Selling without agent risky business at best

#180 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 1997, Hills Newspapers

Recently I chanced upon a most unusual real estate ad. “Concerned about privacy?” read the heading and was followed by “I can get your home sold… No sign on your property. Pre-screening of all buyers. Minimize traffic through your house.”
“Look at this ad,” I said to Anet. “I’ll bet this agent has run into someone who wants to sell but doesn’t want anyone in his house. Now he’s hoping to find other sellers who feel the same way.”

“I’m sure there are others, “Anet said. “You know what a pain it can be to have your house on the market. I wonder how the agent plans to find buyers.”

We agreed that the no-sign part is easy enough. Signs are helpful but houses certainly sell without them. Pre-screening buyers can also be done and sometime is, especially in high price ranges.

It’s unclear what is meant by “minimize traffic”. No open houses? Sure. It is absolutely possible to sell a house that is never held open for the public. It’s harder to sell a house that has never been held open for agents but it is still possible.

Sometimes sales are made without any marketing at all. A neighbor, friend or tenant, someone who is already familiar with a house, hears it’s for sale and buys it. Usually the tricky part is be settling on a price without exposure to the wider world.

I remember an elderly woman, many years ago, calling to ask if I knew someone who would buy her house. Her seriously ill husband was confined to a bed their living room. It was the only room in the house large enough to contain a motorized bed and other necessary equipment. A live-in attendant occupied the extra bedroom.

Under the circumstances, the woman couldn’t imagine having buyers coming into the house, but she needed to sell. Didn’t I already know a buyer?

I don’t remember now where they planned to go after they sold. There must have been a reason why they didn’t move out before putting their house on the market — probably money.

I asked the other agents in my office if anyone had a buyer for a two-bedroom house on whatever street. They didn’t think so but we were at a disadvantage. We had not seen the house, did not know what condition it was in or what the price would be.

All the agents in the office that day talked for awhile about how to help my caller. We would need a price. I could go look at the house and estimate its value but then — without any advertising — a buyer would have to be found. We could ask around, talk to our clients and friends, maybe find someone.

The potential buyer would want to see the inside of the house, also perhaps a spouse, maybe other family members, inspectors, and probably a loan appraiser.

How much traffic could be eliminated? If the price was very good, if the house was clearly being sold below market value, maybe a buyer would accept it without inspections, might even be a cash buyer. Risky but possible.

That was the big problem as we saw it — how to avoid taking a big hit on the price while limiting (or avoiding altogether) allowing people inside.

I don’t remember what happened except that we didn’t sell the house. Maybe the couple’s problem vanished; the husband recovered or they sold to a family member.

I do know that other would-be sellers with less serious problems would enjoy selling without the need for marketing. It’s inconvenient to fix-up, keep things tidy, make appointments, leave buyers and agents alone in the house.

A few people can’t face having outsiders view their belongings, their housekeeping, their private world. They may feel so strongly that they put off selling forever.

Most sellers are less tender. Many a seller survives and succeeds by changing how he lives in his house before it is put up for sale. He paints his preferred purple walls white, removes furniture and ornaments. He looks at his house less as his home and refuge, more as a saleable product.

The idea behind marketing is that optimum price is achieved when a house (or any merchandise) is exposed to as many potential buyers as possible. While only one buyer is needed and only one can buy, it is generally true that the larger the group that sees the house, the better the sale.

Thorough marketing includes a for sale sign, newspaper ads, multiple listing, open houses, plus ease of showing at other times. Houses that are clean, spare and stylish, houses that are also located in highly sought-after areas and are not overpriced “have it all” — the best chance for the best sale.

Things are even better for the seller if more than one buyer is attracted at the same time. As we have been seeing in the recent market, sometimes there are as many as ten buyers, competing for the same house. These houses sell for a premium.

If you are thinking of selling, spend some time thinking about what you can stand to do, how you will be most comfortable showing your house. Talk with your agent about how much demand there is likely to be for your particular property. Consider how important it is for you to get the highest possible price.

Maybe you can sell with a minimum of intrusion. Maybe you can go on vacation for a brief time and let your agent handle things. If you don’t want people to see your belongings, maybe you can move them out before anyone comes to the house.

You and your agent should make marketing plans together, ones you can live with.

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