cost more. If you are only investing in one area, consider this one. A recent survey found that 87% of buyers considered photos the most important part of a real estate listing.

  • You may also find the services of a home staging professional valuable. They can help you depersonalize your home and get it right for showings. Four out of five buyers' agents say that staging helps the buyer see themselves in the home.

  • A home inspector could give you key insights into what you should fix in your home to make it ready for market — although do be aware that if the home inspector finds any major problems, you’ll be responsible for disclosing them. 

  • And while there's no legal requirement in California to hire a real estate lawyer for your sale, many people with complex sales consider using one. The lawyer can help you be sure you have all the documents needed to sell your home.

But before ditching the idea of hiring a real estate agent altogether, take some time to interview a few. A call is not a commitment, so it doesn't hurt to explore your options before choosing the DIY route.

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5. Marketing your own home is highly emotional work.

Mentally preparing yourself for the process of handling a home sale is a monumental task. "I mean, I'm the Realtor®, so I'm going to sound self-serving if I say not to sell by yourself, right?" Ruttenberg says. "All that said, selling a home, especially if it's your personal home, is an extraordinarily emotional process."

Ruttenberg says that an objective attitude toward the sale is crucial. Remember that buyers do not have the deep connection to the home you do. They have their own lives and needs and will see your house through that lens. Throughout the process, you must be emotionally able to answer questions, counter negotiations, and deal with the minutiae of open houses and personal showings. 

If the buyer has their own agent, that agent can handle showings and tours while you enjoy an afternoon at the movies. This way, you aren't awkwardly hanging around while strangers walk through your home and open your closets.

If you are showing the home yourself, be responsive to buyer questions. You probably have your favorite features, but they are not likely to be the same things your buyer is interested in. Focus on their wants and needs to connect and make a sale.

6. You need to negotiate like a stranger.

"People cannot negotiate for themselves the way they think they can. You're way too plugged in emotionally," Ruttenberg says. "The buyers also have their agenda, all these things they bring to the table. It can get explosive. That's why you have these third parties. Otherwise, it's too emotional."

One common piece of advice from seasoned negotiators is to always be ready to walk away from a negotiation that isn't working. It's important to remember that a deal is not personal. You need to keep a cool head throughout the process to ensure you are making the best financial and otherwise decision. 

7.  Disclosures can make or break a transaction.

In California, one of the legal steps required to sell a home is to make disclosures of any issues associated with the property. The transfer disclosure statement (TDS) is a formal checklist that will include everything a property owner must legally disclose. This can include the presence of lead paint, whether the house has a well or municipal water supply and other vital issues. 

Failing to make proper disclosures exposes the seller to legal risks.

"You want to make sure you are disclosing everything completely and properly. That's the main cause of lawsuits, lack of disclosure. That's what a Realtor® is there to do: make sure you are doing everything according to the law. No one wants to get into a lawsuit." says Ruttenberg. The cost of being sued over a home sale could quickly eclipse any savings on commissions if something goes wrong. 

The state of California has produced an 80-page handbook to help familiarize sellers with the disclosure process. 

Summing Up

An FSBO sale requires a confident DIYer with strong negotiation skills and the time to wait for the right offer. Throughout the selling process, you'll encounter both serious and time-wasting buyers, a seemingly endless list of legal documents, interactions with bankers, appraisers, and inspectors, and more.

If all this sounds like more than you want to take on, consider seeing what a real estate agent on Redy.com will offer to represent your home. Redy allows you to compare offers and credentials of some of your area's most qualified real estate agents. And, those agents are willing to pay you in advance for the privilege of listing your home. Curious? See what agents will give to represent your home today.

Lara Manetta is a freelance writer based in Florida. She's written extensively about local and national real estate, including a book for doctors interested in real estate investing. When she's not writing, you can find her kayaking, reading, or sailing.

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